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Small Business Digest


Telecommuting Opening New Legal Problems For Employers

Telecommuting has reduced costs for employers while giving employees greater flexibility and benefits.

It has also given employers something else: lawsuits.

"Telecommuting has created a legal minefield for companies, as it has made it harder for employers to track the hours actually worked by non-exempt (or hourly) employees who may claim violation of various state or federal wage and hour laws," said Tal Marnin, Counsel with the Executive Compensation, Benefits and Employment Law Practice Group of White & Case.

"Companies need to be aware of the legal implications of allowing non-exempt employees to telecommute and take steps to minimize potential claims," he points out.

Marnin offers these tips for companies to protect themselves around non-exempt workers using technology or telecommuting:

  • Establish set working hours (including set meal breaks where required by law) and inform the employee that he or she must be available at all times during the work day or just during a particular set of hours.
  • Require the employee to call in to his or her supervisor throughout the day or at set times throughout the day or to participate in daily calls at set times, and to be available for in-person meetings as requested by the company from time to time.
  • Implement a system that can accurately track hours worked, such as a computer timekeeper that an employee must log on and off each day, and require employee to confirm daily that he or she has taken a meal break, to the extent required by law.
  • Establish that no overtime may be worked without prior approval and closely monitor whether any unauthorized overtime is being worked.
  • Require use of Blackberry and similar PDA devices be limited to working hours or only permit exempt employees to use such devices.

Marnin says, "aside from tracking hours worked, telecommuting raises a host of issues including those relating to safety and insurance, protection of confidential information, privacy, workplace equipment, and travel reimbursements."

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