Avoid these 5 telecommuting liability pitfalls

Some 3.9 million employees—about 3% of all U.S. workers—work from home at least half of the time, according to a study released in January by research firm Global Workplace Analytics. That’s up from 1.8 million in 2005, a 115% increase. 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 if an injury is work-related when the workplace is the home. The good news: OSHA doesn’t inspect home offices. The bad news: That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be liable in case of an injury.

Tips: Regularly inspect teleworkers’ home offices. A particular problem: Tangles of computer cables and extension cords that can pose a fire hazard. Check for smoke alarms, ease of evacuation and ergonomic design of work stations. Ensure your liability insurance covers mishaps that happen when a co-worker, vendor or client visits a telecommuter’s home.

3. Privacy. If you want to have access to employees’ home-based computers, spell that out in a policy and in a telework agreement signed by the employee and a company rep. If you pay for the phones, computers and internet connections telecommuters use (and you can handle inevitable grumbling), you can forbid workers from using them for personal tasks.

Book of Company Policies D

4. Accommodations for disabled employees. You must offer disabled employees the same opportunities to work from home as everyone else. That could mean making exceptions to your telecommuting policies, such as waiving length-of-service requirements before employees becoming eligible to telework.

5. Equal treatment. Administer telecommuting arrangements in a consistent, nondiscriminatory manner. Best bet: Spell out in a policy which jobs can and can’t be performed off-site. Stress that telecommuting is strictly at your discretion.