Telecommuting numbers are on the rise. More people are starting to work from home, and these individuals are starting to become more diverse as well (regarding age and income). To learn more about how telecommuting is changing the way people view employment checkout this infographic created by Champlain College’s Online Masters in Law degree program.

How Has Telecommuting Influenced Employment Laws

It is estimated that 32 million people work from home for someone else full time at least half of the time. Further, 2.8 million people who are self-employed regard their homes as their elementary place of work. At the minimum, approximately 30 million people in the United States form from home once a week.

Between 2005 and 2012, there was a 79% increase of people working from home. The normal commuter age in the United States is 40% for people aged 18 to 34 and 60% for people aged 35 and above. The average commuter has graduated with a college degree, earns about $58,000 a year, and works for a company that has more than 100 employees.

One third of men or about 37% work from home while the figure for women is 31%. More than 75% of employees who work from home earn more than $65,000 per year. While the increase in the number of people working from home has been phenomenal, there are legal issues that must be put into consideration.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Working remotely carries the risk of unwarranted and non-sanctioned divulgence of confidential information. Employees who work remotely use their own computers and not work issued computers. Such information can be subject to hacking and unintentional loss of data. There is a need for employees to sign non-disclosure agreements as well as take preventative measures that protect confidential and propriety information.

Such employees should request for the use of company issued equipment that contain security protocols. Employees ought to review the homework area through deliberations with telecommuting employees. Companies must provide for a way to repossess files from telecommuting employees. Part of the agreement with telecommuting employees should be to return and protect classified information upon termination or retirement.

The Importance of Security

Telecommuting employees ought to have secure access to company information. Nonetheless, home office equipment and electronic devices must be used only for official purposes and not for personal use. This must clearly be stated in the employee’s policy. Security should include encryption, passwords and firewalls. About $5.9 million was used in 2014 alone as costs associated with data breaches. When telecommuting employees limits the use of personal devices for office work, it goes a long way in helping to increase security.

Employee Exempt Status

Employees who have a right to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act are known as non-exempt employees. Generally, it is less likely for this category of employees to work from home as compared to salaried employees. When employers allow this category of employees to work from home, employers will be obligated to pay any unexpected overtime wages. Employees may also experience difficulty with keeping track of employee hours. There is a need for the policies in place that monitor and limit the amount of time non-exempt employees can be engaged in work.

The Importance of Employee Liability

Employee liability for remote action is vital. For this reason, it is essential that employers have an explicit policy in place that deals with work related injuries. While such injuries might occur at the employee’s home, the employer can be held liable to the injuries and also to damage to property that occurs while an employee is working remotely even if the employee was negligent.

This is why having a clearly defined policy that addresses the need for employees to maintain safe practices at remote work sites are essential. The policy should disclaim employer liability to third parties and clearly state what the employer is liable to.

Discrimination

In offering employees the chance to telecommute, employees must observe caution to not show any form of bias. They must establish policies that guarantee equal opportunities so telecommuting is not subjected to discrimination. It is possible to get into certain stereotypes and obsolete presuppositions that might influence the process of choosing which employees telecommute and which ones do not. This should be avoided because the company can get into trouble and might find itself having to respond to administrative charges or possibly a law suit that makes claims of discrimination.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Telecommuting is a suitable opportunity for employers to accommodate employees with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, this is “reasonable accommodation.” Employers though, may have views that are contrasting to those of their employees on the possibilities of telecommuting. A good example is the when the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) challenged the Ford Motor Company on the basis that the company failed to provide disabled accommodation by turning down an employee’s request to telecommute for up to four days.

In conclusion, employers should consider implementing a thoroughly thought out telecommuting policy. They can then ask telecommuting employees to sign the policy that deals with issues of work schedule, injuries that are associated with the work environment and the setting up of a designated and safe workplace. With a clear policy in place, there will be clarity for both employers and employees with regards to obligations. The virtual workplace is changing constantly and it is essential to change with the times.

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