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Remote Work and the Law: Legal Issues that Remote Leaders Must Know

Guest post by Natasha Bowman JD, SPHR, aka the Workplace Doctor, founder and CEO of Performance Renew and the author of You Can't Do That at Work: 100 Legal Mistakes Managers Make in the Workplace.

Employing a remote workforce can bring enormous benefits to an organization, like expanding attracting top talent and saving on overhead expenses that usually accompany a location-dependent workforce. But employing remote workers also comes with its own set of legal implications that remote leaders need to consider. Each of these legal issues could be a potential liability for your company. 

Make sure that you work through the proper channels to ensure that each issue is properly and adequately addressed in your:

  • HR policies
  • Employee handbook
  • Hiring process
  • Onboarding process
  • Organizational structure
  • Procedures
  • Additional organizational policies

Legal Issues with Remote Teams

Privacy and Security

With a remote workforce, all communication takes place in a decentralized environment. Privacy and security of your business’ information should be at the top of your list of concerns—just think of all the sensitive information your employees have access to and submit over wireless networks: passwords, email addresses, personal identifying information, phone numbers, addresses, proprietary information, financial data, communication about customers and employees. This is just a short list of the kinds of information that is sent by and to your employees.

A couple of the biggest recent data breaches involved hackers getting access to sensitive personal information of customers (e.g. Equifax) — you don’t want your organization to be another example!

Make sure that everyone in your organization—including those who work from home—understand your privacy and security policies. And of course, it’s up to organizational leadership to make sure there are systems in place for making sure those policies are enforced by everyone in the organization. Here are Ten Steps to a Successful Security Policy from Computer World.

Things To Do:

  • Require anyone who uses their computer using public Wi-Fi to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), a paid service that keeps your web browsing secure. Get recommendations for these services here.
  • If you use G-Suite by Google, enable 2-factor authorization.
  • Protect data on personal computers by encrypting hard drives. Require that every employee follow these steps.

Payroll

If you have remote workers in multiple states, you need to make sure you are paying everyone according to the laws in those states. You and your payroll provider should know, at minimum, the following information in order to comply with each state’s regulations:

  • Minimum wage in the employee’s state, county, and/or city
  • Information that needs to appear on paystubs
  • Payday frequency requirements
  • Paycheck delivery requirements
  • Payroll deduction requirements
  • Overtime calculation (if it differs from the federal regulations)
  • Payroll tax calculation

Things To Do:

  • Check with your payroll department or payroll service provider to see what steps you need to take to comply with each state’s regulations.
  • Assign these oversight duties to at least one person or department in your organization if they have not already been assigned.

International Employment Laws

Similar to hiring employees from different states, if you hire workers that live in different countries you need to comply with the employment and labor laws in those locations.

Depending on your situation and what country your employee lives in, your organization may or may not have to register in that country.

Things To Do:

  • Check with your HR department to see how international employee situations are currently handled.
  • If you do not have an HR department, hire a consultant with experience handling international employee situations.

 

Health and Safety

Just because remote workers are not physically present at one central workplace, does not mean that your organization does not have to comply with health and safety legislation. It’s up to the employer to identify any potential hazards that may come with remote work.

Additionally, employers are responsible for implementing measures to control and mitigate risk. Employers can accomplish this by reviewing hazards with employees to ensure that risks and control measures are adequate. They can also establish a system for reporting and investigating injuries, illness, or other incidents that can occur because of work activities.

Remote workers are responsible for taking care of their own health and safety by complying with the policies set forth by the employer. Additionally, they should report any hazards or issues as soon as possible following the employer’s reporting procedures.

Things To Do:

  • Provide worker support systems
  • Provide health and safety training to remote employees
  • If needed, provide required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

 

Hiring & Interviews

A reminder that simple job postings and interviews can put you at risk for legal ramifications—even for remote employees. In your job postings, beware of language that implies that a certain type of protected class of people will not be considered. An example of this is stating that you are looking for candidates who are young and active on social media.

Problematic topics:

  • Compensation. In some locations, like Massachusetts, employers need to state compensation figures up front. You can’t ask about previous salary ranges in interviews with candidates.
  • Age. This can come up in remote teams when a candidate is outside the range of the majority of employees in the organization. You can’t ask, for instance, if someone will feel comfortable working with people who are not their same age.  
  • Race, ethnicity, color, or religion. Don’t ask, for example, if someone will need to take time off work for religious holidays.
  • Gender or sex.
  • Country of origin/birth place. It can be tempting, especially if you see international locations on a resume or CV, or if you hear an interviewee speak with an accent, to ask about where that person was born or grew up.
  • Disability. Don’t ask about past illnesses or injuries.
  • Marital or family status or pregnancy. Stay away from asking questions about family.

Things To Do:

  • Make sure that everyone involved in the hiring process understands the laws around hiring and interview practices.
  • If one of the above topics come up in conversation, steer the discussion back to job-related questions. Don’t pursue the topic further, even if the candidate was the one to open the door to that topic.

There should be at least one person in your organization to take charge of the legal issues surrounding your workforce. This individual (or better yet, department) should have proven experience in addressing these issues for a remote workforce. Additionally, they should have the drive to seek out solutions for new potential problems that arise.

For more tips on legal issues that impact the workplace, check out my book, You Can’t Do That at Work: 100 Legal Mistakes that Managers Make in the Workplace


 

Thanks to Natasha for sharing her expertise and insights!

If you're interested in more background and additional issues that specifically remote teams face get started with the complimentary first module of our Goplaceless program.

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