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Use telecommuters? Avoid the 6 common legal pitfalls

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The number of employees who work from home at least one day per month increased 63 percent between 2004 and 2006, says a new WorldatWork study. But as telework’s popularity grows, so do legal concerns for employers.

To lower your risks, devise a telecommuting policy that protects you on these fronts:

  1. Wage-and-hour compliance. Employers must document how much time nonexempt employees work—even if they’re working where you can’t see them —and pay time-and-a-half for overtime. Give teleworkers strict guidelines regarding their work hours and discipline them if they work beyond that schedule.
  2. Workplace injuries and insurance. It’s difficult to determine whether an injury is work-related when the workplace is the home. The good news: OSHA hasn’t inspected home offices. The bad news: That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be liable in case of an injury. Tips: Send someone to inspect teleworkers’ home offices for fire alarms, improper use of extension cords, evacuation plans and the ergonomic design of work stations. Set home-office safety guidelines. Make sure your liability insurance covers mishaps that happen when a vendor or client visits a telecommuter’s home.
  3. Privacy. If you want to have access to a home-based computer, spell that out in the agreement. Some organizations pay for computers and broadband connections in teleworkers’ homes and forbid workers from using them for personal work.
  4. Confidentiality. Require teleworkers to keep work files separate from personal business, and not just on the computer. Supply passwords and lockable file cabinets.
  5. Accommodations for disabled employees. The EEOC says you must offer disabled employees the same opportunities to work from home that you provide nondisabled employees. That could mean making exceptions to your telecommuting policies, such as waiving a requirement that employees work for at least a year before becoming eligible to telework.
  6. Equal treatment. Administer telecommuting arrangements in a consistent, nondiscriminatory manner. Best bets: Describe in your policy which jobs can and can’t be performed off-site, and stress that telecommuting is voluntary.  

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