Work environments are changing rapidly to accommodate the recent coronavirus outbreak. Due to CDC guidelines that require social distancing, work as we know it will not return to the old normal any time soon. Remote work has already become the new normal for the workforce. With some companies deciding to extend the remote work option even after the pandemic. The workforce has adapted to the new environment and studies have shown that a remote workforce has shown a better productivity rate than before. Remote work has seen many benefits other this now that we are more familiar with the idea.
While there are all these benefits to remote work, there are points that things could go wrong. So much so that problems leading to mitigation. Nobody wants to get into that mess, before everyone was working from the office, certain rules and regulations were controlling the activities. But as we already know situations have changed, people are working from home. And accessing sensitive company data from their home network and devices. The United States constitution gives its fellow citizens certain rights. That says companies cannot just peek into people’s home computers and network, that would be a violation of their privacy. To deal with all these matters and keep the company data safe from any unwanted eyes, companies need to update their legal policies. Several areas need to be reviewed for this, some of those points are discussed here.
Data Security and Privacy
One of the most important policies to review is data security, and privacy. This is a point that no company should risk overlooking. As said before, while remote working employees are accessing and sharing across the network, sensitive company data, it could include company financial or proprietary information, personal data such as employee name and addresses, confidential data like communication with the clients, internal communication, all this stands the risk of being seen or accessed by an unauthorized party. To avoid any of these, revisit the IT policies of your company. Employees’ devices and networks must be secure. Devices should be required to password protected and other their organizational email and accounts should also be secured. In addition to the password protection on these accounts, also mandate to enable two-factor authentication and require them to update their password on specific periods. You can also enlist your IT department team to make sure that all remote workers are using a company approved anti-virus software and VPN while accessing the company servers.
It should be included in your company policies and made aware of the remote workers that they are handling sensitive company information and they have an obligation to protect that information and handle it securely. A training program for employees, to educate them on the internet scams like, phishing, would be a great practice.
Time Management and Wage Dispute
Companies can have remote workers throughout American states, and they are obligated to pay the employees in accordance with federal and state laws. The Fair Labour Standards Act (FLSA) requires the employer to pay the employee for all the hours they worked and keep accurate information regarding the hours worked. These rules apply to employees working from home also. To avoid any dispute in this part, you should require all employees to require that they record all the hours they worked and to get approval from their manager for working overtime.
Potential Discrimination Concerns
Companies could face potential discrimination allegations if those working from office and remote are not treated equally. Companies also need to be aware that the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws are also applicable to remote workers. Ensure that the remote worker who is doing the same work as a normal worker is getting paid equally. Also look out for any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Companies should also be on the lookout when it comes to their work culture and inter-office dynamics. Hold regular virtual conferences and send emails to promote a healthy work culture. Make sure employees are treating each other with respect in the virtual work environment. Make sure they are not acting based on cultural biases or stereotypes. Let them know company policies apply to them even when they are working from home.
Companies must be extremely careful while drafting the leave policies for a remote workforce. You must consider the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and respective state laws in this matter. According to federal law, an eligible employee under the FMLA must be employed at a worksite where 50 or more employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles of that worksite. Now, it is common for employees to mistake this as remote workers are not eligible for FMLA leave when working remotely. But in fact, an employee’s worksite is the office to which they report and from which they are assigned work or assignments. Remote workers also are eligible for the FMLA leave.
Expense and Asset Management
Employees’ expense during remote work, such as their internet bills or telephone bills, some states like California have required the employer to reimburse a reasonable amount of this, even if they have an unlimited plan. Some other states which require expense reimbursement such as this include Illinois, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, etc. Also need to consider in the policy, the assets that belong to the company, and how they need to be handled by the employees.
Companies must get it down in writing about all these concerns in the beginning. So that there is no confusion about the employee expenses or asset management in the future.
What we have discussed here is literally only the tip of an iceberg. There are still several areas and policies to be reviewed properly to maintain and build a healthy remote work environment. Policies like health benefits that cover any workplace injuries or such, needs to be revisited and drafted again including the new situations. The Income-tax rules which vary among states need to be reviewed and updated. Onboarding processes, training procedure, these are all areas that also need to be reviewed.
Several companies employ people from different countries. So, they must also consider the labor laws in the respective countries of their employees. These are pressing times, and nobody wants to deal with the mess of legal trouble. So, have your experts review your company policies and make sure they are updated to accommodate the remote work culture which is becoming the new normal. There might not be a return to the old normal any time soon, so it is better to get used to this, adapt to the changes.