In the past month, thousands of companies found themselves suddenly transitioning into a remote workforce model. Many of those organizations are now realizing that an employer's responsibilities under those conditions aren't always clear.
How do your obligations to your workers change when they're working from home? What are the differences between an exempt and a non-exempt remote employee? What if your business is completely shut down?
Here are some guidelines to get you started. For specific questions or interpretations, you should consult your labor attorney.
Related reading: How to Build a Strong Remote Team from a Company That's Been There
Obligations to Remote Employees
Am I responsible for my remote employees' safety?
OSHA doesn't conduct inspections on employees' home offices, and they won't hold employers responsible for the safety conditions of remote employees' workspaces. If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, they may inform the employer, but they won't take any follow-up actions.
What if you have an employee who is injured on the job while working from home? In that case, you will need to treat it as any other work-related injury or illness, if:
- It occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home.
- The injury or illness is directly related to the performance of their work.
We recommend defining your remote employees' normal working hours and job duties in advance. This can help to determine whether claims are work-related.
Do I need to report employees who have the coronavirus disease?
You only need to record cases of the coronavirus if you believe the employee was exposed at work, and the case is officially diagnosed as the coronavirus.
Do parents with kids at home qualify for leave under FMLA?
Under COVID-19 scenarios, FMLA temporarily extends protections and guarantees paid sick leave for certain employees. Employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide up to two weeks of paid leave and 10 weeks at two-thirds of pay for workers, through the end of 2020.
Your employees are eligible for the paid leave if they are in quarantine, caring for sick family members, or have children whose schools or childcare centers are closed. You must also provide up to 10 additional weeks off at partial pay for employees who have lost their childcare because of school and daycare closures.
If you have fewer than 50 employees, you may apply for exemptions from the new provisions.
How do I keep accurate time records and prevent employees from working unauthorized overtime?
Implement an electronic timekeeping system that's easily accessible from a computer or mobile device. Develop timekeeping policies for employees to record all hours worked and expressly prohibit off-the-clock work. You can mitigate unnecessary overtime by requiring employees to get their supervisor's permission before working overtime.
If a worker does put in unauthorized overtime, you can take corrective action but you can't withhold overtime pay.
Do I need to provide breaks and lunches to remote workers?
Some states require organizations to provide breaks and meals to employees. If you're operating in one of those states, then you must provide breaks to all non-exempt employees, including remote workers. We recommend requiring employees to clock out during unpaid meal breaks.
Do I need to pay for remote workers' internet access?
Possibly. Some states require employers to reimburse employees for any reasonable business expenses they incur, such as internet access from a home office. In addition, the FLSA requires companies to reimburse employees for work-related expenses if the expenses drop their pay below the minimum wage.
We recommending clearly communicating any technology-related expenses that will be reimbursable.
Do I need to pay employees who can't work from home?
Assuming you don't have a contract or CBA that says otherwise, you don't have to pay non-exempt employees for time they don't work. Under certain circumstances, you may be required to pay exempt employees if they are directed not to report to work.
If my company is forced to close, do I need to pay my employees?
Non-exempt employees are paid only for hours worked.
Generally speaking, exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any workweek in which they worked, no matter how many hours they worked. If your business closes on a Wednesday, you will need to pay your exempt employees their full salary for that week (as long as they worked any part of that time).
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