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Detroit-–-October 1, 2018-–-A recent article by Governing magazine reports that more Americans telecommute than take public transportation to work, following a new census report that approximately 8 million Americans primarily work from home. Terry Bonnette, a partner with Detroit-based management-side employment and labor law firm, Nemeth Law, P.C., says the report presents another reason for employers to take stock of best practices on working remotely.  

“For years, companies have offered employees the flexibility of working from home, and even though the numbers are growing, experience shows that success isn’t always guaranteed,” Bonnette said. “For virtual arrangements to have the best shot at success, employers need to have a clearly documented, communicated and enforced procedure for working remotely – and employees need to be trained and knowledgeable of that procedure.”  

It all begins with an employee’s request for a work-from-home or a remote work arrangement, according to Bonnette. Whether that request should be granted by the company, however, hinges on a variety of factors. Bonnette reminds employers to: review the full job description—making sure it accurately matches the employee’s current job duties and if it states that on-site attendance is an essential function of the job; identify the tasks for which attendance is essential, such as line-of-sight supervision or attendance at meetings; and follow established guidelines and procedures, such as interactive process logs, for responding to requests for accommodations.  

“Employers need to ensure their standards are fair, applied appropriately and that there’s no disparate class of worker impacted when considering which type of employees can telecommute,” Bonnette said.

When instituting or reviewing work-from-home policies, Bonnette recommends employers consider the following 10 factors:

  1. Virtual options should be granted on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the needs of the company
  2. A minimum length of employment, performance, history, etc. should be established prior to granting remote requests
  3. A trial period clause that is revocable at will of the company
  4. Provisions for identifying equipment needs and who owns the equipment
  5. Involve the company’s IT personnel to ensure secure data protection
  6. Periodic workspace inspections
  7. Expected work hours and reporting requirements
  8. Right for employer to modify and/or cancel agreement at any time—and have an objective standard to determine if employee is meeting performance expectations to do so
  9. Requirement for telecommuter to maintain a safe work environment and define what that workspace and scope includes
  10. Provisions for using office equipment at home

“Virtual employment can help companies retain talent,” Bonnette said, “but employers need to consider the impact it will have on the entire team or company, maintain written documentation that working from home is a privilege that will not apply to everyone, and implement a ‘terms and conditions’ agreement specific to that employee so expectations are understood and can be met from all parties involved.”

About Nemeth Law, P.C.

Established in 1992, Nemeth Law specializes in workplace investigations, employment litigation, traditional labor law, management consultation/training for private and public sector employers, and arbitration and mediation. It is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.