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Telecommuting Policy Essentials

Essential Terms for Employers to Consider

If your business allows telecommuting as a general benefit, or because of COVID-19 pandemic, or for any other reason, your company should ensure it: 1) has a telecommuting policy and 2) that the telecommuting policy contains clear guidelines and expectations.

Implement a Telecommuting Policy/Agreement

Since working from home is becoming more of a business norm and is continuing to grow in acceptance and implementation, (especially due to COVID-19 shelter in place mandates), if remote work is allowed or continues to be allowed, employers need to make sure the company is protected by having a telecommuting policy in place. Some companies use a combination of a telecommuting policy and a telecommuting agreement or use the terms "policy" and "agreement" interchangeably.

There are important factors to consider when allowing employees to work from home. An effective policy/agreement will sets forth clear details and essential terms that are tailored to your business structure and culture.

Essential Terms to Consider & Include

  1. Define what positions are eligible. If the company business structure is not entirely based on remote working, then employers should include that telecommuting is an employment privilege and is not an employment entitlement as remote work may not be appropriate for all employees, positions and locations. For example; distinctions in eligibility can be based on full- and part-time status, salaried and hourly status, job position and duties, as well as length of employment or performance ratings.
  2. Define if the telecommuting arrangement will be temporary or permanent.  This is especially important for employers who have instituted work form home arrangements due to COVID-19 whereby the remote work arrangement may be intended only for as long as the pandemic is active.
  3. Define if there will be a certain percentage (%) of telecommuting that will be allowed. For example, will the remote working arrangement be 100% of the time or partial, whereby the employee will need to be in the office a certain percentage of time and will be allowed to work from home a certain percentage of time.
  4. Define a specific process that will be used for approval.  For example, this section should clearly set forth that telecommuting will be approved at the sole discretion of the company and must be approved by specific individuals, in advance, or on a case by case basis which would be consistent with job duties, job performance and the needs of the business. In addition this section should include that since telecommuting is a privilege, the company may, at any time and for any reason, cancel or postpone telecommuting which may include already approved telecommuting arrangements.
  5. Define employee responsibilities and expectations. For example, employees should be reminded that regular rules and policies still apply pertaining to: anti discrimination and harassment; workplace safety, workplace security and privacy; workplace IP/trade secrets, and duties of confidentiality and non-disclosure. As a best practice any mentioned rules and policy documents should be referenced and/or linked.
  6. Define specific job duties and schedule expectations when working remotely. Set the parameters of the telecommuting arrangement so that employees do not blur the line between personal and work. For example, revise job descriptions to match remote work requirements, clearly define the workspace and work time (e.g.; are flexible hours allowed?, must the employee be available for virtual meetings?, how will work hours be tracked - especially for hourly employees?). These details will help employers establish some reasonable limits on their liability and responsibilities for accidents and illnesses that occur in remote locations.
  7. Specify that disability/accommodation requests will be handled separately from the telecommuting policy. To avoid unintentionally denying requests for accommodation, the employer should make a distinction that the reasonable accommodation process and procedure request is separate from the telecommuting policy and provide relevant information and/or links to how an employee can submit an accommodation request. 
  8. Define the employers responsibilities. For example, what technical support will be provided to the remote employee?, what work expenses will the employer reimburse the remote employee (it would be a best practice to reference the company "expense reimbursement policy" which should comply with the State or the Fair Labor Standards Act  requirements regarding expense reimbursements ) ?, what equipment will the employer provide and repair (computers, cell phones, teleconferencing equipment, facsimile equipment, anti-virus software, and office supplies) for the remote employee?, what workplace safety measures we be implemented for remote workers (employers have a general duty to protect employees from recognized hazards that could apply to home offices)?
  9. Require acknowledgement of receipt, review and acceptance of the telecommuting policy. As a best practice - obtaining a signed acknowledgement of the employees receipt, review, understanding and acceptance of the telecommuting policy will help solidify and re-enforce expectations and prevent the employee from pleading ignorance of the policy as a reason for non-compliance. 
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If your company allows or will allow telecommuting, at any level, the company should have or otherwise develop an effective telecommuting policy. At minimum the policy should define eligibility and lay out clear expectations of employer and employee duties. Likewise, the policy should remain flexible for future adjustments whereby the ultimate goal should be to help the company avoid things such as - confusion, disgruntled and unproductive employees and/or unintended compliance violations in relation to the telecommuting arrangement.

Does your business need help?

If your company is stuck regarding the creation of telecommuting policies/agreements, Global Workplace Analytics has free sample telecommuting documents, on their website, that can be used as a starting point for developing a telecommuting policy and or agreement for your company (legal advice is not included).

If your company would prefer legal guidance in creating a new telecommuting policy/agreement or have an existing policy/agreement that needs to be reviewed or customized, in accordance with Illinois State and federal employment laws, feel free to inquire about a scheduled session with me to discuss how PLC, Ltd services can help.

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