Due to mobile technology and business voice services, the ability for employees to work remotely has greatly increased. Today, there is cloud based software that makes it easy to facilitate virtual meetings, connect to business dashboards, and interact with customers and because of this, more employers than ever before are instituting virtual job programs. In fact, there are thousands of U.S. companies already using full time, part time, and contract or temporary workers who all telecommute. While the model is sound, the practice also raises some very important questions regarding HR issues.
One of the biggest HR questions in the mind of employees is whether or not they can be fired by a company who allowed them to work from home before, but has just recently rescinded the offer. With so many virtual employees today, this is a growing issue. Unfortunately, United States employment law dictates that there is very little protection that covers an employees actual right to conduct their work remotely, even for those hired under such terms.
The truth is that the bulk of employees are hired at will. Legally, this means they can also be fired at will without any notice or reason. If at one point, an employer decides that they will begin hiring employees who work from home, but then have a change of heart later, they can typically exercise the right to fire any employees at will who do not comply to come work in the office.
Exceptions to the “At Will” Rule
Some real HR nightmares can be created from this practice however, because the lines are not as black and white as many employers think. There are actually numerous exceptions to the “at will” rule that would not justify an employer’s right to randomly terminate without notice or cause. A few of these include:
The employee’s right to be accommodated in the event of a disability.
The employee’s right to report on any legal infractions committed by the employer without fearing retaliation.
The employee’s right to work in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.
The employee’s right to hold their employer to a signed contract, which dictates a guarantee of virtual employment.
These are just a few of the exceptions that deal directly with the employees right to work remotely, and it is plain to see how HR can feel the need to get involved in matters of termination. However, there are other HR issues that have also emerged from the growing work from home trend. In fact, telecommuters have actually led to brand new HR issues that have never been around before.
For instance, an employer is typically liable for an injury that occurs at the workplace. However, this creates a grey area if an employee gets hurt at home during business hours. This also applies to long term health concerns such as if an employee develops carpal tunnel over time.
Then, there is the issue of privacy limitations. When boundaries are crossed at the work place, it is usually more obvious while in virtual situations, it is much less so. Some organizations have gone as far as to make employees agree to have their computers and phones monitored while they are on the job to avoid any legal disputes.
Even greater caution should be exercised for nonexempt employees in a virtual environment. Wage and hour laws require that the employer track all hours worked by nonexempt workers so that overtime can be distributed accurately. When these employees work over forty hours or even any time by monitoring any issues that are work related, emailing, or texting, they could be owed extra pay.
By having HR people on hand who understand all of the concerns involved in a work at home environment, it will be far easier to address them. In doing so, both employee and employer can have their concerns satisfied. With the right credo, there will be fewer issues at hand.