US employers are rethinking how and where their employees work as a result of COVID-19 and shelter in place orders. Whether your company is considering rolling out telecommuting options for the first time or has allowed telecommuting for years, setting expectations and establishing clear guidelines is critical for your workforce.

Here are 10 key ingredients to include in a robust telecommuting policy:

  1. Define who is eligible. The ability to telecommute is a privilege, not an employment right or entitlement and it may not be appropriate for all employees in all locations or positions to telecommute at all times. It is important to carefully define which positions are eligible.
  2. Create a specific approval process. Make it clear that specific individuals in the company must approve all telecommuting arrangements in advance on a case-by-case basis, consistent with business needs, job duties, and job performance. Maintain flexibility and discretion by including caveats such as: “Authorization to telecommute will be granted in the Company’s sole discretion and the Company may postpone or cancel approved telecommuting arrangements at any time and for any reason.”
  3. Remind telecommuters that the regular rules still apply. Reiterate that telecommuting employees remain subject to company rules and expectations, such as Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment, IT Resources and Communications Systems (including the lack of an expectation of privacy), Confidential and Proprietary Information, and Workplace Safety policies.
  4. Call out that disability-related requests for accommodation are handled separately from the telecommuting policy. Requests to telecommute may be disguised requests for disability accommodation. Help mitigate the risk of unintentionally denying requests for accommodation by refusing telecommuting by direct employees to the company’s reasonable accommodation procedures in the telecommuting policy itself.
  5. Detail employee responsibilities and expectations. Set the parameters of the remote working arrangement by describing, among other things:
    1. Work hours;
    2. Time recording and reporting;
    3. Accessibility during work hours;
    4. Frequency of communications with the employee’s manager.
  6. Remind employees about their responsibility to protect and secure the company’s propriety information, and to comply with all company policies regarding data security. Remote work presents new and wide-ranging concerns for protecting, handling and disposing of trade secrets and confidential information. For more on this topic, click here: Keep Trade Secret Protections Top Of Mind While You Deploy Remote Working.
  7. Outline the company’s responsibilities, including:
    1. Any technical support provided to the employee;
    2. Work expenses the employer reimburses; and
    3. Equipment the employer provides and repairs (for example, computers, cell phones, teleconferencing equipment, facsimile equipment, anti-virus software, and office supplies).
  8. Reference your expense reimbursement policy. It is critical to: (a) manage expectations about which business-related expenses may be reimbursed; (b) establish procedures employees must follow to be reimbursed; (c) set reasonable cost controls on employee business expenses; and (d) ensure that business expenses are appropriate. For more on expense reimbursement obligations, click here: Reimbursement Refresher: Cell Phone and Internet Expenses Related to Telecommuting in the US.
  9. Describe the employee’s specific job duties, work area, and break times to mitigate liability for injuries that are not work-related. Clearly define the workspace and work time to establish some reasonable limits on the employer’s responsibilities for accidents and illnesses that occur in remote locations.
  10. Require acknowledgment of receipt and review, and confirm at-will employment status. A signed acknowledgment of receipt, review, and understanding of any employee policy not only re-enforces the expectations of the employer and an employee and negates the ability of the employee to plead ignorance of that policy as an excuse for non-compliance, but also provides another opportunity to acknowledge the at-will nature of employment.

For help crafting your US telecommuting policy, please contact your Baker McKenzie employment lawyer.