Ask an Advisor: Managing Telework Arrangements

By SHRM Online staff October 2, 2020
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Ask an Advisor: Managing Telework Arrangements

SHRM HR Knowledge Advisors recently answered SHRM members' questions during an online chat about managing telework arrangements during the coronavirus pandemic. Read here for information on tax liability for employees working in a state other than the one where the employer is located; performance reviews for remote workers; building camaraderie and culture among a virtual workforce; letting workers know they need to report to work in-person and more.

 

What is the best way to write up an employee if they are working from home? 

Kelsey

When disciplining a telecommuter, employers may have to do the process electronically. The disciplinary meeting can be done by teleconference and the actual written document can be sent electronically by email, docusign, or by any other means of electronic communication. If feasible, some employers will also have face-to-face disciplinary meetings with employees in the office. 

Advisor–Karen

 

Most sample telework agreements I see include information about who is eligible for teleworking and is more based on employees requesting to telework. Is there a template for organizations where employees are now required to telework due to covid and/or due to more permanent office closures? Laine

We have a sample memo for communicating employer offered, voluntary telecommuting which you are welcome to edit it so that it meets your situation:

Advisor-Regan

 

Is the employer responsible for providing office supplies, including print/toner cartridges for what used to be a home printer and is probably still being used for kids' schoolwork?  

Lori

There is not a federal law requiring reimbursement unless the business expenses would have the effect of lowering an employee's wages below minimum wage. Also, employers should check state law. Company policy or practice can set precedent also:

Advisor-Theresa

 

 What expense reimbursements or other financial support are nonprofits offering to staff who previously worked in the office but now work remotely due to COVID?  

Laine

Employers, whether non-profit or for-profit, are looking at ways to reimburse employees who are now working remotely during COVID-19:

Advisor-Bill

 

If remote work during COVID is approved as a reasonable accommodation, is the employer responsible for providing a work computer and other necessary work equipment? 

Shena

Generally, providing a computer and other office equipment may be part of assessing undue hardship for remote work as an accommodation. While an employer may not be required to provide equipment, the question of the feasibility of a remote arrangement may be considered when company equipment is not provided. 

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Do you recommend an indemnity clause in a remote work policy, to hold the employer harmless outside of what is covered under worker's comp and business liability policies?

Amy

Most states do not permit employers to be exempt from certain injuries or illnesses of their employees. This should be discussed with legal counsel and/or a [worker's compensation] policy carrier to better determine if this is possible for employers to do for the state(s) in which their employees work.

Advisor-Karen

 

For remote workers to access our VPN, they must have an authenticator app on their phone. We have some employees who don't want to download the app (or can't download the app because they don't have a smart phone). They are requesting the company provide them with a smart phone. What are some other options? 

Lori

Employers may generally require that employees supply their own device for business purposes. In lieu of providing a device to employees, some employers will offer a stipend or expense reimbursement to employees for use of their personal device. Employers should also check their state laws to determine whether business expense reimbursement is required. 

Advisor-Regan

 

Is there survey data available to see by industry what percentage of companies plan to keep employees telecommuting? 

Angela Orcutt

While I have been unable to locate a survey addressing employers planning to keep telework arrangements, the following resources may be helpful in determining next steps:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Are there any benefits to register for reciprocity with another state that an employee is working in and will remain working in post-COVID? 

Nandini

Generally when we say reciprocity, we are referring to state income taxes. For example, in many neighboring states, these states offer income tax reciprocity for employees crossing borders to perform work in one or more states. An employer is generally going to be required by the states' respective revenue departments to register their business if they have even one employee performing work for them in a state. This is not something that states consider optional unfortunately. They generally also do not specify how long an employee must be performing work in their state in order for an employer's business to need to register. You will want to inquire with the states' respective departments of revenue. 

Advisor-Regan


What is the likelihood of a physician to favorably respond to an ADA accommodation request to exclusively work from home because of an underlying medical condition? 

Sonay Black

While we are unable to determine a doctor's common actions, the type of work environment, an employee's medical condition and other factors will impact the decision. To follow is a SHRM resource to assist employers in accommodating high risk employees.

Advisor-Theresa

 

What suggestions do you have on how to return employees to the workplace who have been out for an extended period of time telecommuting?

Cathy

Returning employees to the workforce post temporary telecommuting can entail reminders on some employer's policies such as attendance, dress codes, communication expectations, social distancing, facial covering requirements, universal precautions, etc. Some employers may also have to address fears experienced by employees when returning to work. Here is a resource that can be helpful with the process.

Advisor-Karen

 

What are common mistakes employers make when allowing employees to work out of state? We're thinking about unemployment, different state leave laws, taxes, etc. 

Austin Brown

While we don't have survey data on common mistakes employers make, not understanding and complying with the state employment laws can cause mistakes such as wage payment laws, minimum wage, jury duty, voting leave laws etc. Please see the related resource to follow:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

We have moved to a totally remote office. What are our options for Federal/State required postings? 

David

Employers must ensure their remote employees have access to the respective federal and state posting requirements. Some employers accomplish this by posting the posters on an intranet site, or periodically emailing the posters to employees. The following resource may be helpful.

Advisor-Katie

 

Employee works remotely due to childcare issues (COVID). Their availability for group calls and quality of work is not as expected. How to best manage this? 

Ligaya Bowman

An employer may generally manage performance standards and expectations of employees teleworking in the manner it would for a non-teleworker. For example, an employer may set expectations, provide feedback, and consider discipline as appropriate. The following is a general resource that may also be helpful:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Any guidance on revocations for Europe regions? We are a global company and though we have good understanding of relocations taking place in US, what of Europe?

Much like relocating employees to another U.S. state, employers must consider the labor laws of the countries in which they have employees working, as they, too, will vary. Employers will want to research the employment laws of the specific country in question. However, here are a few general resources that may be of interest to you:

Advisor - Katie

 

For single state employers who now have employees working remotely in another state, does the employer need to register as an employer in the new state where the employee is working from remotely? 

Blake

Generally, it is a common requirement for a business to register in a state when an employee is physically working in another state. However, it is always important to read the state registration requirements to make such a determination. Some states have implemented temporary changes due to COVID-19 and increased teleworking. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

Are there any best practices or toolkits that help managers assess which jobs are suited to work from home (on a more permanent basis...post COVID)? Our managers want more detailed guidance or some sort of assessment tool.

We generally see more employers considering whether an incumbent is a good candidate for remote work, versus the job, which is usually more apparent to managers due to the nature of the work. Some things to consider would be: does the job require face-to-face interactions or can meetings be successful if virtual, and what tasks does the job require that cannot be done remotely? If a manager is unsure, deploy telecommuting incrementally, for example a few times per week, before rolling out on a weekly or monthly basis. I would review our sample policy under the eligibility category since we do not have a matrix or list of jobs that are good for telework:

 Employers should be very clear that telecommuting arrangements that are not legally required accommodations, can be retracted at any time and employees required to return to the office. 

Advisor-Regan

 

What are some good ways to stay connected while working remotely? 

Erica O'Connor

Here are a few resources that focus on that issue:

Advisor-Bill

 

 What does an employer have to consider when it comes to worker's compensation and injuries that occur at home related to telecommuting? How can an employer avoid false claims? 

Teri

An employer may wish to contact the workers' comp carrier to determine whether an inspection, audit or picture of the workspace may be a consideration. Providing certain workspace expectations may also be a consideration in assessing eligibility to telework. These steps may be helpful in perhaps reducing actual and/or false claims.

 Advisor-Yuletta

 

I'm in Michigan. The city where our office is located does not require taxes, but many employees are working from home in a city that does. Should we have them fill out new tax forms? 

Diana Baranoski

Income taxes typically apply based on where the work is performed. Generally speaking, if an employee works from home in a jurisdiction with an income tax requirement, an employer would need to comply. However, in light of the pandemic, some state and local governments have waived tax requirements for workers forced to telework due to COVID-19. Employers should research the respective tax law to determine their specific obligations.

Advisor-Katie

 

Our offices are still closed due to shelter in place and a majority of our workforce are telecommuting. Are we required to pay for their internet? What other expenses are we obligated to cover for this "temporary" arrangement? 

Abigail

Employers are now thinking more about whether to reimburse for internet use if they are not doing so already. Here is a resource that focuses on this issue:

Advisor-Bill

 

What do you suggest as a way of monitoring people working from home? I know it's hard but I also know some are not working their full 8 hours even though that's what they are reporting on their timesheets. 

Barbara

To control time management of remote workers and increase productivity, some employers will have employees track their productivity by recording their tasks completed for the day and the amount of time spent on each task, and submit these reports on a daily or weekly basis to supervisors. Supervisors will also have to increase their communication and monitoring of employees who seem to be working less time than what they are scheduled. Here is some guidance that addresses this topic.

Advisor-Karen

 

 With people working from home, what tax implications should I be considering for new employees we have hired who are not located near our physical office locations or in the state? Do I need to register our business with that particular state since we have an employee working from home there? 

Nandini

 Generally, it is a common requirement for a business to register in a state when an employee is physically working in another state. However, it is always important to read the state registration requirements to make such a determination. Taxability in each state is commonly determined by an employee's physical presence in the state and as with registration, some states have made changes to such requirement due to COVID-19 and increased teleworking. An employer must review the state laws in question to determine specific obligations. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

If an employee falls while working from home is that eligible for Workers Compensation?

Tracy

Generally speaking, teleworkers are covered under a company's workers' compensation insurance. Injuries incurred while working from home may generally be reported to the carrier for its determination of whether the claim should be approved. An employer may wish to file a trip and fall claim for carrier review.

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Have you seen a decrease or increase in employee productivity while teleworking? Do you have examples of telecommuting policies? We have an agreement form and procedure but no actual policy or something that would remain in place post COVID. 

Alicia Wilson

The following is a SHRM template policy that may help get you started:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Can we ask staff to come in to work during the pandemic? 

Pat

Unless prohibited by a state or local order, employers may generally require that employees work at the regular work location. However, there may be occasions when an employer is obligated to allow telework as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The following article may useful to you:

Advisor-Katie

 

Do you have an example of a remote worker evaluation? 

Sue

While the delivery of a performance evaluation may change for a remote worker (e.g., virtual versus in-person), performance management generally remains the same as when it is executed at the regular work site. 

Advisor-Karen

 

What do you recommend for managing a nonexempt salaried employee's time worked while teleworking? 

Alisa Robertson

Managing remote nonexempt employee time can be done with the use of time-tracking tools and task sheets. Some employers will have nonexempt employees list the tasks on which they work and the amount of time spent on each task to better manage their time. Employers also have timekeeping apps or time-tracking software to monitor these employees' time, as well as to prevent working off the clock by nonexempt employees. Here are some resources that can be helpful with this process:

Advisor-Karen

 

If we have a hybrid option for work, what is the best way to handle costs for equipment needed at the office and at home, for instance printers, monitors, etc.? 

Colleen

Generally speaking, it is common for an employer to provide some equipment to teleworkers. Employers might provide supplies and technology upfront or may reimburse employees for their necessary purchases. If employees are in the office on occasion, an employer will also consider whether it is truly necessary to duplicate all equipment or if some tasks can be reserved for when the employee is at the regular work location. Here is a related article that may be of interest to you:

Advisor-Bill

 

Is it advisable to restrict employees with documented performance issues from telecommuting? 

Alan

It is common to have acceptable performance as a criterion for approving telework. However, during the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, employers are approving teleworking due to safety reasons or to be in compliance with state or local shelter-in-place mandates. In these cases, many employers are adapting telework eligibility criteria. However, employers are still holding employees accountable for performance. The fact that an employer temporarily excused performance when it closed the workplace and enabled employees to telework for the purpose of protecting their safety from COVID-19, or otherwise chose to permit telework, does not mean that the employer permanently changes teleworking eligibility. To follow is a related SHRM resource:

Advisor-Theresa

 

Can an employer require that telecommuting employees be on video during their Zoom meetings? 

Linda

Employers are generally permitted to require the use of video during virtual meetings. The following related SHRM resource may be useful to you:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

If we determine that disciplinary action is required, can the employer decide to terminate the remote work arrangement? 

Tina Foster

It is common to have acceptable performance as a criterion for continuing telework. However, during the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, employers are approving teleworking due to safety reasons or to ensure compliance with state or local shelter-in-place mandates. In these cases, many employers are adapting telework eligibility criteria. However, employers are still holding employees accountable for performance. Some employers may terminate telework arrangements due to performance issues when returning employees to the worksite. Consistency in policy or practice is important to reduce risk. To follow is a related SHRM resource:

 Advisor-Theresa

 

I'm asking again because I don't think the answer given was for this question! :) For remote workers to access our VPN, they must have an authenticator app on their phone. We have some employees who don't want to download the app (or can't download the app because they don't have a smart phone). They are requesting the company provide them with a smart phone. What are some other options?

 Lori

I would work with your IT department to see if there are any other ways to authenticate the VPN connection. Employees who use their personal device for work may be entitled to reimbursement as well, as an increasing number of state laws are now requiring this. [It may be best if] if an employer can avoid requiring employees to use their personal phones and are unable to provide an alternative device solely for the purpose of VPN verification. I would advise running it by IT. There should be another option, hopefully. 

Advisor-Regan

 

Does the employer need to ensure the employee has a dedicated work area? If so, what qualifies as a work area? 

Tina Foster

Defining a "dedicated work area" for telecommuters is at an employer's discretion. When implementing telecommuting for employees, employers will generally have written expectations on a workspace that will increase productivity and reduce workplace injuries. Expectations may include a space free of clutter, noise distractions, wires that may cause trips and falls, etc. Here are some resources that address this topic.

Advisor-Karen

 

What's the best way to handle complaints from the tradesmen that cannot work remote like those in the "office"? 

Susan

An employer in this situation may wish to discuss the rationale for having employees in the office versus employees who may be able to telework. Some positions are easily performed from any location, while other positions require an employee to be physically present at the work location. Additionally, whether a team must be together to perform certain tasks could also be an important consideration in such a discussion. 

Advisor-Bill

 

Are more companies moving to Virtual Work Policies?

It appears that due to COVID, more companies have utilized virtual work arrangements. Also, as businesses reopen, some companies are considering whether to continue remote work arrangements. The following SHRM resources generally address this topic:

 Advisor-Yuletta

 

I'm worried about the mental health of our employees. Is there a list of screening questions that I can have team leads ask their team members when they have their bi-weekly check-ins, as well as my HR check-ins with employees? 

Lisa

Although we do not have a checklist or form to assess the mental health of employees, here is some guidance that addresses this topic. Members can also contact our Knowledge Center for sample forms and additional resources that can assist with this process.

Advisor-Karen

 

 We are concerned that when we tell employees it is time to come back to the office, (which will not be until at least Jan. 1) that there will be push back that they do not feel "safe" even with protocols in place. We feel that if we continue to allow full-time teleworking, we are going to lose what is important to our culture. Since we have all been working from home since March, it is hard to say your job has to be performed in the office. How do we get our employees to come back to office? 

Shannon

Employers are generally not required to allow telework, so when an employer is ready to reopen its workplace, it may require that employees be physically present. When preparing for employees' return, employers may want to communicate the efforts being made to ensure a safe and healthy work environment, as well as the rationale for requiring that employees come back to the office. Here are a couple of related articles that may be useful to you:

Advisor-Katie 

 

What are our requirements for reimbursing our staff for internet and phone usage who are now all teleworking? We want to avoid any potential lawsuits. I am located in California. 

Laura Harasta

Advisor-Bill 

 

 What process do companies have in place for the return of company equipment? Do they require return of equipment or provide stipends, etc., for the employee to purchase equipment and then not require it to be returned upon termination of employment? 

Carolyn

We certainly see a number of employers who end up not getting equipment back from remote employees, particularly as it relates to terminations which are involuntary. It is imperative that an employer have a proactive plan in place to avoid this costly problem. Some examples include what you mentioned: providing a stipend or paying upfront for equipment and allowing employees to keep it when employment ends (although this can present a security issue in cases where there may be intellectual property on a computer), sending a company-designated representative to retrieve equipment, paying an employee a small sum for returning equipment, providing a prepaid box to return equipment, etc. Employers may not hold final wages in exchange for return of company equipment, but they may deem an employee ineligible for rehire, file a small claims court claim, or possibly report equipment as stolen. Be sure to create a list and have an employee acknowledge all items they receive in advance and what the protocol is for when they leave the company. 

Advisor-Regan

 

Does a remote worker have to meet certain guidelines or is that solely at the employer's discretion? Can they be nonexempt? 

Tina Foster

Generally, an employer determines the guidelines for teleworking. The process for deciding who can telework is typically focused on the job requirements. There is nothing prohibiting a non-exempt employee from teleworking, but time-reporting and overtime expectations should be included in a policy for teleworking for non-exempt employees to reduce the risk of wage and hour claims.

Advisor-Theresa

 

Is it common to pay nonexempt employees when they come into the office to pick up work or attend a meeting? 

Christy

Generally, the Portal-to-Portal Act explains that ordinary home-to-work or work-to-home travel is not required to be paid for hourly, nonexempt employees. However, unless a remote work arrangement is temporary, the home becomes the worksite, and any travel which is occasional to or from work meetings or an office or client site is likely going to be compensable. Each situation and the corresponding facts should be considered. 

Advisor-Regan

 

What is the best practice to address suspected impairment while teleworking? 

Angelica

An employer will generally address policy violations in the same manner as it would with employees who work at the regular work location. For example, an employer may wish to arrange a virtual meeting to discuss and address concerns, require drug testing (if there is an applicable policy), and consider discipline. The following SHRM resource addresses drug use post-COVID-19 and may help with next steps and obligations:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

If you have teleworking employees in the same city and state as your primary place of business, is their home office considered an office site or work site for payroll purposes? 

Laura

I presume you are referring to employers' income withholding obligations. Typically, withholding is based on the jurisdiction in which work is performed. In my experience, it is not common to have a separate payroll location within a payroll system for local teleworkers. 

Advisor–Theresa

Are companies requiring employees to live within a certain distance of their organization? How do they monitor? 

Carolyn

I have not seen research data that reports on this question. However, some employers may have expectations that employees will come to the physical work location periodically for meetings or other events, in which case employees may need to be local. Additionally, employers might restrict employees from working from another state, as this could create administrative burdens on the part of an employer. 

Advisor-Yuletta

 

In an effort to avoid an increase in worker's comp claims, what are ideas on how an employer can ensure that the employee's work space at home is ergonomically correct (i.e. that they aren't sitting on a wooden chair or the couch eight hours per day). Can we require them to complete an online learning course or submit pictures of their work station? 

Julie

Employers can take steps to make sure that an employee has an ergonomic workstation. There is not a specific law that would prevent an employer from requiring photographs of an employee's teleworking set-up, as long as such a requirement is not in violation of an employee's reasonable expectation of privacy. Some employers will provide ergonomic checklists, send an ergonomic specialist to employees' homes to conduct training and an assessment, and/or deploy training. Your workers' compensation insurer may have some recommendations along these lines. Employers may require such steps in order for an employee to be permitted to telework. 

Advisor-Regan

 

How does a company maintain and strengthen its culture with a hybrid workforce? 

Ligaya Bowman

That's a good question! Employers can bridge the gap between remote employees and in-office employees by taking proactive steps to keep them engaged and connected with each other. We cover some ideas and options in the following articles, with remote employees being the focus:

Advisor-Regan

 

We are an in-person university, so we encourage our faculty and staff to be on campus. We have a few who are requesting to work remotely per ADA, as they have compromised immunity health issues. We have allowed these requests this semester. Can we require them to work on campus next semester, or does it depend on Covid? 

Marci

Generally speaking, an employer and employee may wish to consider ADA as a reasonable accommodation. Generally, a decision to do so may happen at the time that an employee is requesting the accommodation, whenever that might be. Here are two resources for you review:

Advisor-Bill

 

What are the requirements if we have someone temporarily during COVID working from home in Mexico? 

Trish

When workers are telecommuting from another country, employers must apply the wage and hour and labor laws of those countries to their employees. Payroll taxes, health benefits plan expansion, hiring requirements, setting up business in that country and other requirements may apply. Employers should consult with their payroll provider (if applicable) and legal counsel. The SHRM Knowledge Center also can provide additional guidance on doing business in Mexico that can be helpful to employers with employees working out of Mexico:

 Advisor-Karen

 

Can employers ask for doctor's note for reimbursing ergonomic furniture? 

Vani

Requesting a doctor's note may depend on the company policy. For example, an employer may have a policy of reimbursing for certain equipment without a medical need. Alternatively, an employer may wish to consider a request for certain ergonomic equipment as an ADA accommodation for which medical documentation may be required as a part of the ADA interactive process. As such, an employer may wish to review the existing policy, practice or procedure as well as consistent application. Don't forget to check out these telework resources via your members-only access to SHRM Express Requests https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/tools-and-samples/exreq/Pages/Trending-Topics.aspx

  • Remote Workers' Expense Reimbursement
  • Virtual Meeting Etiquette
  • Combatting Zoom Fatigue
  • Engaging Remote Workers
  • Remote Work & State Tax Issues
  • Monitoring Remote Workers

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Is there a best practice or good resource you could recommend on when considering offering telework stipends? 

Michelle

I have not located a resource that specifically addresses best practices and telework stipends. Here is a resource that you may find helpful:

Advisor-Bill

 

What's best practice for state/local income withholding taxes when someone is working from home in a state other than their residence due to COVID-19? Is it best to reassign worked in and/or lived in withholding taxes during these periods? Are there any resources or other guidance you can provide on types of situations? 

Melissa

It really depends on the state tax requirements. Taxability in each state is commonly determined by an employee's physical presence in the state, though some states have made changes to such requirements due to COVID-19 and increased teleworking. An employer must review the state laws in question to determine specific obligations. While we do not have best practice information, you may want to reach out to the Knowledge Center for detailed state specific resources at 800.286.7476 Option 5 

Advisor-Theresa

 

How are new employees signing their I-9 forms and submitting documents while we are all working remotely? 

Barbette Cooper

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued a temporary rule permitting employers that are operating remotely due to COVID-19 to verify Form I-9 documents remotely until the worksite reopens. For more information, see https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central/form-i-9-related-news/temporary-policies-related-to-covid-19 

Advisor-Katie

 

What are some good resources for managers to learn techniques on how to stay engaged with a remote staff? 

Jamie

I am providing some articles that offer good pointers:

Advisor-Regan

We are a small organization and are back in the office; however, some staff still have issues at home that keep them working from home. Is there a policy that blends/combines telecommuting and alternate work hours...more of a "flexible working arrangement" policy?

Unfortunately, we do not have a sample hybrid policy but you can adapt the policy to follow to include language on partial or intermittent telework.

Advisor-Theresa

 

How are other employers setting expectations for new hires during this remote work period? 

Sonya Williams

All expectations applied in office can be applied to new hires. Some differences will affect the monitoring of their adjustment and acclimation to the department and organization. For new employees hired during the pandemic, supervisors can conduct their check-ins virtually and frequently, adjust their performance expectations based on working from home (for example, attendance means being logged on in time for work versus making it to a timeclock on time and then making it to a work area afterwards), communicating electronically, ensuring that new hires fully understand how to use electronic work tools, software and applications, etc.

Advisor-Karen

 

We've learned that not all of our employees are comfortable using computer software. Are there classes, online seminars geared toward adult learners who need basic computer skills? 

Alicia Wilson

Employers do have the option of teaching basic computer skills via online training to employees. For additional vendors and training resources, members can contact the SHRM knowledge center.

 

All staff are working remotely currently. One new employee originally had an address in Virginia where we are located, but then updated to a California address saying he was in the process of moving and between locations. If he is working from California (he hasn't said he is but he hasn't provided a new local address), would we be required to withhold California state taxes? 

Cathy

It really depends on the state tax requirements. Typically, if an employee is working in another state, the state tax laws apply. Taxability in each state is commonly determined by an employee's physical presence in the state, though some states have made changes to such requirements due to COVID-19 and increased teleworking. An employer must review the state laws in question to determine specific obligations. You may want to reach out to the Knowledge Center for detailed state specific resources at 800.286.7476 Option 5. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

How different will the workers compensation policy look like during a time like this when most employees are WFH?

Workers' compensation policies would generally be the same for a remote workforce as for a physical worksite. However, if an employer has employees working in more than one state, it will want to work with its carrier to ensure that all employees have coverage, as well as ensure that the employer is meeting the specific workers' compensation requirements of the respective states. The following Q&A may be helpful to you:

Advisor-Katie

 

Do you have suggestions on how to empower/teach/motivate supervisors to manage their telecommuting staff? 

Stephanie

The following resources address management and engagement, which may help motivate supervisors with managing teleworking staff.

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Is there a list by state re: what is required to be reimbursed while working from home?

Unfortunately, we do not have a comprehensive list. However, please reach out to the Knowledge Center at SHRM for additional assistance. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

We are looking to develop a permanent work from home option, most likely in a hybrid model. A question that came up is can we require, in their request to make a permanent transition, that the employee has a minimum internet speed at home or does that get us into discrimination issues? 

Chrisi Griffiths

If fast Internet speed is required for a position, an employer may be permitted to require a specific Internet speed. However, as the speed increases so does the cost. An employer can avoid any potential issues by reimbursing an employee for Internet expenses. It is not an uncommon practice. ? 

Advisor-Theresa

 

We are providing Chrome Books to staff working remotely and they have a GPS tracker on them. Is there a sample notification to employees about GPS tracking?

Unfortunately, we do not have a sample notification for GPS tracking. However, many employers will draft a short notice to employees that a GPS device may monitor them while working. This can greatly reduce an employee's ability to claim that he or she had a reasonable expectation of privacy and to prevail in a claim. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

Does an employer have a legal right to make it mandatory for employees to return to their physical work location at a certain point in time? 

Lisa V.

Please see the SHRM resource to follow for general guidance:

Do we have to allow an employee to continue to work from home after we have reopened our work site?

Some employers have discovered during this crisis that remote work can be a successful arrangement and will consider allowing telework arrangements to continue. However, absent a need to work remotely as a reasonable accommodation under the American's with Disabilities Act, employers are not obligated to allow telework. Source: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx 

Advisor -Theresa

 

We completed an ergonomic review of an employee's at-work desk in response to a workers' compensation claim. Now they are working from home 2-3 days per week. Can we require they work in the office we prepared for them? They have their own office, so not a COVID safety issue.

Cindy

Unless an employee requires telework as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers may generally require that employees work at a specified work location. 

Advisor-Bill

 

If a worker has been teleworking and tested positive to COVID (asymptomatic) and after the 14-day self-isolation period refuses to return to work because of health and safety reasons, what is the employer's recourse?

An employer may wish to engage in the ADA interactive process with the employee as well as share any safety processes/procedures an employer may have taken to help reduce spread in the workplace as a start. The following SHRM resource also addresses this topic and may help with next steps and obligations:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

What if an employer does not find out an employee is working remotely from out of state? Vani

Great question! I recommend consulting with legal counsel to address any compliance violations. However, it is a good practice to require employees to provide their physical work location when teleworking to avoid any issues. 

Advisor–Theresa

 

Is there a sample policy available that we can view requesting employees notify us when they are working from another state. I have found out during Zoom call chit chats before the actual meeting starts that we have people that have gone to their parents' home in other state since we been working remotely that have not notified HR or payroll.

Unfortunately we do not have a sample memo or notice regarding employees must inform their employer if they relocate to another state, even if temporary. You could add something like this to your telecommuting agreement or policy.

Advisor-Regan

 

Anyone have suggestions regarding employees having kids at home while working from home and the distractions?

Alison

The following SHRM resources address distractions and provide tips that may be helpful when working remotely. An employer may also wish to consider establishing certain guidelines and expectations for remote employees participating in meetings and calls, for example:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

If you have employees vacationing and teleworking in other states, but keeping their local mailing address, is there a rule of thumb for when they become a different state's worker/when you have to register in that state? 

Kaz

Unfortunately, states vary on this requirement. Often the length of "physical presence" in a state is the determining factor. In my experience, 30 days and 180 days are common but some states have no time frame. Unfortunately, an employer will have to review each state law. Also, some states have amended requirements during COVID-19. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

What's best practice for state/local employment laws when someone is working from home in a state other than their residence and/or regular work location due to COVID-19? Is it best to apply all of the state/local employment laws relevant to the place they are currently working from home in during these temporary periods? Are there any resources or other guidance you can provide on types of situations? 

Melissa

When working remotely, employees will be governed under the laws of the state in which they perform work. This will include the state's sick leave laws, wage payment laws (frequency of pay, minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, etc.) Also, depending on the amount of time spent working from home in another state may also create some state tax issues when doing wage payments. Here is some guidance that address these issues for employers. Employers may need to consult with their payroll vendor and/or staff to better address these issues:

Advisor-Karen

 

We have moved to a totally remote office. What are our options for federal/state required postings? 

David

Remote employees can be given intranet access to posters and notices, mailed a copy or similar. Using your organization's intranet as the sole vehicle for displaying federally mandated workplace employment posters may not relieve you of your obligation under Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations, for example, to physically display posters "in conspicuous places in every establishment where such employees are employed so as to permit them to observe readily a copy" (29 C.F.R. §516.4). Required posters must be displayed so they are easily visible to the intended audience, according to the U.S. Department of Labor." https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/determinetheirpostingrequirements.aspx

Advisor-Regan

 

If we give a stipend under IRS Code Sec. 139, how do we know if each state follows the federal non taxing guidelines? Also, is the employer responsible for SUI or FICA State taxes? 

Ashlee Shultz

Here is a SHRM resource. Please be sure to read the entire article for all relevant information:

Advisor-Bill

 

Are people changing their performance appraisal forms to reflect teleworkers and the importance of results and not hours? 

Christy

In my experience, I don't think it is common as the results are typically what an employee is rated on. However, some employers are putting more emphasis on communication, teamwork, and collaboration since these are common performance issues for the newly teleworking employee. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

If remote work was allowed as an accommodation for those at high risk for COVID and a vaccine takes more time than expected, can the employer revise the accommodation? Do we have to wait for a vaccine or can we implement safety protocols? 

Sonya Williams

If an employer is providing an accommodation as a courtesy, but not out of obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it will generally have more discretion with regard to the type of accommodation it makes, and for how long. However, if an employer is allowing telework as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability, it must generally continue to do so unless an undue hardship is present. The following resources address telework as an accommodation and may be useful:

We have accommodated any of our support staff who choose to work remotely, even if productivity is not at 100%. Now that we have returned on a voluntary basis, about 30% of the employees are choosing to work in-office on a rotating basis. Of 130 employees, our full-time receptionist is the only one who chooses to stay remote, but she has not cooperated in ensuring a professional environment in her home to answer phone calls. We are concerned that requiring her and no one else to return to in-office work will cause her to feel she is being treated unfairly, but her job description is primarily an in-office one. What are real legal concerns we should consider, given that the unprofessional atmosphere is loud children in the background on all phone calls she answers? 

Kristina

Generally speaking, an employer may wish to establish and communicate the performance standards and expectations whether working remotely or in the office. When the standards and expectations are not met, it may be possible that disciplinary action up to and including termination may ensue. Additionally, as a consideration, an employer may wish to assess whether a position is conducive for ongoing work and avoid discriminatory practices. 

Advisor-Yuletta

 

My HR manager supports me teleworking. Do you have suggestions for the customer that feels HR should be at their desk every day? 

Cynthia

Unfortunately not everyone is in agreement about the remote workforce and its benefits. If there is a particular employee who feels HR should be in the office, I would reach out to them and offer to provide the personalized assistance they need. It may just be out of frustration that they feel if HR isn't in the office, they have no one to "turn to" for help. Make sure you are communicating how employees can reach you and when you are available, that even though HR is remote, it is open-door, so to speak. Employees may become more comfortable with HR being remote over time and by your excellent HR customer service. 

Advisor-Regan

 

We want to provide a one-time stipend to our employees for home office establishment. We want to use Sec. 139 under the IRS code, but I how do we confirm if a state follows the federal guidelines as nontaxed? Is the employer responsible for FICA or SUI for the state? 

J. Laing

According to the following SHRM article, "Generally, state treatment for income tax withholding purposes will mirror the federal treatment of qualified disaster relief payments." The payments are tax free to the employees and deductible for the employer.

Advisor-Katie

 

What are legal parameters we must abide by for employees who are taking care of children who are distance learning due to COVID? 

Sherry

From the standpoint of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), if an employer is an eligible employer (under 500 employees) and is considering whether an employee is eligible for FFCRA benefits, an employer may wish to consider how the DOL answers this on its Questions and Answers page. Here is #70 on that page:

My child's school or place of care has moved to online instruction or to another model in which children are expected or required to complete assignments at home. Is it "closed"?

Yes. If the physical location where your child received instruction or care is now closed, the school or place of care is "closed" for purposes of paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave. This is true even if some or all instruction is being provided online or whether, through another format such as "distance learning," your child is still expected or required to complete assignments." Source: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions

Note additional eligibility requirements here:

Advisor-Bill

 

If staff has to be reduced, is there anything HR should be aware of with COVID and working from home versus in the office? 

Alison

Most employers will ensure they are not taking adverse action based on an employee exercising their rights under FFCRA for those that are approved for telework due family care or schooling. In addition, ensure disabled or high-risk employees are not being selected due to a teleworking reasonable accommodation. The key is to ensure that reduction in force criteria is consistently applied in a non-discriminatory manner. 

Advisor-Theresa

 

What if most of the work can be done remotely, but not all. How do you balance working remote and yet getting the work done? 

Nancy

When having employees work remotely, employers will first evaluate whether or not a position's duties can be done remotely. If only some duties are able to be done remotely by an employee, then an option for employers is to have partial telecommuting and partial in-office work. For example, an inspector of property can do all their administrative work duties online remotely for two days and those duties that need to be conducted with visits to property sites may need to be conducted three days per week. Employers must also consider that some positions may not be effectively performed remotely. Here are some resources that can be helpful with making this determination:

Advisor-Karen

 

How to conduct ergonomics assessments for employees working from home? 

Anne

Employers can send an ergonomic questionnaire/assessment to employees to complete regarding their home set-up, or they can send an ergonomic specialist to employee homes to conduct an evaluation. 

Advisor-Regan

 

Do you see many employers adjusting existing paid time off policies because of teleworking? 

Michelle Murphy

I have not heard of many employers adjusting PTO policies due to teleworking. However, some employers are adjusting PTO due to COVID-19. See the related survey to follow:

Advisor-Theresa

 

A telework employee gets injured (trips and falls at home) and files workers' comp claim. Can a company ask employee to file a homeowner's claim first? 

Ligaya

This could depend on the state where the employee is working. Some states have WC laws that mandate an employer allow an employee be able to file a claim, rather than require them to try other insurance options first. Review your state guidelines for work-related injuries and what is required. 

Advisor-Regan

 

Is there a difference in what an employer must/should provide in the way of computers/desks/chairs/phones/internet when working remotely is optional as a second location versus required? 

Lori

Generally speaking, an employer may wish to provide whatever resources are needed for an employee to be able to perform work remotely. In this resource, Remote Work Policies Should Now Stress Flexibility, scroll down to "Technology and Supplies" https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/remote-work-policies-should-now-stress-flexibility.aspx

Advisor-Bill

 

Suggestions on what should be amended in the employee handbook during the pandemic/working from home? 

Alison

Changes or amendments to the company handbook may be determined by which policy changes or new policies (if any) have been implemented with regard to working from home or due to COVID-19. For example, some employers may have implemented temporary teleworking policies which may not require a handbook change. However, in response to the pandemic, an employer may have established a new and ongoing teleworking policy, which may be added to employee handbook as a company benefit. The following SHRM resource may also help get you started as it addresses possible changes due to COVID-19:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Can you recommend any organizations that are able to host virtual engagement events while employees are telecommuting? 

Amy

Unfortunately, recommending specific products or services is not a part of our information service. However, you may be able to locate a list of resources to explore further at http://vendordirectory.shrm.org

You may also wish to post your question on SHRMConnect to get opinions and recommendations from other SHRM members at http://community.shrm.org/home 

Advisor-Theresa

 

Can an employer who currently allows 100% telecommuting, due to the pandemic, restrict the state in which an employee works (aka decline telecommuting to an employee who decides to move to a certain state)? 

Jackie

There are no state or federal laws prohibiting this employer action. Since telecommuting is a benefit offered by employers, at their discretion, based on their business needs, employers can create policies and criteria to govern this benefit. Some employers may have excluded states for remote work based on the state's tax payments and requirements, labor laws that may be too burdensome with which they must comply, etc. However, when creating exclusions of states from where employees can work remotely, employers should ensure that these exclusions are applied consistently to all employees, to prevent potential discrimination claims against them. 

Advisor-Karen

 

Best practices to document employee time spent working while telecommuting.

This can be specific to the type of work being performed and an employer's timekeeping practices/options. Aside from an employee reporting their hours worked via a timesheet or a time entry software application, there are some other ways, such as monitoring time worked by logged in/out of employer software programs they used to perform work. It will depend largely on the situation, type of work, what options an employer has. The more precise the employer can ascertain time worked for hourly/nonexempt employees, the better, from a compliance standpoint. 

Advisor-Regan

 

The link to the expense reimbursement policy posted in this chat does not work; it doesn't work directly from the SHRM website either. At least not for me. 

Amy

I am including the link again below. If you continue experiencing difficulty opening the link, you might try pasting it into a different browser (e.g. Chrome):

Advisor-Katie

 

Is it common to pay nonexempt employees when they come into the office to pick up work or attend a meeting? In follow up to this question, if there is an established schedule where the employee reports for a regular monthly meeting and remains onsite for the duration of the workshift or works onsite one day per week and four days remote, would this constitute normal commute and therefore no pay needed for travel time to and from? 

Carolyn

While we do not have any survey data on the topic, an employer may be required to pay a nonexempt employee for travel time if they start working prior to driving to the office for a meeting. Checking state hours worked laws is important also. To follow is an excerpt from a SHRM resource: "For example, travel from home to work typically is not compensable. However, if a nonexempt employee checks her BlackBerry before leaving her home for the office, this may become her first work task of the day--and every work-related task thereafter may become compensable under the 'continuous workday' rule. This rule provides that periods of time between the commencement of the employee's first principal activity and the completion of his or her last principal activity on any workday must be included in the computation of hours worked (29 CFR §790.6)." Legal Trends https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/1207legaltrends.aspx 

Advisor-Theresa

 

For employees who cannot work from home: if they were to test positive for COVID how long are employers having the employee stay home for signs of any COVID symptoms (10 day, 14 days)? 

Alison

From what I have seen since I do not find a poll at this moment, 14 days seems to be the standard although it can depend on the circumstances. The CDC does say 10 days can be sufficient, but that does not mean an employer could not impose a maximum quarantine period of 14 days. 

Advisor-Regan

 

If doing full-time telework schedule where you want to allow partial WFH (1-2 days per week), what would the best 2 days be (i.e. Friday would probably not be very productive, but what days would be most productive)? Is there any data we can use to help us make that decision? 

Sandra

Although I am unable to find free research data relevant to the most effective and productive days for employees to work remotely, members can obtain resources relevant to this topic from the SHRM Knowledge Center. Otherwise, here is a resource that can be helpful with making this determination:

 

Is it common for new hires to work remotely immediately, as in day 1? If a new hire starts remotely, what are some best practices to help them experience the company culture? 

Tina Foster

As you may be aware, some companies may be fully virtual which may result in a new hire working remotely on their first day. To help a remote new hire experience the company culture, an employer may wish to consider virtual meetings with members of their team, department, division or other groups throughout the organization. Mentor or buddy arrangements may also be helpful. Reviewing the company mission, vision, values during a virtual meeting may also be helpful. Generally speaking, an employer may wish to consider virtually engaging the new employee as indicated in the following SHRM resource:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

For employees that work in a different state, would the employer be required to offer benefits in the state that the employee resides? 

K. Gerald

In reference to leave benefits, when working in a state different than that of an employer, employees will generally be governed under that state's leave benefits (such as sick leave laws, family leave laws, etc.). For health care plans, employers will have to consult with their plan carriers to better determine if their coverage is applicable to the state(s) to where employees may be working remotely, and, if not, then how can they expand their plan and will there be additional costs to expanding their healthcare plan to those areas. 

Advisor-Karen

 

What would you say are the top two "hot" legal issues that are coming out of the COVID/Remote Work experience? And how do you advise we prepare to address them? 

Karri

Generally speaking, an employer may wish to ensure compliance requirements for remote workers. Two areas that appear to be frequently asked about are withholding and which state employment regulations apply to a remote worker. I have provided resources below that may help an employer prepare in these areas:

Advisor-Yuletta

 

Are there any examples or articles regarding companies that are moving towards mostly remote and how they are structuring everything? 

Kristin

Here are some articles that address companies considering and moving to a majority remote work environment that can be helpful with making this determination:

 

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