Post Labor Day, many employers have decided on a work model for employees, and most have settled on a hybrid arrangement of some sort. Employers have seen that employees can be just as productive working from home as in the office, and employees have made it clear they prefer working from home at least part of the week. A recent WeWork study found that employees want to split their time almost evenly among three types of work spaces: office, home and other spaces such as co-working spaces. The study also found companies support this approach with 79% of the C-suite polled saying they will permit employees to split their time between corporate offices and remote working, given their jobs allow it. Now that a decision has been made, and, hopefully, a well-written hybrid work policy has been clearly communicated to employees, employers must prepare for the inevitable challenges a hybrid work arrangement presents. Some issues are obvious, but others not so much.
When employees only worked from home periodically, or not at all, safety in the home office was not really an issue. However, with hybrid work arrangements now the norm, precautions should be taken to ensure remote employees are productive and injury-free. Employers also have a duty under OSHA regulations to provide employees a safe working environment. In a hybrid work arrangement, this duty extends to the home office space. Although OSHA does not routinely inspect home offices, the Administration guidance states, “All employers, including those which have entered into ‘work at home’ agreements with employees, are responsible for complying with the OSH Act and with safety and health standards.” As a starting point, employers should require employees to designate a specific safe and secure work area at their remote location. Employers should remind employees about basic safety standards and practices.
For example, corporate files should be properly maintained in a file cabinet, not stacked on top of a cabinet where they can fall on someone. All electrical cords should be secured so as not to be a tripping hazard. Potentially dangerous office equipment such as a paper shredder should be turned off and unplugged when not in use. Workstations should be arranged so that they are comfortable and do not cause unnecessary strain on the back, arms, or neck. If employees have children in the house, they must “childproof” their office spaces and possibly restrict the space from children entirely.
Reimbursing Office Expenses
Employers should establish early on who is responsible for setting up and paying for a home office. Who will pay for any furniture, printer, computer, utilities and internet connections needed? Should employers provide a corporate laptop for use at home and onsite? Employers should be aware there are at least ten states, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Montana, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and the District of Columbia that require employers to reimburse employees for certain remote work expenses.
When employees suddenly had to work from home during the pandemic, it was considered a temporary, emergency measure, and employers probably didn’t pay particular attention to complying with the employment laws in other states in which employees worked remotely. Now that most employees are working from home at least part of the week, employers must ensure compliance with employment laws in every state in which employees work. That’s no small feat. For example, Washington, D.C., just prohibited most noncompete agreements. Virginia and Maryland employers with employees working from home in D.C. must comply with the new law which will likely have far-reaching consequences.
Taxes present another interstate issue. The following questions must be addressed where an employee splits her time between working in the office and at home which is in a different state: To which state does the employee owe income taxes? In which state does the employer withhold income tax? Which state receives workers’ compensation withholdings? Employers should consult with legal counsel to determine whether they have met the threshold for creating a “taxable presence” in the remote jurisdiction, and, if so, whether to withhold local or state income taxes under that jurisdiction’s laws. Legal counsel can also help determine whether additional workers’ compensation insurance is needed in an employee’s remote state.
It doesn’t matter whether an employee works onsite or at home. Job duties and performance expectations remain the same. To head off any performance issues, employers should be clear with remote employees on attendance and work hours, performance expectations, availability for video conferences and phone calls, and that working remotely isn’t a substitute for dependent care. Managers must consider what means are in place to evaluate and manage employees, and if they should be tweaked. Managers must decide how and when to give feedback remotely and conduct more “check-ins” with employees to ensure they are clear on expectations and have the necessary resources onsite and at home to successfully perform their job duties. It is likely employers will need to execute new approaches to training and development as well.
Employers recognize the importance of securing corporate data, trade secrets and intellectual property and likely have safeguards in place for this purpose. Do those safeguards extend to employees working from a remote location? If an employee connects to his home wireless network or accesses corporate accounts through unsecured public Wi-Fi, can critical corporate data be compromised? Do your employees know that data sent in an unencrypted form in plain text might be intercepted and stolen by cybercriminals?
Do employees use personal devices at home for work-related matters? If so, confidential corporate data may be stored on an employee’s home computer presenting a problem if that employee leaves the company. Employees may not be keeping their home computer software up-to-date creating opportunities for cyberattacks and malware. It is likely a more advanced approach to cybersecurity is need in a hybrid work model. Employers should consult with their IT staff to ensure the necessary protocols are in place, and corporate data is safe and secure. Employees should also be reminded about their responsibilities concerning security and confidentiality.
Get Smart HR
Thinking through and addressing the above HR issues will help you ensure that your hybrid work arrangement continues to work for both you and your employees. However, these are by no means the only potential issues created by a hybrid work arrangement. If you are already experiencing HR issues surrounding your company’s hybrid work arrangement, or simply want a seasoned HR professional to take a temperature check to make sure you are covering your bases, get Smart HR and call today.