(This is the second in a series on the impacts of the coronavirus on employment and the workplace. Read the first part.)
In the old economy (three weeks ago), remote work was a growing but still limited part of the workforce. Only around 5.3% of American employees worked primarily from home in 2018.
Within the past three weeks companies have moved at Mach-2 speed to restructure workplaces, with the emphasis on remote work. The major tech employers (Facebook, Google, Twitter) were the high-profile early adapters in the first days of March, and other employers, in a range of sectors outside of tech, have followed.
It’s too early to say whether the current spike will lead to greater remote work following COVID-19. Many of the new remote workers say they miss the creativity, ideas and collaboration of the congregate workplace, as well as the social connections. At the same time, they may celebrate the absence of a time-consuming and draining commute, or travel-required meetings outside the office. We’ll see over the next few years.
Let’s bring in Jonathan Segal [to discuss] the laws governing remote work. Segal is a partner in the Employment Group of Duane Morris LLP, who has worked on crisis management in general and public health crises for more than 20 years. He describes his practice as “maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk, always keeping an eye on culture and employee relationships.”
Segal has identified five main topics of best practices and employment law compliance.
- Payment of employees who work remotely: In employment law, a main distinction is made in payment obligations between exempt and nonexempt workers (excluding workers covered by a labor contract or employment agreement). [...]
- A safe and secure work environment: Employers have obligations under federal and state safety laws to provide a safe and secure work environment for employees. This extends to remote work. The remote workspace is treated as an extension to the regular workforce for safety requirements. [...]
- Control of additional costs incurred by workers for working remotely: Employers also will want to avoid unexpected claims down the line from workers at home who purchase additional equipment (higher-grade printers, additional desk) in order to work at home at the employer’s direction. [...]
- Control of a fair “reasonable accommodation” policy: Like other employment laws, the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), while bringing benefits to employers and employees, have been subject to misuse.
- Maintaining information security: Segal notes that remote work can give rise to information security breaches, however inadvertent and even with family members. Maintaining information security: Segal notes that remote work can give rise to information security breaches, however inadvertent and even with family members. [...]