There is no question that there is a huge benefit to having a mobile office. You get more done, you can hire people from all over the world, and save almost entirely on overhead expenses that would usually come with a brick-and-mortar office. However, hiring remote employees comes with a different set of legal rules than hiring regular employees. Each of these legal issues could be a potential liability for your company.
Make sure that your rules regarding your remote employees are clearly outlined in your HR policies, your employee handbook, your hiring process forms, your onboarding process paperwork, your organizational structure forms, your procedures, and any additional organizational policies you may have.
Here are some things you should include in your legal rules for your virtual employees.
Privacy and Security
When an office runs things remotely, all communication takes place in an environment that is not centralized, so privacy and security should be the number one thing you think of when you’re creating rules and regulations for your remote employees. Think of all the sensitive information they have – passwords, logins, email addresses, email history, personally identifying information of you, your other employees, and your clients, contact information for your clients, addresses of your physical office or home base, proprietary information, financial data, and internal communication about clients and employees. If you wouldn’t share the data openly and without redaction to the general public, you need to make sure you have rules in place to keep it safe.
When you create your privacy and security policy, make sure that every single person at your company understands it and receives a copy of the information. You should require that anyone who uses their computer for work remotely only access the internet via a secure home network, never a public network such as 4G or a coffee shop’s wifi. Enable 2 factor authorization into everything you can. Have your remote employees protect personal data by encrypting their hard drives. Not doing these things can cause major legal issues for your company, so make sure you make it a priority.
If your remote workers are in different states or countries, you must make sure you are paying each of them in accordance with the laws in their locations. You are required to adhere to the payroll and tax laws of their location, not the other way around. You or your payroll provider should, at minimum, be aware of the following information in order to comply with regulations: the minimum wage in each employee’s location, the information that must appear on their paystubs, the payday frequency requirements, the paycheck delivery requirements, the payroll deduction requirements, the overtime laws, and the payroll tax calculations.
Check with your payroll department (if you don’t handle payroll yourself_) and find out if any changes need to be made to your current payroll process to be in compliance with the regional laws with every remote employee’s location. Make sure that you check these rules and laws for every new employee you bring in to work remotely from a different state or country. If their taxes are messed up because you didn’t do this, the error falls on you legally!
International Employment Laws
If you hire out of your country, you must comply with the employment and labor laws in those locations. Depending on where your new remote employee lives, you may have to register your business in that country. Check to see how international employee situations are currently handled at your company, and compare that information to the laws of each remote worker’s home country to make sure you are in compliance. You can hire consultants with experience in handling international employee situations, if needed.
Health and Safety
Even though your remote workers do not work in the office with you, they still need to comply by health and safety regulations. It’s up to you, the employer, to identify any potential hazards that comes with the remote worker’s jobs. You are also responsible for creating and putting measures into place to control and minimize risk. Review hazards with your remote employees to make sure that everyone is on the same page. You should also establish systems for reporting and investigating injuries, illness, or other things that can occur because of work activities. Of course, your remote worker is responsible for most things, like taking care of their own health, but they should report any abnormal hazard incidents immediately regardless. Make sure you have worker support systems in place, that you provide health and safety training to all of your employees, and that you provide personal protective equipment if needed.
Interviews and Hiring
Even job postings and interviews can set you up in a bad way legally when you’re looking for remote employees. Make sure that your language in job postings do not make it sound like any certain type of protected class will be omitted or refused an interview. For example, you cannot state that you are looking for candidates who are “young and active on social media” – because you mentioned the word “young”, you can run into legal trouble over age discrimination because of your wording. In some places, you cannot ask about previous salaries, and in other locations, you must state compensation figures up front in the job posts.
You cannot discuss race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, gender preference, or romantic preference – this sounds simple, but it’s easy to slip up, as even asking someone if they will want to take off work for a religious holiday is considered discrimination. You can ask what country or location a remote worker currently resides in, but you cannot ask where they were born or their family’s place of origin. Again, it sounds simple to avoid, but you can slip up by asking someone where their accent is from. Most certainly do not ask about or question disabilities or health issues, marital status, family status, or pregnancy status. Stay away completely from asking questions about family issues.
If any of these topics are brought up by the interviewee, politely direct the conversation back to job related questions. Do not pursue the topics further, even in a friendly way or after work hours in a personal setting. Remember that you are always the owner of your business and must represent it legally even after hours.
You should have a contract that renews yearly with every remote employee that you have. It should not be one that you pulled from the internet – each contract should be customized to each individual remote employee and the laws in their locations. Apart from protecting your interest, it’s a good idea to have this contract so that if your remote team members don’t honor their promises, you have legal and contractual basis to bring legal action upon them to claim compensation for your loss and damages (if any). Contracts should not be one sided, however – make sure you add in parts to protect the employee, too. You should also generally be open to negotiations over contractual terms and conditions as well as pay rates.
If you don’t hear from an employee that works in your brick and mortar office for too long, you can walk next door to their office and see how they’re doing and if they need anything. Not so with your remote employees. You must set a legal contract for your remote employees so that you are able to reach them when you need them and know that you’ll get an answer. This contract should state, in some terms, that except for in case of emergencies, you and the remote employee will have contact of some kind every few days or so. If you prefer, you can also ask that they agree to acknowledge receipt of emails and voicemails, or that you have a weekly conference call or video chat instead of a weekly update email. You should also specify your preferred language of communication in this contract. All of this keeps your employees from falling off of the wagon and leaving your emails and texts unread while you wonder what’s going on with them.
In a brick and mortar office, an employee does not require technology to speak with you – they can just walk over to your desk. However, there is no other way for a remote employee to reach you if they need you, so you must make sure there are regulations in place as far as care and operation methods of technologies go. Any malfunction of these technologies could be detrimental for your business, so you should include these provisions in your contracts. Each party should agree to take it’s best efforts to ensure that technological systems relating to the company are working properly and being taken care of when in use, and that regular maintenance is performed on everything it can be. If there are issues, it should be mandated that they are reported to you immediately.
You want to make sure that your company is protected – and your employees too. Follow these tips to make sure they are.