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Scrap the ice scraper; allow employees to telecommute

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

There isn’t a worse sound than someone scraping ice off their windshield at 6:30 in the morning. You don’t have to make employees choose between taking a snow day and working, if you allow them to work from home. While you’re crafting a telecommuting policy, don’t forget the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Tick, tock. It’s tempting to limit telecommuting to FLSA-exempt employees. After all, they’re paid by the week, not by the hour, and they’re not entitled to overtime, so you have fewer time-keeping headaches. But nonexempt employees are perfectly capable of keeping track of their working time, too.

Since nonexempts must be paid for every hour they work, you must have a reliable system to track their work hours.

Idea: Before you allow employees to work from home, specify their core hours and how often they and their managers will touch base. Supervise this system closely. If employees can remotely access your software programs or your server, use their log in and out times as substitutes for them swiping or punching in and out, but follow up with them when they get back into the office.

As an alternative, you can come to a reasonable agreement with telecommuters regarding their work hours. Also, ensure that employees agree not to work overtime without their managers’ per­­mission.

Best: Get these agreements in writing. In any event, if you suspect that employees have worked longer and didn’t report their time, pay them their overtime.  You then need to follow up and resolve discrepancies quickly and amicably, before your suspicions grow into a lawsuit for unpaid overtime. You can also discipline those who worked overtime without permission.

Break time. Employees don’t work every minute of every day when they’re in the office—they take rest breaks and meal breaks.

FLSA rules: Rest breaks of between five and 20 minutes are compensable working time; meal breaks of at least 30 minutes are noncompen­­­­sable. Moreover, state laws may mandate that employees take breaks after they work a certain number of consecutive hours. These rules apply equally to employees who work from home. Ensure that employees understand these rules and that they’re not to work through their meal breaks.

WHAT TELECOMMUTING ISN’T: Telecommuting isn’t a substitute for regular child care arrangements, but an employee whose kids are home from school shouldn’t be automatically axed from telecommuting. It’s also not for everyone. Employees whose jobs require them to show up at work (e.g., receptionists, customer service reps or those who work with specialized equipment) can’t work from home. Unfortunately, they’ll have to take a snow day.

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