The evolution of the workplace is continuing apace. The most recent changes are targeting work-from-home (WFH) employees, or to be precise, their employers. Up until now, the debate has centered around productivity, as well as supervision challenges and other issues that arise from the WFH phenomenon. The number of people working primarily from home increased from 5.7% to 17.95% of all workers in the United States, and from 14.6% to 24.4% in Europe.
Although most WFH employees enjoy the perks of the arrangement, companies are recognizing benefits as well. New data is showing that remote work could save companies up to $10,600 per employee annually. However, the subsequent lack of supervision and control over WFH employees' work environment, specifically as it relates to safety, and the employer's level of responsibility during "work hours" is being scrutinized. "At work" accidents for WFH employees are a real concern, and the issue becomes ever more opaque due to the difficulty of separating employees' work and personal lives.
Although these concerns have drawn more attention outside of the United States, the first rumblings of potential regulatory intrusions into the issue are being heard.
Remote Workers - Home Workers - Teleworkers
Distinguishing between remote workers, home workers, and teleworkers is the first task that an employer must undertake. For example, in Spain, remote work is defined as a work activity that is performed either at the worker's home or at another place of their choice at least 30% of the time over a period of three months. Teleworking is a subcategory of remote work that requires the job to be carried out through telecommunications systems.
As reported in MITSloan Management Review, "... Germany introduced draft legislation in January 2021 that makes clear distinctions between mobile work, which is any work that uses information technology that is performed outside of the business premises, and telework, which is defined as work that is exclusively and permanently performed at the employee’s home. Details of the pending Mobile Work Act that are still being finalized include an extension of work accident insurance to cover the home offices of employees, and the implementation of a recording system to ensure that employees don’t work beyond a maximum number of hours."
Two Latin American countries have enacted laws that make distinctions between teleworking, WFH, and remote work. Government regulatory authorities in the Philippines have introduced revisions to their Telecommuting Act that include specific requirements for businesses working in the IT sector.
What about the United States?
Again, as reported by MITSloan, "Even in the U.S., which has not seen any direct legislation governing flexible working arrangements since the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, a number of local laws affecting practices such as interstate taxation and expense reimbursement have emerged, creating complicated compliance challenges. For example, laws referred to as the convenience of the employer rule that are currently on the books in just five states — Connecticut, Delaware, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania — allow state tax authorities to impose an income tax on wages earned for an employer based in that state, even if the employee is based outside the state. Likewise, several states require companies to pay for expenses that employees incur while working from home."
Right To Disconnect
Although, initially, there was widespread concern over WFH employees not fulling hourly work requirements, the actual increase in productivity has sparked concern that some employees are being pressured to always be logged in, or always available. As a result, the European Union is proposing legislative proposals limiting work hours. France, Spain, and Italy have already implemented regulations to address this.
Safety at (Home) Work
In a case that could be seen as precedent-setting, a German court has ruled that when a remote-working employee slipped on his way from his bed to his home office, it qualified as a workplace accident. The ramifications of this, and the employer's responsibility toward an environment (the home) they have little control over, could be extreme.
Risks and Potential Liabilities
At first blush, WFH seems like a win-win scenario. The employee has all the perks of working from home, and their employer saves money. However, with increased scrutiny by regulatory authorities, the probability of the passage of WFH regulations seems inevitable. This will require employers to develop procedures to remain compliant, as well as determining how to train WFH staff, insure compliance, and some level of oversight and control.
For large employers, this will mean being cognizant of differing state, local, and international requirements and developing procedures that ensure compliance.
We Can Help
If all of this sounds a bit daunting, not to worry. Our professionals at ASN are on top of it. Please feel free to give us a call. We would love to discuss it with you.