Managing a Remote Workforce

During the current pandemic, many companies are left to wonder where to even start regarding the rapid changes to the day-to-day administration of their company and their employees.

In the ever-changing climate of employee administration, anticipating and understanding the needs of your company and your employees is of paramount importance. Having an Employee Handbook be a one-stop-shop for most employee questions will ensure equitable administration of company rules and will provide your employees with the tools they need to succeed.

There are several policies that companies should consider adding to their Employee Handbook to address effective employee administration in a COVID-19 world:

a) Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Leave policy

An FFCRA policy should contain definitions of “child,” “individual,” “childcare provider,” and “school closure.” This policy should further spell out when employees are eligible for leave, what documentation is required for an employee to qualify for this leave, whether the leave will be offered in intermittent increments, and if and when an employee will be required to substitute or run concurrently paid accrued time with this leave.

b) Telecommuting policy

Generally speaking, all policies that apply while employees are on company premises will apply while employees are at home. However, monitoring employee conduct in a remote workforce can be difficult. Employer liability for harassment and discrimination does not change when their employees begin working remotely. Employers should consider outlining expectations for establishing a home office and should try to set fixed work hours and meal/rest periods.

Employers should consider implementing strict policies regarding times when work may be performed by non-exempt employees. To limit the potential for employees accruing overtime, companies should consider implementing restrictions on checking emails/performing work outside of normal work hours without express authorization by a supervisor.

c) Employee Expense Reimbursement policy

Employers should consider creating an employee expense reimbursement plan to limit the costs of engaging a remote workforce. Employers should keep in mind that Illinois law requires employees who incur the necessary expenses to work from home, to be reimbursed for these expenses. Personal computers, mobile phones, and in-home Internet service are just a few of the examples that could likely constitute necessary expenditures that need to be reimbursed at a reasonable amount.

However, by establishing a written employee expense reimbursement plan which specifies the types of expense that are “necessary,” employers can limit this reimbursement. Specifically, an employee is not entitled to reimbursement when:

a) the employer has an established written expense reimbursement policy and the employee failed to comply with the policy; or
b) the employer did not authorize the employee to incur the necessary expenditure.

d) Data Privacy and Security/Use of Company Equipment policy

Should employees need to take company property home (i.e., computers, scanners, USB drives), there should be a policy in place to dictate what the appropriate use of this company property is. This policy should also address protocols for employees who use their personal computer/laptop to access company files via a remote server or for checking their work email.

If companies are supplying laptops or tablets to remote workers, they should make sure they have purchased enough software licenses for each device. Companies should always read the End User License Agreement (EULA) which dictates what you can and cannot do with software, including how many copies you can install, what the software company can do with your data, and what additional software the company can install on your computer.

At Sosnowski Szeto, LLP, our firm has seen firsthand in our client representation the importance of crafting and maintaining an Employee Handbook. As the traditional workplace evolves with a greater emphasis on remote work, it is crucial for your company to have an Employee Handbook with policies specific to helping navigate the current employment landscape effectively.

James Kane is an Attorney with Sosnowski Szeto, LLP.