Employers trying to keep up with changing federal and state laws without the guidance and support of an employment attorney understand the hardships. The issue, of course, is that you don’t know what you don’t know. That is to say that laws and regulations change and without understanding exactly what to watch out for, a business owner can easily fall out of compliance without an attorney’s expertise. This is complicated further, as each state decides which wage payment laws it will adopt. An example of an area that employers should stay compliant and up-to-date with is wage and hour best practices. These laws set the minimum amount someone earns for one hour of work. This can help small businesses avoid labor lawsuits. In this article, we’ll walk you through a few considerations of wage and hour best practices pertaining to remote work.
Working from Home Considerations
The global pandemic has brought many employers to implement work-from-home policies. Remote working is a breeding ground for the loss of boundaries, especially the line between work and home. It’s vital for employers to ensure that employees working from home stay compliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). There are special considerations and tips for work-from-home policies for hourly employees, including:
- Regardless of whether work is physically performed in-office or at home, employers must follow federal and state labor laws
- To help establish boundaries consistent with the law when managing hourly employees, employers should set work hours, meaning establishing set start and end times for the workday
- Employers cannot pay employees less when they transition from the office to a remote environment
- Employers must receive payment for all hours worked, even if the work doesn’t meet the specific needs/guidelines set forth by the employer
- Overtime laws still apply to hourly employees working remotely
- Employers may still be responsible if employees have worked unauthorized or “off-the-clock” hours, if it can be proven that the employer had reasonable knowledge that it was happening
- If expenses incur because of an employer working from home, at no point should an employer take it out of the employee’s compensation
Depending on what state you’re in, you will have state-specific laws to follow that may not be under the FLSA. New York laws will differ from other state laws, too. We recommend that you hire an experienced employment attorney in NYC like Moshes Law or an attorney in your state.
Employers Must Set Labor Law Compliance Policies
Remote-work policies do not excuse business owners from following federal and state labor and payroll rules and regulations. It’s highly recommended that employers implement new policies for hourly employees working from home. Some examples of recommended guidelines include:
- Set schedules – Ensure stable start and stop times for employees to complete their work. Make sure the employee understands that work cannot be completed before or after their set work hours.
- Meal and break considerations – Don’t forget to establish set meal and break times within hourly remote worker schedules. Having tools available for employees to log off and online can help employers keep accurate logs for meals and breaks.
- Use online tools – There are a number of online tools to help you manage hourly remote workers. We advise taking advantage of tools like, online time trackers and online message apps, like Slack, to make checking in and out easier.
Despite shifting from in-office work to remote work, all federal and state guidelines should be followed. Ensure that you stay labor-law compliant with readily available policy changes and online tools.
Ensure Your Employees Accurately Track Time
To keep your wage and hour violations at zero, it’s advisable that your hourly employees do track their time. It’s impractical and inconvenient to have employees track time with pen and physical paper, plus you can’t monitor the time until it’s been submitted with this antiquated process. As stated above, there are many online tools that make tracking time incredibly easy for remote workers. Tracking time online gives businesses the ability to produce records in case of a labor lawsuit, too.
Employment Agreements Will Keep Your Business Safe
Employment agreements are a two-way street. They can keep employees from feeling abused and overworked, and they can ensure that employers mitigate risk of falling out of compliance with law of wages. If you’ve enacted any of the above recommendations on remote-work policy or any additional policies specific to your company, make sure employees sign off on the policy changes in this agreement. We advise covering overtime stipulations, as well as time-tracking expectations to ensure all parties agree on such activities. This keeps everyone happy and working towards common goals. It also gives employers paper security against any alleged labor law violations.
Paid and Unpaid Work Time
Problems come up when employees fail to realize what constitutes as paid or unpaid work time. The typical rule for hourly employees is if an employee is performing work, it falls under paid work time. If an employee is taking lunch (away from desk and work that generally exceeds 30 minutes) or mandated breaks during his/her workday, it is unpaid. However, an employee must be paid under the following circumstances:
- Waiting time – According to labor and employment law salary compliance, generally, if an employee was engaged to wait the hours must be paid
- Short meals and breaks – If the break or meal is 20 minutes of fewer, the time is typically paid time, as it may qualify as an efficiency break to enhance productivity
- On-call time – If an employee is required to remain on employer’s premises, the work time should be paid
Some time that may be unpaid includes:
- On-call time – An employee who is categorized as “on-call,” but is at home with mostly unrestricted time requirements may fall under unpaid work; increased restrictions on time may result in required compensation
- Lectures, meeting and training programs – If the event in question is outside of normal work hours, voluntary, not job related and no other work has been performed while at the event, it is unpaid
How to Avoid Wage and Hour Violations
The pandemic has certainly added complications and muddied work-life boundaries. As such, it’s a good idea for employers to take a post-remote-work look at policies and agreements with employees, especially as remote work becomes a permanent fixture for many companies. Avoiding wage and hour violations isn’t easy without someone who understands the federal and state requirements. If you follow the tips and considerations within this article, you’ll be off to a good start in being labor-law compliant, yet hiring an attorney to help you review new remote-work policies through a compliance lense is advisable.