June 30, 2011

Parades, puppies and the “Fargo” woodchipper

Posted in Attendance, Breaks, Computer Use, Confidential Information, Contracts, Employee Privacy, Fair Labor Standards Act, Hours Worked, Leaves of Absence, Leaves of Absence, Overtime, Record Keeping, Social Media in the Workplace, Telework / Telecommuting, Vacation Policies tagged , , at 8:51 am by Tom Jacobson

Last week I took a staycation.  Despite the fact that it was one of the rainiest June weeks on record for our neck of the woods, we had a great time. We watched two parades and a swim meet, spent time with our son who is home on leave from the Air Force Academy, and we played with our litter of Labrador pups .  We even took a side-trip to Fargo to see the wood chipper from the movie, Fargo.  And, except for my first day off when I needed to put out a fire that started the day before, I managed to not check my work e-mail or voice mail for a week.

But what if I had checked my e-mail or voice mail?  What if I had texted my secretary or my clients?  What if I had decided to post this commentary from home during one of those downpours?  Telecommuting, or “telework,” would have allowed me to turn my staycation into a working vacation.

Telecommuting offers tremendous benefits.  It allows for flexible work arrangements.  It can save on fuel and other transportation costs.  It can keep employees productive when circumstances would otherwise prevent them from working.

But telecommuting can also be a trap for the unwary.  Aside from the fact that it can distract us from our R&R, working remotely raises a number of employer-employee issues, such as:

* How are working hours tracked for an employee who works remotely?

* Is the telecommuting employee getting the break time to which s/he may be legally entitled?

* Is the employee entitled to overtime when the hours worked remotely are added to his/her workweek?

* Is an employee really on “leave” if s/he is working remotely while supposedly taking time off?

* Is the employee entitled to any tax deductions for a “home office”?

* To what extent is an employee entitled to worker’s compensation benefits if s/he is injured while working from home, and does this give the employer the right to inspect the employee’s home for safety concerns?

* How secure is the employer’s data if an employee is accessing it from or storing it on his/her home computer?

* What privacy rights, if any, does an employee have with respect to his/her cell phone, computer, etc. that is used to work remotely?

* Which jobs work best for telecommuting arrangements?

* What is lost (or in come cases, gained) when telecommuting co-workers do not have face-to-face contact?

* How can the employer be assured that the teleworking employee is actually working?

To avoid falling into a telecommuting trap, employers need to understand the risks, as well as the rewards, of remote working arrangements.  Then, by developing telecommuting agreements and policies,  employers can take full advantage of the benefits that telecommuting can offer.  For more information about the development and use of such policies and agreements, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

December 29, 2010

When the weather is frightful and work’s not delightful: the case for telework

Posted in Employee Handbooks, Telework / Telecommuting tagged , , , at 11:17 am by Tom Jacobson

When the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful, employers are rarely heard singing “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”  Instead, their human resources directors comb through company policies to figure out how to handle the workers who are stuck at home until the plows can clear the way back to the office.  At the same time, business owners are calculating the revenue lost because of stranded workers who cannot do their jobs.

Blizzards and other severe weather events are not the only situations that prevent workers from being physically present on the job.  Other emergencies, injuries, illnesses and family commitments can have the same impact.  To weather such storms, employers may want to consider telework arrangements.

Granted, telework is  not feasible when a person must be physically present at the job-site.  However, with advances in technology, the decreasing cost of that technology, and the increasing number of jobs that are heavily reliant on the processing of information, telework (or “telecommuting”) is a viable option in many workplaces.

Moreover, it is likely that telework options will in the not to distant future be required in more places of employment.  The federal government is already moving in that direction, for on December 9, 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law the federal Telework Enhancement Act (“TEA”).  Among other mandates, this law requires federal agencies to identify workers who are eligible for telework,  appoint telework managing officers, develop training programs and enter into written agreements with employees who work remotely.

TEA was introduced in early 2009, but it was stranded for months until the Washington, D.C. blizzards of 2009-10 forced the federal government to shut down, costing it tens of millions of dollars per day in lost productivity (B. Leonard, President Signs Federal Employment Telework Legislation, SHRM Dec. 10, 2010).  After that, the law cruised through Congress when it was seen as a means to limit lost productivity.  As large metropolitan areas once again dig out from the massive snowstorms of late 2010, it would not be surprising to see similar legislation passed at the state and local levels.

Even if it’s not because of the weather or mandated by law, telework is an increasingly viable option to increase productivity, so employers should consider adopting policies that allow it.  Such policies must, however, be carefully drafted to account for the myriad of laws that will still apply whether an employee is working at the office or at home  — in his PJ’s  — where the fire is so delightful.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

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