Telework Policies for Your Employee Handbook

COVID-19 changed the face of the employment environment for the foreseeable future. A well-written employee handbook is essential for employers to define their remote work arrangements, streamline the process, establish expectations, and avoid legal entanglements.

Last Updated on November 28, 2023

What Are the Advantages of Allowing Telework?

There are proven advantages for employees who offer telework arrangements. These include:

  • reduced costs for workspace, utilities, and other overhead
  • lower absenteeism
  • elimination of weather-based closures
  • increased productivity, morale, and retention
  • a competitive edge in hiring from larger geographic areas
  • possible accommodations for certain workers
  • promoting employee work-life balance

Governments also promote telework to reduce traffic congestion and benefit the environment. Several courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have suggested that employers must consider allowing telework as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, the EEOC has also indicated that long-term COVID-19 may qualify as a disability under the ADA.

What Telecommuting Details Should You Included In Your Employee Handbook?

Employers must address the qualifications employees must meet in order to telecommute through their official Employee Handbook. The Employee Handbook may answer a number of telework questions, including:

  • Why do some roles qualify, while others must be performed on-site?
  • Do collective bargaining agreements come into play?
  • Is there a limit on the number of employees who may be considered?
  • Is the program limited to exempt employees?
  • Is a trial period required?

The handbook should also detail the how an employee may make a request to telecommute.

Defining Telework Policies In Your Employee Handbook

Safety Policies

We know the “where” is a remote location, and, in most cases, from home. But there’s more to it than that. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will not hold companies responsible for the safety of their telecommuters’ home offices. However, because the employer’s workers’ compensation carrier may be responsible for job-related injuries, the employer may want to publicize its right to inspect the home office for safety standards in its employee handbook.

Telework From Out of State

Remote workers may not only work from home but may also “hotel” or work from other locations. The policy should address any such requirements because remote workers may inadvertently establish a physical presence in a state or locality, giving rise to registration and tax issues. Further, some states have reciprocity agreements so that employees who telecommute from a state other than the one where the employer is located do not face double taxation on their incomes; other states do not. Employers should seek guidance from their state tax department or a local attorney before addressing such issues in general or in the handbook.

Drug Testing

In addition, telework can blur lines physically for an employee at home. Drugs and alcohol may be present in the home, but the handbook’s policy should clarify testing policies and that employees are expected not to be under the influence while performing their work.

Work Hours and Breaks

The telework policy in an employee handbook should address when employees may work, including required core hours. It should address when employees must spend time in the office and rules for hours reporting under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). State laws may require rest breaks of specific duration, and the policy should address how non-exempt employees must document their breaks.

Expectations and Performance Standards

A handbook’s telework policy must address the work that must be performed and the employer’s expectations and performance standards. The policy should make clear that all rules that apply to behavior in the workplace also apply to teleworkers. The policy should establish a clear communications process, including for “voice” commuting and phone usage. Further, the policy should clarify that remote working is not an alternative to dependent care or meant to accommodate personal or other business responsibilities.

Computer Equipment, Phones and Other Technology

An employee handbook telework policy must establish rules for:

  • equipment usage
  • technical support
  • data
  • electronic security
  • information technology
  • expenses

Some states, like California, require reimbursement for certain expenses of remote employees, which may include a percentage of reimbursement for use of personal devices for business purposes.

Signed Agreements

The remote work policy may require a written commitment or contract to ensure that the employee understands the policies and agrees to comply with them. By assuring observance of well-defined standards for remote work, employers can ensure a smooth transition and effective management in the future of the workplace.

Handbook Templates Aren’t the Answer

Crossing State Lines Means New Compliance Challenges

As a small business owner, conducting business across state lines creates new compliance challenges when crafting handbooks. Although you may not knowingly be going against the law, not properly handling the setup of your business in another state when it’s legally required could leave you with expensive penalties or leave you unprotected by state laws.

Templates Often Ignore Local and State Law

Many handbooks follow templates downloaded from the internet. Most “form” handbooks you get from the Internet focus on federal law requirements. While federal law requirements are important, you cannot forget about local and state laws. These laws may affect the wording of policies on many topics including:

  • paid leave
  • weapons in the workplace
  • drug testing
  • jury duty
  • paternity leave

To maintain compliance, you may need to have separate versions of your handbook or at least state-specific addendums.

Generic Templates Aren’t Customized for Specific Issues

Though a generic handbook may be a good start for some, and may have common elements, there are many areas that must be more specific to keep you and your business compliant. Customized areas to consider when you’re determining specifics to include in your handbook are:

Industry-Specific Issues

A template may not contain industry-specific issues. Your particular industry may have workplace issues that don’t arise or aren’t relevant in other industries.

State-Specific Issues

A template may not contain state-specific issues. Many employers are not aware that when they draft their employee handbook there are many policies that need to be different based upon the state in which the employer is operating. This can be a real nightmare for HR.

Policies that change across state lines, include:

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Jury Duty Leave
  • Access to Personnel Files
  • Vacation and Wage Deductions
  • Short-Term Disability Benefits
  • State-by-State Policies Change Quickly

Read more about creating compliant multi-state handbooks.

Custom Employee Handbook Options For Teleworkers

Businesses are subject to human resources-related penalties for non-compliance with the ADA, EEOC, FMLA, COBRA, the ACA, and more.

Employee Handbook Review & Creation Services

How do you know if your employee handbook is compliant with all local, state, and federal laws? Have your employee handbooks professionally reviewed and updated by human resources experts such as MyHRConcierge. We specialize in creating and maintaining employee handbooks that are compliant for your business, even if you operate or have remote workers in multiple states.

Employee Handbook Monitoring Services

We also offer employee handbook monitoring, which provides semi-annual, automatic updates to your employee handbook. This ensures that your handbook doesn’t go out of compliance due to changing regulations including COVID-19 laws and regulations, discrimination policies, and more.

Get a Free Consultation For Your Employee Handbook

Employee Handbooks are a key HR focus area for HR professionals. To learn more about our services for employee handbook review, employee handbook writing, and monthly ongoing compliance, contact MyHRConcierge for a free consultation. Call or email Chris Cooley, or fill out the form below.