11 March 2020

Help! My Employees Need To Work From Home Because of the Coronavirus!

Now that there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in more than 35 states and the WHO has classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, you’re bound to field questions from your employees about what they should do and how it affects them.  Obvious answers include singing “Happy Birthday” twice (preferably not out loud if you’re anything like me) as you wash your hands, and reading last week’s blog post to catch up on how the coronavirus raises employment-related issues.  You may also want to start thinking about how to handle the situation if employees need to quarantine or work remotely.  Today, we’ll walk you through the steps to putting together a remote working program.

Step 1: Set Goals. A remote working policy should have a clear, defined purpose.  You will want to think about things like maintaining legal compliance, keeping employees happy, and, perhaps most importantly, maintaining productivity.  These goals might be different if you’re putting together a remote worker program in response to the coronavirus as opposed to a program that you use on a permanent basis.

Step 2: Identify Eligible Work. Not all jobs and not all work can be performed remotely.  As you set up your program, focus on the work to be performed remotely, not the positions that can work remotely.  Consider things like whether the work requires in-person collaboration or if it can be done independently.  If collaboration and interaction are required, how can you position that work to be done remotely without removing the interactive components?  Based on this analysis, decide whether employees will perform full-time, part-time, or just occasional work.

Step 3: Create a Policy and Agreement. This is an important step to communicating expectations with employees.  The policy should include:

    • Definition of the program, the work to be performed, and a statement of purpose
    • General guidelines for who can work remotely (using objective criteria), characteristics that could impact success or failure, how employees should initiate a request to work remotely (if applicable), and the decision-making process for approval or denial of requests (if applicable)
    • An outline of expectations: how the employee will communicate with his or her supervisor or others, where the employee can work remotely (e., must the employee work from home, or may he or she also work from a library or coffee shop?), statements regarding the employee’s continued compliance with company policies, etc.

The agreement should include:

      • Details about performance management and supervision (when employees and supervisors will communicate, how they will communicate, the frequency of the communications, etc.)
      • Work hours and timekeeping requirements
      • Workers’ compensation and OSHA obligations
      • Information about use and disclosure of confidential information
      • Employer and employee financial responsibilities (e., Is the employer paying for internet access? Who is providing the office supplies?  What if employees don’t have a computer to use at home?)
      • Return of any employer property upon the end of the remote working arrangement
      • Employer discretion to end or modify the remote work program

Step 4: Train. Managers and supervisors should be trained on how to proactively communicate with employees, time management, expectations of hours worked (especially for non-exempt employees), goal setting, and monitoring and supervision.  Remote workers should be trained on when, where, and how to work remotely and the employer’s expectations for that work

Obviously, this is just an overview of some of the issues you need to consider as you put together a remote working program.  In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for these programs.  So if you have questions, or want some tips or advice on how to put together the best program for you, please contact your favorite Miller Johnson employment attorney.

To keep abreast of all our Coronavirus / COVID-19 information, please visit https://millerjohnson.com/coronavirus-covid-19/.