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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the workforce, shuttering businesses, prompting mass layoffs, and compelling speedy transitions to remote work. If your company has rushed to implement a temporary remote work practice to accommodate the sudden need for social distancing, or if you have seen the benefits of telework and now choose to maintain what was initially intended as a temporary remote work plan, this article will provide you guidance on the long-term maintenance of remote work plans. Specifically, this article discusses whether work can be performed remotely, the value of up-to-date remote work policies, hours worked considerations, and how to effectively manage remote employee performance and remote worksites.
1. Which Positions Are Appropriate For Remote Work?
You can measure the viability of remote work in a position by evaluating the feasibility of (a) performing all job functions remotely; (b) modifying the position to exclude non-remote job functions; or (c) modifying the position to be partially remote. In making this determination, and in addition to weighing the health and safety of employees and the community in the current circumstances, you may consider:
Once you decide whether remote work is appropriate and for what period, you should clearly articulate the type of telework arrangement that is acceptable (long-term, short-term, or partial). In partial telework-eligible positions, you should clearly define which job duties may be performed remotely and which require an employee to report in person. Maintaining clear rules and expectations is essential to managing remote workers for pay, leave, and discipline purposes, discussed in more detail below.
2. Do You Need To Institute Or Update Your Remote Work Policy?
You would would be well-served to have an up-to-date remote work policy. A clear, written policy is a great way to set remote work expectations for your employees and keep them up to date on your company’s official policies and procedures established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you instituted a remote work policy specifically for COVID-19 and intended it for short-term use, or if you utilized an existing telework policy that did not specifically contemplate COVID-19, your policy may need tweaking.
A remote work policy should specify required work hours, meal/rest periods, time and attendance records, and whether employees must obtain permission prior to working outside of work hours (or working overtime), and how that permission should be obtained. It is important to fully consider all your needs and options when instituting a remote policy, so you should contact legal counsel before drafting or updating yours.
3. How Should You Track Time Of Remote Workers?
In order to track the working time of your remote workers, it is key to have a defined process to ensure accurate records. For example, you may require that employees have an established schedule, keep track of their own hours, and request from management permission to deviate from the established schedule for any reason. Such flexible work schedules may be difficult to manage and require a detailed analysis of the employee’s time and the employee’s leave to determine an employer’s obligations on any given day. Thus, it is important to emphasize to employees that they should be diligent with adhering to established schedules, but there should be an open dialogue for addressing deviations.
You should also properly determine what kind of time is compensable. It is not always obvious when an employee’s time must be included as hours worked. The following examples represent a few scenarios where the answer could require a more fact-specific analysis:
You should choose one method for tracking time and apply it uniformly across employees to the extent possible. Inevitably though, because there is no one best method for tracking employee time in all situations, the process will vary by employer, and even by position. Additionally, there might be some flexibility with respect to teleworking employees interrupted for COVID-19 reasons. Accordingly, you should consult with counsel if you have specific questions regarding what constitutes compensable time or the best methods to track compensable time in a given situation.
4. How Do You Manage Employee Performance Remotely?
Successful managers are consistent in applying policies and maintaining open communication with their employees. Specifically, you should ensure that you regularly:
You should diligently document any departures from established policy, timekeeping or otherwise, at the time the violation occurs or is discovered. You should also not fear pursuing discipline just because an employee is remote – you discourage misconduct by consistently disciplining employees who abuse telework and deviate from established policies. Conversely, employees who request accommodations in their work schedules for COVID-19 related or other protected reasons should be accommodated to the extent possible.
5. How Do You Maintain Remote Worksites?
You may be liable for injuries on the job even if they occur at a remote worksite. It is therefore important to ensure that teleworkers’ remote worksites are safe and suitable for a productive workday. Employees who are responsible for setting up their own worksites may fail to anticipate safety hazards or may not be concerned about safety risks. This could result in worksite arrangements that are prone to injury, including wire tripping hazards and non-ergonomic workstations.
Accordingly, it is prudent to establish remote worksite guidelines in your remote work policies that indicate your expectations of employee worksite set up and maintenance. You may also ask your managers to conduct periodic checks on an employee’s remote workspace by phone or video conference to ascertain whether they are complying with your expectations. These checks are also useful in discerning whether employees need any technological assistance or tools that would allow them to perform their job functions more efficiently, and whether any business expenses call for reimbursement. If you discover policy violations, you can correct the violations and, if necessary, impose discipline to deter future infractions.
Not every position is perfect for remote work. However, with careful consideration of work needs and position functions, you can take advantage of the many technological tools available and maintain a productive remote workforce. By diligently maintaining two-way discourse with remote employees and educating employees with clear, written, and up-to-date policies, you can ensure that your company is using remote work to its full potential.
As businesses gradually begin to ramp up and bring employees back to work, you may soon need to figure out what to do when employees who are receiving unemployment benefits refuse to return to work. After all, they may be reluctant or disincentivized to return to the job, especially if they can turn down your offer and still collect robust unemployment benefits.
As with all unemployment issues, the solution may differ from state to state – and employee to employee. But while the answers will vary depending on your workplace and individual employee circumstances, you can take steps now to put yourself in the best position to respond to such situations. We recommend an individualized 10-step plan of action to minimize your return-to-work headaches.
With the enactment of the CARES Act, employees qualifying for unemployment benefits are in line to receive an additional $600 benefit payment over and above the regular unemployment payment. This benefit is courtesy of the federal government program and continues through July 31, 2020. In many situations, however, the additional $600 benefit has created a disincentive for employees to return to work. This phenomenon has caused a dilemma for many employers (and employees) as businesses start to reopen.
At the lower end of the economic scale, many workers are receiving more from unemployment than they would earn from their regular wages. However, to remain eligible for unemployment benefits in all but a few circumstances, individuals who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to the COVID-19 pandemic must return to work if called back. And since most state unemployment agencies require or request that you notify them when you call an employee receiving unemployment back to work, the agency will likely deny ongoing benefits unless the employee can demonstrate good cause for refusing the offer.
The determination as to what constitutes good cause for the job refusal, however, will be viewed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be subject to agency review. The U.S. Department of Labor and many states have emphasized that an unreasonable fear over the risk of contracting the virus in the workplace is not enough to constitute good cause, and state agencies will likely deny unemployment claims if this is the only reason offered.
Several states, however, including Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Texas, have already adopted rules outlining when an employee’s refusal to return to work may rise to the level of good cause. These rules generally protect unemployment benefits for “high risk” or “vulnerable” employees, such as workers over 65 or with underlying medical conditions.
For example, Texas Governor Abbott has directed the Texas Workforce Commission to continue providing benefits even when the employee refuses an offer of suitable employment where (1) the employee is 65 or older or at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19; (2) the employee has a household member at high risk; (3) the employee or a household member has been diagnosed with COVID-19 (and not recovered); (4) the employee is under quarantine due to close contact or exposure to COVID-19; or (5) the employee has child care responsibilities and the school or daycare is closed (and employee has no available alternatives).
Given the complicated issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, you should be careful to consider the best approach for your workplace and employees. A thoughtful and transparent return-to-work process will help ensure employee safety and boost morale. Here is a 10-point plan you should implement to ensure a smooth return-to-work for your organization.
What Else Should Employers Do?
As you begin the process of reopening, you may want to familiarize yourself with several alerts courtesy of Fisher Phillips LLP :
We are excited to announce the promotion of Luann Player to Vice President of Administrators Advisory Group.
Luann has been with the company for 16 years. While still in college, she quickly advanced from a marketing intern to an insurance and claims specialist and later took on the responsibility as VP of Operations, including overseeing the complete annual renewal process for all clients. She has an immense eye for detail and her passion to get things rights for our clients is unmatched. Luann has been able to play a key role in the company while working remote for AAG from far away places like Hawaii, Texas, and even South Korea!
She has always played a pivotal role at AAG and we are so proud of her growth and accomplishments. Please join us in congratulating Luann!
Did you know that the number of remote workers has grown by 140% since 2005? And with the current COVID-19 situation, even more people are working remote if even temporarily. Now consider this: 80% of employees reported they’d be more loyal if they had more flexible work options, such as working from home. These numbers prove my point: Remote work has tremendous value for both employees and organizations—and it’s here to stay.
But for all its rose-colored benefits, remote work has some pitfalls that can take a toll on employee satisfaction, productivity, collaboration, and engagement. This is especially true amid the current coronavirus pandemic.
Many businesses find themselves in a unique situation. Large workforces, who have traditionally worked full time at physical offices, have now been mandated by HR to work remotely for extended periods of time (some for 2 weeks and others for at least 1 month, possibly longer)—and rightfully so given the current situation.
This is an opportunity for HR teams to inform, communicate, and nurture their newly remote workers through this new landscape and give them the resources and tools to be as productive, engaged, and collaborative as possible.
Social isolation can breed loneliness. And loneliness can spur disengagement.
Employees crave human contact and interactions. One of the great benefits of going into an office every day is the relationships with colleagues. Office workers sit together for lunch (or go out to restaurants together); they share personal stories about their social experiences, families, and friends; they tell each other jokes; and they even share photos and videos from holidays, social outings, and more.
But when regular and meaningful human interactions are suddenly taken away, it can be hard for employees.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many business executives have been asking employees to embrace the practice of “social distancing” right now for the sake of keeping employees safe and healthy.
But that’s inevitably going to lead to feelings of loneliness. This is supported by the findings of Buffer’s 2019 State of Work report, which found that 19% of the surveyed remote workers struggled with loneliness. This can, in turn, take a toll on employees’ mental health and well-being.
Now consider this: According to a meta-analysis coauthored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
How to tackle it:
Distractions are everywhere, making it hard to stay productive.
In a home setting, the types and number of distractions multiply drastically from those employees might find in office environments. No one is sitting nearby to hold employees accountable. It can be so tempting for employees to watch online videos, scroll through Facebook and Instagram to see what friends are up to, and hop on personal phone calls with friends and family.
A big part of hiring smart people is instilling trust in them to do great work and be responsible for meeting their goals. So instead of panicking about the sudden shift to full-time remote work (or taking on a “Big Brother” mentality/approach to managing them), give employees the necessary technology and digital tools to be as productive as possible. They’ll thank you for it.
How to tackle it:
Social distancing can cause misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication.
There’s an art to effective, engaging communication. It’s hard enough to do when your employees are standing (or sitting) face-to-face with colleagues, teammates, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. So as large workforces now set out to work remotely full time for a prolonged period of time, communication will get even trickier.
What will likely ensue are misunderstandings, miscommunication about project expectations/deliverables, and possibly even performance issues. Those can lead to tension and animosity among coworkers, which will inevitably give employees more reasons to avoid, or even cancel, meetings that are necessary to brainstorm, innovate, manage projects, and deliver business results. No business wants these outcomes.
How to tackle it: