Personal computing, the internet and other technological advances have made it possible for many employees to do their jobs from home. Today, almost half of the U.S. workforce holds jobs compatible with at least partial telework and about 25 percent of the workforce teleworks at least some of the time, reports Global Workplace Analytics.
Telecommuting frequently offers advantages for employees and employers, but there are also some pitfalls all parties need to be aware of before the project starts. Employers need to be mindful of the business and legal risks associated with such arrangements.
Here are some issues that must be considered to help make telecommuting successful.
Worker’s insurance issues
A major consideration for both parties is whether a telecommuting worker has workplace coverage for injuries sustained while working at home. What coverage is there if an employee at home stumbles down the stairs going to his home office and is injured? What if a worker at home is injured doing work activities outside of normal work hours?
It might not be possible for employers to eliminate ambiguous situations. However, employers can take steps to avoid, or at least verify, injury claims by teleworkers.
Rules and expectations for telecommuting workers must be clearly defined, writes Stephen Bruce in an article for HR Daily Advisor. Those could include eligibility benchmarks such as requiring employees to work for the firm for a specified minimum time without attendance or discipline issues. Policies should spell out who is responsible for hardware, software, phone service, etc.
Working from home isn’t suitable for all employees, so employers need to carefully select those workers who demonstrate attributes needed for telecommuting success. According to Bruce, some of those include things like being self-motivated, an ability to manage time, strong knowledge of job duties, an ability to avoid distractions, an ability to handle technology issues and being comfortable working alone.
Designate a viable work space
Having a dedicated office space with good equipment and working conditions is just as important at home as it is working at an office. Having a proper, designated workspace helps a telecommuting worker start each day with a professional mindset. An employer should periodically check home work areas for potential hazards and ergonomic issues.
Comply with employment laws
Employees who telecommute should not be treated as independent contractors, and it is up to the employer to comply with applicable regulations. Kendall advises employers to consult with their labor and employment counsel to make certain they are in compliance with federal and state employment laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Workers who telecommute generally understand they are being judged on productivity and results. An article in USA Today notes many telecommuting workers put forth greater effort because they feel a need to prove themselves. At the same time, workers report increased job satisfaction and reduced stress.
Successful telecommuting requires advance planning and clearly defined expectations. To make it work, employers must make a determined effort to engage and connect with remote workers. In the end, a workplace with a culture of flexibility can create a more positive working environment, which translates to an improved bottom line.
Mark Kendall is Assistant Vice President/Associate General Counsel with CopperPoint’s Legal and Regulatory Affairs Division where he manages the in-house legal services department and coordination of CopperPoint legislative initiatives.
Kendall is a certified specialist in workers’ compensation and has focused his practice on workers’ compensation defense for the past 20 years. Kendall received his B.A. in Political Science from Northern Arizona University in 1983 and a M.A. in International Relations from the University of Arizona in 1986. He received his J.D. from Arizona State University in 1988 and a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in Justice Studies in the year 2000. He is the past co-chair of the workers’ compensation section of the State Bar of Arizona and past co-president of the Arizona Workers’ Compensation Defense Counsel Association.