Set the Record Straight on Legal Issues Before Allowing Remote Work

With the onset of the pandemic, many companies found it necessary to adopt remote working arrangements for their employees. And those ad hoc changes generally worked out; employers managed to remain productive, and employees kept their jobs while staying safe.

Remote work may be here to stay. But before you make such long-term arrangements, it’s not enough for both parties to be satisfied. Legal considerations come into play, which is why many employers consult with a firm specializing in corporate and commercial law before offering full-time remote work. Here are some issues that might give rise to complications and are thus worth looking into.

Differences in taxation and compensation

Now that full-time remote work has become an option for many employees, you may encounter situations in which your people are working from outside the state where your business operates. They might be based in another country.

That creates a potential ‘tax trap’ as you’ll need to make sure that employees are being paid correctly according to their local tax laws. Consult with your payroll team to make sure that you’re compliant in this regard. Your HR team may also need to get involved as far as international employees are concerned, as your business might have to become a registered employer in their country.

The location of your workers can also bring local labor laws into play. These may affect several aspects of the relationship. Terms of employment that specify working hours, family and medical-related leave of absence, as well as non-compete clauses and termination agreements, may need to be reviewed and revised. You may also find that as an employer, you’ll need to shoulder worker’s compensation insurance or unemployment premiums.

Accurate timekeeping becomes especially crucial in light of these implications. Outside the traditional office environment, you’ll have to implement a reliable means of letting employees clock in and out. It will help you keep records of hours worked for overtime and minimum wage calculations. Since employees value the flexibility offered by remote work, consider having them sign off on a policy sheet regarding unauthorized overtime.

working at home

Health and safety issues

Remote work allows your employees to enjoy the comforts of home while carrying out their jobs. But it can also give rise to uncomfortable questions about liability regarding risks to their health and safety.

Employers can’t provide the same sort of access to office facilities to their remote workers. It’s up to the employee to ensure the safety of their remote working conditions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t require employers to conduct home inspections. Nonetheless, it may be in your best interest as an employer to ensure that their setup is satisfactory in this regard.

Both sides should provide clarity to help iron out the potential complications arising from health and safety issues. Ask your employees to define which area of the house they will be working from, and send pictures of the area. You can then judge from this information whether the workspace meets safety standards.

You can also set expectations of liability for any company-issued property, such as laptops. Should they decide to go out and work from a local café, for instance, you wouldn’t be liable for any accident or damage to company property. Make sure to set down these agreements in a signed contract.

Data protection and cybersecurity

With company-issued devices leaving the office premises, and access to intranet resources opened up to remote connections or replaced by a wholesale move to the cloud, further legal risks arise. Employers could have confidential data or trade secrets being accessed in public spaces or over unsecured connections.

As the office shifts towards remote work, more devices are being used, and more resources accessed over less secure home connections. The human element has always been seen as the weakest link in any cybersecurity system. Now, that end-user exposure is even higher than before. But if you don’t take adequate steps to address these risks, you may end up being liable in the event of sensitive data being compromised.

See to it that your IT personnel and third-party vendors are sufficiently prepared. Coordinate with your employees to ensure that their devices are up-to-date with the latest security patches, and use additional layers of protection such as two-factor authentication. Finally, conduct periodic refreshes and release updates regarding scams so that your team is always aware of the cybercrime threat.

The scene of remote work is changing rapidly, and the law will doubtless evolve in response. Stay tuned to the latest developments, and consult with your lawyers when in doubt to ensure compliance in your operations.

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