COVID-19: Telework Best Practices

As employers shift to a work-from-home workplace model, many are finding that managing telework has its own set of challenges. In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank and employment law expert Jennifer Shaw discuss remote work best practices, such as ways to ensure workers are taking mandated rest breaks, reimbursing expenses, establishing COVID-19-specific policies, and maintaining a harassment-free environment.

Time Management

Remote work is not a new concept, and for those who have been working from home before the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, it’s business as usual, Shaw tells Frank.

Exempt employees are easier to manage remotely because the hours worked are not as important as ensuring that a particular assignment or project is completed by a set deadline, Shaw says. Concerning nonexempt employees, however, employers need to not only keep track of and pay for any overtime worked, but managers also need to ensure that meal and rest breaks are taken.

When working from home, it’s easy to skip breaks and even work off the clock, Frank points out.

That’s why it’s important for managers to clearly set expectations and perform check-ins to demonstrate to an employee that the manager is paying attention, Shaw says.

For example, she says, an employer can call a nonexempt employee at around lunch time and check in to make sure that the worker is planning to take a lunch break.

“I told our staff, ‘Look we got to do this together.’ So the first thing is: Let’s talk about it. Let’s be transparent. ‘Hey I’m going to call and check on you because you’re supposed to be on lunch.’ It’s not a secretive thing—it’s not that anybody is doing anything wrong,” Shaw says.

Shaw also suggests establishing a tailored remote work agreement to clearly outline the company’s expectations, such as specifying break rules or an overtime policy specifying that overtime must be approved beforehand.

COVID-19-Specific Policy

It also is a good idea, Frank says, to redraft any pre-COVID-19 telework agreements and make a new agreement tailored specifically to the COVID-19 crisis.

Shaw recommends that the new agreement states that the availability to telework is temporary, so that employees don’t develop the expectation that they can continue to telework once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Internet Fees, Other Expenses

Working from home can bring about a number of expenses, especially if an employee does not already have an internet service established.

Expenses such as internet fees or supplies such as paper should be provided for, Shaw says. Moreover, employers should be open and encourage input from employees regarding what is considered a fair reimbursement number. For example, internet costs may be higher for Employee A, who has to pay to set up a new internet home connection, than it is for Employee B, who already has an internet connection established and only needs reimbursement for monthly usage fees.

Harassment Policy

Regardless of whether employees are working remotely or not, employers still have an obligation to keep a harassment-free workplace, Frank explains. Even though workers are at home, they still are interacting with each other via technology platforms such as Zoom, a video conferencing service.

Workers should, for example, be mindful of inappropriate or personal items residing in the background when connecting through a video conference service, Frank says.

Also, employees may think rules have been loosened and it is acceptable to share nonwork-related emails and video links to each other, Shaw says.

Both Frank and Shaw agree: an email reminder from the company’s CEO or human resources director should go out to all employees asking everyone to behave appropriately and treat others respectfully.