Key Telecommuting Issues Affecting Employers

stock-photo-8563526-relaxed-businessman-typing-blank-laptop-tropical-waterMore than 30 million Americans work remotely at least one day per week. And telecommuting is likely to increase even further in the years ahead. 

But a virtual work world also brings along many potential compliance issues that an employer can’t afford to ignore. So, what does telecommuting mean for employee productivity and a company’s bottom line?

A new XpertHR podcast takes an in-depth look at these issues with Southern California employment attorney Todd Wulffson of Carothers, DiSante & Freudenberger. A frequent telecommuter himself, Wulffson provides a refreshing take on what this trend means for the workplace.

“There’s something to be said about kicking back in your pajamas and having a left-over pizza and Mountain Dew for breakfast and putting in your eight-hour work day,” says Wulffson. However, he is quick to add that telecommuting is not for everybody.

While noting that sometimes employees don’t need to be physically together, Wulffson explains, “It’s endemic to a certain industry and certain types of jobs.”

In particular, he says the tech companies in California and elsewhere are struggling between the “cool factor” and the economic realities test. Wulffson points out that his home state has some of the most stringent wage-and-hour laws in the nation.

He says, “A lot of companies that wanted to be cool and have a trendy type of environment with everyone working remotely changed their tune when they got hit with a lot of class actions [from employees working at home] for wage-and-hour compliance issues,” including missed meal breaks and unpaid overtime.

But the number one area of liability involving telecommuting, according to Wulffson, is when an employer does not apply its rules consistently. He notes that ad-hoc assessments based on an individual’s needs can spark hard feelings and lead to litigation.

Another hot issue when it comes to telecommuters involves employer monitoring. Wulffson says expectations must be set and any type of monitoring absolutely must be in the employer’s policy. Along these lines, he offers the following recommendations for HR:

  • Decide which positions need to allow for telecommuting;
  • Monitor in the least intrusive way possible; and
  • Have an established, objective criteria.

Wulffson says setting this criteria in the policy tells the employee up front what is expected of them. “I can work wherever I want, but I’m still going to be monitored and I’m still going to be expected to be perform at a certain level,” Wulffson says. “I think that’s eminently better than a program that says every five minutes you’ve got to press your space bar to make sure you’re still logged on because anyone can do that.”

For more insights on what employers need to know about telecommuting, tune into our latest XpertHR podcast. Is telecommuting a positive or a negative for your organization? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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