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WORKING DURING CRISIS: TELECOMMUTING POLICIES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
March 17, 2020


During this pandemic, many companies have faced or will be facing forced telecommuting for the first time. Even if your company has previously allowed employees to telecommute, it is likely that your company will be expanding the number and types of employees who are allowed or required to telecommute. Having a telecommuting agreement with each employee or a telecommuting policy that is applicable to all employees is important. Here are some major points you may want to consider for your agreement or policy:

  • Note that the policy is temporary to address the current emergency circumstances and that the policy may change over time, even within hours or days. Explain how employees will receive information about updates.

  • Emphasize that the policy does not change employment at-will status. Both the employer and employee are still free to terminate the employment relationship with or without notice and for any reason not prohibited by law.

  • Require employees to stay home if they are sick, including if they have a fever, cough or shortness of breath (symptoms of COVID-19). You may also require employees to stay home if they have other contagious illnesses like the flu. Emphasize that an employee with these symptoms may not come back to work until their symptoms have resolved and they have spoken to HR about their ability to return to work. The CDC is discouraging “return to work” notes from health providers because requesting such notes may distract health providers at a critical time.

  • Explain which employees are allowed to telecommute. This could be any of following or some combination of the following—1) everyone, if that is feasible for your company; 2) only those positions that can effectively work at home; 3) anyone who is sick but still able to work; 4) anyone who is over 60 years old and who should avoid contact with other people; 5) anyone with an underlying health condition that necessitates them to avoid contact with other people; 5) employees in mandatory quarantine or self-quarantine due to travel or exposure, if they are still allowed to work; or 6) anyone who has to care for children due to school closures or sick family members. Make sure your policy is not discriminatory.

  • Address how work supervision will be conducted during telecommuting. For example: How often are employees expected to check in with their supervisors?

  • If possible, set productivity standards to keep everyone on task.

  • Explain the extent to which employees are expected to remain available and in contact. Address how employees will stay in contact—telephone calls, Zoom, Webex, email, etc. Holding regular virtual meetings can be very helpful to keep employees on track and help everyone feel connected. 

  • Explain how non-exempt employees should track their time and “clock in and out.” Ensure you are compensating employees for all time “on duty.”

  • Explain how timesheet certification and verification will work.

  • Set hours for work, if appropriate. You may want to include start and stop times. Also state whether overtime is required, or, conversely, whether employees should not be working overtime without the permission of a supervisor.

  • If your state or policies require break times and lunch breaks, have employees take those breaks at home.

  • Address how the employee should handle confidentiality. Currently, many family members are working at home. If two spouses and three children are all working at home, how will an employee ensure that confidential calls and documents remain confidential? Are employees allowed to put confidential documents on home equipment?

  • Address equipment issues such as laptops, cellphones and fax machines. How will these be provided? Who will pay for them? How will they be returned if employment is terminated? Keep in mind that some states, like California, require employers to pay for these costs.

  • Address access issues like WiFi and cell service. How will these be provided? Who will pay for them?

  • What type of IT support will be provided?

For any assistance preparing a telecommuting policy, please contact Christina Jepson at cjepson@parsonsbehle.com or call (801) 536-6820.