Telecommuting numbers are on the rise. More people are starting to work from home, and these individuals are starting to become more diverse, as well (regarding age and income). To learn more about how telecommuting is changing the way people view employment, checkout this infographic created by Champlain College’s Online Masters in Law degree program.
It is estimated that 32 million people work from home for someone else full time at least half of the time. Further, 2.8 million people who are self-employed regard their homes as their primary place of work. At the minimum, approximately 30 million people in the United States work from home once a week.
Between 2005 and 2012, there was a 79 percent increase in people working from home. Forty percent of commuters are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 60 percent are 35 and above. The average commuter has a college degree, earns about $58,000 a year and works for a company that has more than 100 employees.
More than one-third of men (37 percent) work from home. Among women the figure is 31 percent. More than 75 percent of employees who work from home earn more than $65,000 per year. While the increase in people working from home has been phenomenal, there are legal issues that must be considered.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Working remotely carries the risk of unwarranted and non-sanctioned divulgence of confidential information. Employees who work remotely use their own computers, not work-issued computers. Such information can be subject to hacking and unintentional loss of data. There is a need for employees to sign non-disclosure agreements, as well as to take preventative measures to protect confidential and propriety information.
Employees who work from home should request to use company-issued equipment that contains security protocols, and companies must provide a way to repossess files from telecommuting employees. Part of the agreement with telecommuting employees should be to return and protect classified information upon termination or retirement.
The Importance of Security
Telecommuting employees ought to have secure access to company information. Nonetheless, home office equipment and electronic devices must be used strictly for official purposes, not also for personal use. This must clearly be stated in the employee’s policy. Security should include encryption, passwords and firewalls. About $5.9 million was used in 2014 alone as costs associated with data breaches. A policy that limits the use of personal devices for office work among telecommuting employees goes a long way to increase security.
Employee Exempt Status
Employees who have a right to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act are known as non-exempt employees. Generally, it is less likely for this category of employees to work from home as compared to salaried employees. When employers allow this category of employees to work from home, employers will be obligated to pay any unexpected overtime wages. Employees may also find it difficult to keep track of employee hours. There is a need for policies to monitor and limit the amount of time non-exempt employees can be engaged in work.
The Importance of Employee Liability
Employee liability among remote employees is vital. For this reason, it is essential that employers have an explicit policy in place dealing with work-related injuries. While such injuries might occur at the employee’s home, the employer can be held liable for the injuries and also for damage to property that occurs while an employee is working remotely, even if the employee was negligent.
This is why it’s essential to have a clearly defined policy addressing the need for employees to maintain safe practices at remote work sites. The policy should disclaim employer liability to third parties and clearly state what the employer is liable for.
In offering employees the chance to telecommute, employers must observe caution to not show any form of bias. They must establish policies that guarantee equal opportunities so the privilege is not subject to discrimination. It is possible to get into certain stereotypes and obsolete presuppositions that might influence the process of choosing which employees telecommute and which ones do not. This should be avoided, as the company might find itself having to respond to administrative charges or possibly a lawsuit that makes claims of discrimination.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Telecommuting is a suitable opportunity for employers to accommodate employees with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, this is “reasonable accommodation.” Employers though, may have views that are contrasting to those of their employees on the possibilities of telecommuting. A good example is the when the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) challenged the Ford Motor Company on the basis that the company failed to provide disabled accommodation by turning down an employee’s request to telecommute for up to four days.
In conclusion, employers should consider implementing a thoroughly thought-out telecommuting policy. They can then ask telecommuting employees to sign the policy that deals with issues of work schedule, injuries associated with the work environment and setting up a designated and safe workplace. With a clear policy in place, there will be clarity for both employers and employees with regard to obligations. The virtual workplace is changing constantly and it is essential to change with the times.