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Legal and Other Considerations for Remote Employees

As the pandemic wanes and organizations gradually get back to business as usual, business as usual may not be the same as it was prior to the arrival of COVID-19. Employees who suddenly found themselves working from home may now be reluctant to trade in their pajamas for business attire, and businesses that had to quickly adjust to a remote way of operating are realizing it has some benefits. These developments likely mean more and more companies will be switching to a full or partial remote environment. But for a remote company, there are issues, legal and otherwise, that you need to be aware of.

Security and privacy issues

Employing a remote staff can create security and privacy issues that can leave your business vulnerable to lawsuits. This is especially true of companies that deal with finances and sensitive data. Most experts agree that you should try to enforce the same security and privacy policies that your on-site staff used before going remote. That means being vigilant about all the sensitive information employees have access to and transfer over networks (i.e., passwords, email addresses, personal identifying information, phone numbers, addresses, proprietary information, financial data, communication about customers and employees). The problem is that remote employees may bring their own devices, which may not have adequate security and privacy protections. To mitigate these risks for remote employees, you should take the following steps:

  • Create a written security policy outlining safe practices for employees.
  • Use a VPN to connect remote workers.
  • Set up two-factor authentication where possible.
  • Encrypt hard drives.
  • Make sure each remote worker has appropriate security on their device.

Hiring and compensation

Hiring processes for remote workers, just as with non-remote staff, can present legal issues. Of course, you have to guard against discriminatory practices or policies. There are specific questions that you can’t ask during an interview or on an application (e.g., age, race, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities).

Compensating remote employees presents a few extra challenges for HR. If you have remote workers in other states, you must follow the compensation laws in those states. You’ll need to know the minimum wage requirements, payroll taxes and deductions, information that must appear on paystubs, and overtime regulations for each employee’s place of residence. It’s a good idea to assign a dedicated person or department to be responsible for determining the laws and regulations for each state or locality.

Health and safety issues

Even when an employee is working from home, there are still issues that pose a threat to the safety and well-being of your employees, as well as legal concerns for your business. If a remote employee trips over an electrical cord and injures their back, not only might you lose that employee for a time, but you could also face legal ramifications. Employers can mitigate risks by:

  • Identifying health and safety hazards at the employee’s location and discussing safety precautions
  • Discussing illness and sick leave policies
  • Having a reporting system for incidents
  • Recognizing that mental health is also a concern

Even though the pandemic seems to be winding down, the lasting effects will likely remain. Having a remote workforce could be part of your company’s future. Understanding the social, legal, and managerial ramifications will help your business survive and thrive in these challenging times and beyond.

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