Consulting Services Navigating Remote Work Policies During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Last updated on 73/18/2020

Questions are coming in fast as employers seek out the best methods to provide employees with a safe working environment while maintaining business continuity. Remote work policies are being crafted and implemented quickly as the spread of COVID-19 leads to a need for increased social distancing. Employers who have never considered a remote work arrangement or thought it was impossible for their organization are now evaluating how to implement a remote work policy. Before you change what you have or start something new, consider these critical factors:

Eligibility Considerations

Employers need to clearly define jobs that could be performed outside of the regular worksite. A question to drive the decision-making process could be as simple as this: “Job A is a sales position with duties performed via phone, e-mail and customer-facing activities. Can this job be performed effectively outside of the office environment?” If that answer is yes, you may have just established a position that can work remotely.

Make sure your organization has a qualified resource to provide guidance.

Some organizations use the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) employee classification to determine eligibility. Exempt employees, or those who do not track hours worked for overtime purposes, may be allowed to work remotely on a regular or as-needed basis. Non-exempt employees, who are subject to greater oversight and recordkeeping for hours worked (including overtime hours), may require more action steps for this flexibility to work well.

As part of the decision-making process, manage potential risk of non-compliance with employment laws by conducting non-discrimination testing. For example, if all employees who are not allowed to work remotely are in a protected class, consider taking a second look at the process and adjust if applicable.

Once eligibility is determined, be sure it is clearly described in your policy.

Establish Guidelines

Policies that lack clarity or provide insufficient detail can do more harm than good in terms of employee accountability. Once the decision is made to allow remote work, provide eligible employees with a clear path to understand the governing guidelines, including:

  • Clearly defined or open-ended work schedules
  • Expectations for communication and responsiveness
  • Performance expectations in terms of results required, not hours worked
  • Timekeeping requirements, including overtime hours, for non-exempt employees
  • Methods and timelines for submitting work product, reports, or other job-specific results
  • Requirements for supervisor authorization prior to working overtime hours (overtime must be paid but discipline may be applicable if prior authorization is not obtained as required)
  • Other guidelines unique to the organization

Include applicable guidelines in your remote work policy, but be careful not to unnecessarily burden the organization with procedures that are subject to change.

Provide Necessary Resources

A critical part of the planning process, and one that is often unadvisedly left to the last minute, is the allocation of equipment and access to technology and other resources that remote workers will need in order to satisfactorily perform their job away from the worksite. In addition to tangible resources, employees who require some level of supervision or guidance must be provided access to supervisors or decision-makers to limit the potential for bottlenecks that may hinder performance of job duties.

Provide access to decision-makers to limit the potential for bottlenecks that may hinder performance of job duties.

When conducting a needs assessment, consider these factors:

  • Equipment the company will provide
  • Allowable use of employee-owned equipment that meets clearly defined standards
  • Tech support protocol, access, and availability
  • Data security, access, and use
  • Prohibited work environments and access (i.e. public spaces, free wireless access)
  • Methods to ensure confidentiality of work-related information

Related Article: COVID-19 Sparks a Shift Toward Remote Work

Although resources may vary greatly by job, it is important to include general language, terms, and guidelines regarding resources in your remote work policy. This provides employees with a basic level of information about the support they will receive if remote work becomes a reality. More robust policies and guidelines for technology may also be provided when remote work is put into effect.

Terminating a Remote Work Policy

Your organization may not want to permanently implement or may not be able to fully implement a remote work policy. Utilizing staggered shifts or alternating work days may assist with social distancing as you evaluate resources needed or obstacles to overcome with a full remote work policy. As a best practice, you may choose to reserve the right to modify, revise, or terminate any policy with or without advance notice. This is especially important now, given the quickly-evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure your organization has a qualified resource to provide guidance in this area.

Specific Considerations for COVID-19

Maintain awareness:
  • Monitor real-time information advising employers of federal and state legal decisions addressing the employee/employer relationship and potential for paid time off during the COVID-19 crisis. Seek legal guidance before taking action.
Let HR do what they do:
  • Companies who do not include HR in developing COVID-19 remote work or other employment-based strategies may make decisions that inadvertently increase the risk of non-compliance with employment laws, unlawful reduction in wages, or unintentional discrimination.
  • Provide HR with access to high-level decision makers so that once decisions are made, action can take place timely and without unnecessary red tape.
  • Utilize HR to measure the effectiveness of actions taken and to better understand the impact of reduced or adversely affected employee performance due to emergency actions.
Keep communication flowing:
  • Maintain clear lines of communication with your employees and let them know to expect text or email alerts for work-related matters.
  • Consider posting a COVID-19 FAQ on your company’s intranet site or employee access portal for ease in providing timely, official company updates. Obtain information from qualified resources, such as the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers.
  • Don’t forget about employees who do not routinely work in your office, are off-site with customers or clients, and those on leave who have limited or no company contact impacting their ability to stay in-the-know.

Related Article: Cross-Department Collaboration During a Pandemic Event

Help Is Available

As we navigate this unprecedented situation, please reach out to P&N if you need help implementing or updating a remote work policy. Our HR Consulting team can provide experienced insight into best practices and recommendations for your organization’s unique situation.

 

Brandy Rush contributed to this article.

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