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Dealing with Employee “Telecommuters”

November 12, 2000

Janet E. Lanyon

As companies become electronically networked, there has been greater interest on the part of employees and some employers in permitting employees to work from home. In considering such “telecommuting” arrangements, there are several legal issues that employers should keep in mind:

Confidentiality Policies. Employers who wish to protect proprietary information (or confidential customer information) should establish policies regulating the removal of such documents from company offices for the purpose of working at home.

Workers’ Compensation Claims. It may be difficult for an employer to determine the facts relative to an on-the-job injury that occurs while an employee is working at home. Employers should assure that their policies regarding reporting of on-the-job injuries clearly apply to injuries suffered while working at home and should work with their workers’ compensation carriers to assure that coverage requirements are met.

Wage and Hour Claims. A non-exempt employee who is permitted to telecommute is often on the “honor system” in reporting his/her hours worked. Employers should assure that their written policies clearly reflect their expectations regarding authorization for overtime work and the consequences of falsely reporting hours worked.

Employment Discrimination Claims. Employers who permit telecommuting should establish business criteria for determining the circumstances under which an employee will be permitted to work at home. State and federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on protected classifications (age, race, sex, national origin, disability, etc.) apply to the grant/denial of a perquisite or benefit such as the ability to work from home. The employer should be prepared to justify such decisions with provable business reasons.

Electronic Communications by Telecommuters. An employer should assure that it has policies regarding use of the internet and electronic mail and that those policies apply to employees who are working from home so as to control the employee’s work-related use of these electronic media.

The evolution and expansion of the “workplace” presents new challenges along with new opportunities. Consideration by employers of potential legal issues before creating a telecommuting arrangement may save them from unanticipated liability.


Article Originally Published: Winter 2000

The information contained in this article is not intended to be legal advice. Readers should not act or rely on this information without consulting an attorney.