My View: Employers’ obligations can follow employees home

 

Write for My View

Is there a business topic you feel passionately about, a problem in the local economy that needs public attention, or a business-related issue in the news you would like to comment on? Here’s your chance.

Send your ideas for My View contributions to businessmonday@MiamiHerald.com and we’ll be happy to consider them for publication. Please put the words ‘My View’ in the subject line of the e-mail message. Columns should be no more than 500 words.


Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent announcement that the company would discontinue its telecommuting program set off a firestorm of debate as to the benefits and disadvantages of allowing employees to work at home. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, quickly chimed in his agreement with Mayer’s decision, calling telecommuting “one of the dumber ideas I’ve ever heard.” On the other side, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson weighed in, declaring that “... in 30 years time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.”

Regardless of whether such programs represent sound business strategy, employers need to be aware of the potential legal consequences of work-at-home programs. Put another way, when your employees telecommute, your company’s employment law obligations do not stay back at the office, but in fact follow your workforce into their homes, the local coffee shop, or wherever else they may be performing work.

One major area of concern for a telecommuting workforce is compliance with the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act. This law requires employers to record the working hours of, and pay overtime wages to, each employee who is not “exempt” from its coverage. While keeping track of employees’ work hours was easy in a traditional brick and mortar workplace, today it can be a challenging task. Employers remain legally responsible to make sure that hours are properly recorded for workers who do not show up to a company location, which can cause a set of unique headaches.

For example, employers are not typically required to pay for time spent at lunch breaks. However, the lines between “lunch” and “work” may become blurred when an employee opens up their laptop and sets up shop at the local Starbucks. On the flip side, a telecommuting hourly employee may be tempted to take advantage of the “honor system” and pad their work start or end times. In order to ensure that time is accurately tracked, employers should have clear policies regarding when work is expected to be performed, and should implement systems, such as Web-based log-in and log-out protocols which make it easier to determine when work is being performed. At the end of the day, however, employers need to place a good deal of trust in their telecommuting employees, and should consider the potential for abuse when deciding who to assign to such positions.

Another major area of concern involves employee safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide their employees with safe workplaces and to report workplace injuries. Employers are also obligated to have workers’ compensation insurance to cover work-related injuries. When an employee works from home, the lines between work and non-work related injuries can become blurred. For example, OSHA has determined that dropping a box of files on one’s foot while working at home is work-related. On the other hand, if an employee trips over her dog while running to answer a work call while at home, is that an injury entitling them to workers’ compensation benefits?

A third major area of concern in maintaining a telecommuting workforce revolves around data privacy. In today’s environment of smart phones and cloud-based data storage, keeping trade secrets or proprietary information confidential can be a tall order under the best of circumstances. Telecommuting amplifies these challenges, increasing the risk that confidential information will be inadvertently (or, in the worst of cases, intentionally) disclosed. Employers should therefore take steps to track employees’ accessing of company information, and to protect this information just as if it were being accessed at the company’s physical premises. Specific measures can include requiring employees to operate from secure servers or private company networks, limiting sizes of company file remote downloads, and requiring telecommuters to sign a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement.

Employers who choose to allow employees to telecommute need to think through all of the implications and ensure that they remain compliant with all the laws that govern the workplace, wherever that may be.

Larry S. Perlman is an associate in the Miami office of Foley & Lardner LLP, where he is a member of the Labor & Employment Practice and the Automotive, Senior Living and Health Care Industry Teams.

Read more Business Monday stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Marcell Haywood

    BUSINESS MONDAY CEO ROUNDTABLE

    Taxi alternatives could improve service

    Today marks the launch of the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable, comprising more than two dozen CEOs and senior executives in companies large and small from the region’s key industries. The goal: To provide a temperature check of local economic conditions and business opinions on current topics. Look for a selection of responses each week in print; to see all responses, go online at MiamiHerald.com/business. And keep an eye out for our live CEO Roundtable event later this fall.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">FSU LINE:</span> Pictured is Guy Harvey artwork on an athletic clothing line. Artist Guy Harvey has developed his brand into a business empire.

    ENTREPRENEURSHIP

    Guy Harvey fishing new waters

    With more products, a new generation of fans and marketing that focuses on the man behind the brand, marine artist and conservationist Guy Harvey is stretching his cast.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">WAITING ROOM:</span> A horse waits in the stalls at Thebas Farm, one of a group of Polo horses heading for Amsterdam. Worldwide Livestock, owned by Alex and Tony Alessandrini, is overseeing the shipment of the animals. July 1, 2014 in Miami.

    Company profile

    Worldwide Livestock Services manages import, export of livestock through MIA

    Horses, cattle, pigs and more: World Livestock Services has carefully shipped four-legged creatures and flocks of birds through Miami International Airport to points throughout the globe.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category