More and more companies are allowing employees to work from home. That can be great ... but working from home raises a lot of legal issues that many managers simply aren't aware of. If you allow telecommuting - even if you allow it for only a few employees, or only part of the time - it's a good idea to have a written policy that will protect you if questions arise or if something goes wrong.
Below are some additional legal issues and the things a policy should cover employers should consider when developing a telecommuting policy:
► Are there risks of a discrimination lawsuit?
Discrimination lawsuits can arise if a company is more willing to allow certain groups of employees to telecommute than others, or allows telecommuting only for certain categories of jobs that are disproportionately filled by one group. A company can also get sued if it discriminates against telecommuters as to wages or benefits.
The federal Americans With Disabilities Act says that businesses have a duty to accommodate disabled workers, and one form of accommodation can be allowing them to work from home. If a company doesn't want a particular job done from home, the result is sometimes a lengthy legal dispute about whether a disabled worker has a "right" to telecommute.
There's no foolproof way to prevent this, but if you have a written policy in place that clearly states which categories of jobs are open for telecommuting and the criteria for eligibility, it can help you show that a certain job is not available for working from home.
► Does your liability insurance cover the employee?
What if a courier is delivering a work-related package and slips on the employee's front step, or is bitten by the employee's dog? You'll want to make sure your liability insurance covers incidents related to working at home. You might also want to require the employee to maintain a homeowner's or renter's insurance policy.
► What if the employee is in another state?
Suppose an employee works remotely from another state, or has a home nearby but across a state border? In many cases, the employment and tax laws of that other state will apply to the employee.
This could create extensive paperwork for the business, and you'll want to be aware of that before you approve a telecommuting arrangement. You might want to prohibit telecommuting across state lines.
► Is a permit required?
Some cities and towns require a permit for a home-based business, and this includes a telecommuter. Some prohibit home-based businesses altogether. You might want to make clear who will be responsible for obtaining a permit and paying any related fees.
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