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Ask an Expert: Are We Required to Let an Employee on Short-Term Disability Work from Home?

Treat workers who request remote work arrangements while they recuperate the same as you would any other employee.

No. In fact, you should treat such an individual in the same manner you would any other employee making a request to work remotely. So, if you allow telecommuting in certain circumstances, consider whether it makes sense as an option for an employee returning to work after an illness or surgery. 

Start by reviewing any medical documentation to confirm that the employee has been released to return to work and determine if he or she has any physical limitations that would impact a work-from-home arrangement. Consider whether to require a doctor to certify that the employee is able to work in accordance with your normal fitness-for-duty policies.

Think, too, about how your decision will affect time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Any time that employees spend doing their jobs cannot be counted against their entitlement. So, if a worker is on FMLA leave for surgery, allowing remote work can extend the amount of FMLA time available to him or her beyond 12 workweeks. For example, if a person normally works 40 hours a week and now performs 10 hours of work while on leave, only 30 hours can be counted toward the employee’s FMLA entitlement. 

Check your short-term disability plan to determine if partial benefits are available under that insurance. Finally, take into account the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and any other pay implications of permitting an employee to work a partial day while recuperating.

The pay process for nonexempt workers is simple. You are required to compensate such employees only for hours worked. That said, be sure to record all nonexempt time worked and provide appropriate payment to comply with the FLSA. 

Exempt employees, on the other hand, must be paid a minimum guaranteed salary that is not based on quantity or quality of work. Moreover, pay deductions for absences must meet the requirements of the salary basis regulation; otherwise, the employee’s exempt status could be in jeopardy. Visit the Department of Labor’s website for further guidance.

In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. In some cases, it will make sense to allow telework, while in others it won’t be conducive to the employee’s recovery or the employer’s needs. Evaluate the specifics of each situation to figure out the best approach.

Angela Simpson is an HR knowledge advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management. 

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