Protect your company with written telecommuting guidelines

Telecommuting and working remotely have both advantages and disadvantages. Traditionally telecommuting refers to employees working from their residence. These types of programs are becoming increasingly popular due to advances in technology and flexibility demanded by today’s workforce.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, on an average day in 2019, over 20 percent of full-time employed workers spent some time working while at home. And, more employees have switched to remote work since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smart Business spoke with Chris Zito, Managing Director of Zito Insurance Agency a Division of Risk Strategies, about the variables an employer needs to consider, including the business risk, before deciding whether or not to implement a telecommuting program.

What are the benefits and risks of allowing employees to telecommute?

There are benefits to telecommuting for both employees and employers. Some of these benefits are:

  • Reduction of brick and mortar expenses.
  • Aids in employee attraction and retention.
  • Flexibility.
  • Eliminates the stress of commuting.
  • Fewer sick days.

On the other hand, some challenges are:

  • A lack of collaboration.
  • Technology and/or security concerns.
  • Limited face-to-face time.
  • Equipment costs.

The extent to which a business experiences these pros and cons depends upon the industry, organizational structure and location, as well as how the telecommuting program is introduced and designed.

Before telecommuting is implemented, what factors need to be addressed?

The employer will need to determine which employees are permitted (or possibly required) to work remotely. Consideration must be given to the role, hours worked and equipment required. Allowing some employees to telecommute but not others in the same or similar positions could create the impression of being discriminatory or giving preferential treatment.

Compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is extremely important. Allowing employees not covered by an FLSA exemption to work remotely outside of normal work hours could result in overtime wage issues. When an employer offers an option to work remotely, several issues must be addressed through written guidelines.

One area of concern is cyber liability and confidentiality. Because equipment is out and about, and not contained in an office, there is potential for non-authorized users to access the devices. Measures should be in place to protect equipment, secure internet connections, back up data and protect files. A computer and cellphone care policy ought to be created to outline how employees should care for both hardware and software.

The beauty of allowing telecommuting is that employees can work almost anywhere. The problem is this could be a vehicle. A driver safety policy should be enacted for any employees who work on the road or telecommute. Guidelines to reduce distracted driving should be incorporated into this policy.

Workers’ compensation and employers’ liability also remain a concern for telecommuting employees. Although the location the employee is working in may be personal, the employee working remotely is still acting in the scope of employment. Because of the lack of supervision and variance in environments, it is especially critical that preventative measures and adequate training is in place. Some telecommuting policies incorporate clauses allowing the employer to reserve the right to inspect off-site locations for safety concerns. When an injury occurs at home, for example, it is more difficult to determine if that injury was suffered in the scope of employment.

Before your company offers telecommuting, be sure to analyze if the duties of the position can be successfully fulfilled through telecommuting, while also considering the costs and risks involved. It is very important to have a telecommuting policy to ensure the employee and employer understand the expectations, requirements and responsibilities.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Zito Insurance Agency a Division of Risk Strategies