In this guest post, Alex Morgan of Jatheon delves into legal implications of remote work and shares tips to prevent them.
For many businesses, the current pandemic has meant switching to remote work from the traditional office work environment. Almost two years later, it seems that both employers and employees have gotten used to the new work setting. Some companies are even considering making remote work a permanent option for their employees.
Although the transition to remote work has been smooth for most businesses from a productivity perspective, there are still some challenges they face. Namely, remote work raises some new legal issues businesses have to consider. Let’s see what are the legal implications of remote working are and how to resolve them.
Managing Remote Workers From Different States
One of the biggest advantages of having a remote workforce is the opportunity to hire the best talent regardless of their location. However, you must keep in mind that not all states have the same laws. For example, the requirement for the minimum wage might be higher in some states, and some states have more expansive paid and unpaid leave rights. You might even be legally obliged to reimburse your employees for their home office expenses.
Additionally, tax laws also differ from state to state. For example, your employees might be subject to income tax both in the state you operate in and in the state they reside in. You need to take all of these (and many more) differences into account if you want to avoid remote work legal issues.
Today, businesses are collecting more customer data than ever. While this data can help provide a better customer experience, keeping it for too long or deleting it too soon can cause serious issues.
Data retention laws and regulations differ, not only by state but also by industry. For example, in the healthcare industry, businesses are required to keep records for seven years under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In the pharmaceutical industry, the retention period is only two years under Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, making sure that all of your employees are aware of these regulations and that they are properly implementing them can be challenging. That’s why it’s essential to have a clear email retention policy that your employees can easily follow even if they’re working remotely. Furthermore, you can automate retention to eliminate the risk of human mistakes and ensure compliance without burdening your employees.
Protecting Sensitive Company Data
Besides collecting sensitive customer data, employers are also gathering private information, such as medical information, about their employees. With that much sensitive data on hand, it’s crucial to protect your company from data loss and data breaches. However, this task can become increasingly difficult when dealing with a remote workforce.
Are your employees using company devices in their home offices, on their personal networks? Then it’s much more challenging to protect those devices from cybersecurity threats. Some remote employees even use their own devices both for business and personal purposes. That’s why it’s essential to stay vigilant and educate your employees about the latest cybersecurity threats and trends.
For example, you can use simulated platforms to test how good your employees are at identifying dangers such as phishing attacks. Phishing attacks are one of the biggest threats to cybersecurity, along with human errors. So make sure that your employees know how to recognize them. Here are some other best practices you should teach your employees:
- Making sure that all devices are protected by a strong password and that passwords are regularly changed
- Avoiding public Wi-Fi
- Using VPN
- Being cautious when clicking on links or opening attachments from unfamiliar websites or senders
- Not sending sensitive data to personal accounts
- Reporting anything suspicious to the IT department
Preventing Virtual Harassment
Employee monitoring often comes with questions regarding privacy and the lack of trust towards employees. However, while many employers use monitoring to make sure that their employees are actually working, tracking productivity is not the only reason to monitor employees. You can also utilize monitoring to identify virtual harassment.
Just because there’s a physical distance, it doesn’t mean that harassment doesn’t happen. From cyberbullying via email, private, or group chats to verbal bullying and inappropriate comments during virtual meetings, you should look for signs of virtual harassment and implement the right policies to prevent them.
You should review and revise your existing anti-harassment policies to make sure they also cover conduct expressed through virtual mediums. This doesn’t mean someone should read every single word your employees are writing. Monitoring employee communication can simply mean implementing keyword triggers to help you identify harassment.
Still, you need to be mindful of privacy laws and regulations and make sure to always be transparent and disclose monitoring practices to your employees. If done right, monitoring can help you identify and prevent harassment without violating privacy, while eschewing remote work legal issues.
Dealing With Remote Worker Injuries
In most states, employers are liable for work-related injuries their employees suffer while working from home. However, each state has its own workers’ compensation program, and you need to be familiar with all of them if you have employees from multiple states in order to stay compliant.
It can be even more challenging to determine whether the injury was truly the result of their employment. The lines between work-related and day-to-day activities can be vague when working from home. To minimize your exposure to claims for injuries, you may want to consider the following:
- Require written authorization before allowing employees to work remotely
- Regularly update employee job descriptions
- Request that your employees define their home workspace
- Provide training and information about setting up a safe office space
- Provide a safety checklist
- Require your remote workers to report their meal breaks and other personal breaks
- Encourage employees to report any injuries immediately
Regularly Updating Remote Work Policy
If you’re dealing with remote workers, you should have a clearly written remote work policy in place. Moreover, this policy should be regularly reviewed and updated when necessary. Neglecting it may result in costly legal issues with remote employees. Your employees should be aware of this policy and be notified of any changes. Managers, for their part, should be properly trained on implementing the policy.
Remote work policy should cover these essential topics:
- Defined procedures for requesting to switch to remote work
- Job descriptions, duties, and expected work results
- Workspace and work equipment
- Data protection policy
- Employee monitoring practices
- Anti-harassment policy
- Work-related injuries
- Leave requests
While remote work comes with many perks, it also requires you to take a few extra steps in order to avoid any legal implications of remote working. Keeping track of different laws when you have remote employees from multiple states can be challenging. But having a clearly defined remote work policy that covers all the essential legal issues can make following regulations much easier.
Alex is a content and SEO specialist at Jatheon, internet nerd, and data enthusiast. He is interested in topics that cover data regulation, compliance, eDiscovery, information governance and business communication.
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