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The increase in digital devices, cloud-based services and virtual offices have made it less and less necessary to be physically present when conducting business. The emails, reports and business presentations that can be written from a cubical can just as easily be produced from a local coffee shop, often with greater productivity and work satisfaction. It's a great time to be a telecommuter. Or is it?
Telecommuting is common among tech workers and expanding even to entire law firms. Yet, it's not without legal risks. Whether you're reading this from your home office or your office office, here's some things in house counsel should keep in mind when their company considers telecommuting.
Despite the increasing numbers of telecommuting workers, there's still plenty of debate among executives and HR professionals about the value of working off site. For lawyers, telecommuting raises several specific legal issues regarding proper monitoring of hours, protection of sensitive information, and potential claims of discriminatory implementation.
Earning Overtime From my Couch?
One of the primary difficulties an employer might encounter with telecommuting is accurately tracking work hours. Beyond accountability, telecommuting can implicate compliance with state and federal wage and hour rules. Since monitoring hours can be difficult off-site, one of the safest ways to avoid claims for back pay is to limit telecommuting to exempt employees.
Confidentiality and Security Risks
For companies which work with sensitive information, perhaps the greatest risk associated with telecommuting is a data breach. Employees who work off site may be transmitting information across an insecure connection or leaving confidential documents in a public space. However, these risks may be alleviated by instituting strong security controls and agreements that telecommuters will not work on confidential information in public places.
Employees like to telecommute; it saves them time, allows them more flexibility over their schedule, and generally indicates that the company respects them enough to grant a bit of extra freedom. It's a perk. As with any perk, the ones who don't get it may be unhappy. Over half of traditional employees report being jealous of colleagues who telecommute, according to Workforce magazine. This can lead to more than just morale issues; employees may claim discrimination should they believe telecommuting policies aren't being applied fairly.