Welcome to the backstitch HR law blog, a series where we provide the latest updates on upcoming and recently in-effect legislation. This miniseries within the HR law blog will aid your organization in maintaining legal compliance with new policies and procedures.
With the global outbreak of COVID-19, many organizations are enacting work from home policies, whether voluntarily or required by state and local government. However, some employers may not have a policy already in place, requiring them to quickly enact new protocols to address this crisis. Although it may have to be done quickly, it’s important that employers comply with certain legal requirements when creating their work from home policies.
Update Existing Policies or Customize One for a Specific Cause
If the work from home policy is created in response to a specific cause, such as COVID-19, it is not necessary to include it in the company’s employee handbook. Within the policy, text should note this is temporary and due to a pressing extraneous matter. Some roles may not be conducive to working remotely, so the policy should specify who possesses the option to telecommute.
Maintain Pay and Working Hours
Regardless of where an employee works, FLSA should still be followed. Non-exempt employees should still be paid at least minimum wage for hours worked and overtime should still be followed. These laws are increasingly important to abide by, as employees may be burdened with extra work outside the scope of their normal jobs. Fortunately, FLSA does allow work outside of the job description, allowing for some degree of flexibility.
Practice Standard Security
Organizations with on-premise solutions should offer ways to allow employees to access important company critical information at home. Your IT department should have a VPN or other methods in place. Companies that have a BYOD policy should still make sure employees can access their accounts when not connected to the office network.
With employees no longer working from the same place, communications may become more difficult. Extra precaution should be taken in regards to cybersecurity, with former office-based workers requiring vigilance against phishing attempts due to increased digital communications usage. This will ensure that, despite working in different geographical locations, the company’s privacy and security is still protected.
Allow Sick Leave
Congress recently passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 19th, 2020. Beginning April 1st, FMLA will be temporarily amended to require paid leave for those dealing with the novel coronavirus, as well as for parents who must take time off to care for minors due to school or daycare closings. Unpaid leave has been lowered to 10 days, and any more leave will have to be paid time off, for up to 12 weeks. This will be in effect until December 31, 2020. Employers should make certain they are prepared for current and future changes, as Congress has indicated that more laws will be forthcoming.
Accommodate Employees with Special Needs
The US Equal Opportunity Commission already has a program in place that allows employers to accommodate work from home for employees with disabilities, even if they do not have one in place organization wide. Organizations may also be required to provide more comfortable arrangements, such as ergonomic equipment. Managers, coworkers, and HR departments should be cognizant of any additional burdens these employees may face as a result of telecommuting, and provide resources to handle any necessary accommodations.
Be Wary of California
If your company is based out of California, or if you have remote workers in California, make sure you consider their unique laws when creating your work from home policy. First, California has daily overtime, meaning employees must be compensated at one and a half times pay for any time worked beyond eight hours every day. However, the state also allows for alternative workweek schedules, meaning employers can compensate non-exempt employees without overtime for unique schedules such as a 4 days at 10 hours per day workweek. Make-up, which involves working fewer hours one day and making it up another day, is also exempt.
If your organization has to implement a Work from Home Policy, make sure it is within all legal State and Federal guidelines. As Congress may pass new laws soon regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, this article will be continuously updated.
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Update: The post has been updated to note that FFCRA will take into effect on April 1st from the Department of Labor's new guidelines. It previously stated that FFCRA will go into effect April 2nd.