Home workers need a safe, secure space, too

Thomas A. Barstow, Contributing Writer//May 14, 2020

Home workers need a safe, secure space, too

Thomas A. Barstow, Contributing Writer//May 14, 2020

Numerous liability concerns will surround businesses that re-open over the next few weeks, but businesses also should be aware of issues for those who continue to work from home, including wage-and-hour rules.

“Employers remain responsible for maintaining a safe and secure working environment, even when their employees are not onsite,” said Joshua Schwartz, a partner in the litigation and employment practice groups of Barley Snyder that has offices throughout central Pennsylvania.

Employers should review their remote work policies or develop new ones, he said.

“These should include a home office setup in an isolated area, free from public view and from distractions,” Schwartz said. “Non-employee access to the area should be limited as much as possible during work hours.”

In addition, equipment needs to be in sound shape, which means making sure wires are not frayed and that there are no obstructions that would impair vision or movement, he added

“Remote work arrangements also present challenges from a productivity and wage-and-hour standpoint,” Schwtz said in an email. “Employers should make clear to nonexempt employees that work can only be performed from home during regular working hours. Even small tasks like checking email should be explicitly prohibited ‘off the clock.’”

“On the other hand, employees being paid to work should actually be working,” he said. “If family and other home responsibilities are interfering in the employee’s ability to work from home, the employer may want to consider alternative options, like a change in scheduled hours or a leave of absence.”

Computer systems must have adequate firewalls and virus technology, said Schwartz and Michael McAllister, leader of RKL’s IT audit services practice. McAllister said businesses should be aware of several other technology issues:

• Phishing: “With employees working from home, their defenses might be lower in a more casual environment and may expose themselves and the company to unwarranted risks,” he said.
• Secure data sharing: “Whether it is video conference calling services or file sharing websites, security is always changing, and it is the company’s responsibility to ensure they are comfortable with the vendor’s security protocols,” McAllister said. “It is also important to ensure that when remote employees are communicating with the company, secure methods are available.” Examples would include a virtual private network (VPN) or secured internet connections. “Data should not be transmitted to and from the company through public/unsecure WiFi or without a VPN,” he said.
• Hardware and information security: “There may be instances where a remote employee could be printing sensitive information for review, though the company should emphasize secure disposal requirements when physical copies of information are no longer needed,” McAllister said. “For the company owned hardware, devices need to be properly secured within the home and their use should be restricted to only the authorized employees. Other family members should not use the hardware, as they could inadvertently jeopardize its integrity.”

Stephane Smith, consultant with RKL’s human capital management practice, said employers also should understand that working from home can be difficult.

“It is important for companies to implement flexible work arrangements and policies to allow work-life balance and help prevent burnout,” Smith said.

Smith noted that companies learned a lot of lessons having to switch to remote work and those lessons should be adapted into business plans. For example, businesses learned to use laptops instead of desktops and to operate off cloud-based solutions. Others realized that they should shift to cloud-based payroll.
“We can plan and prepare, but there’s no crystal ball that can prepare us for every possible scenario,” Smith said. “A business continuity strategy with multiple scenario plans allows employers to remain agile and pivot quickly to maintain operations.”