Thanks to continued technology advancements, home offices and telecommuting have become increasingly popular in today's rocky economic climate.
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Teleworking is often described as a win-win situation: workers save money on gas and have the added flexibility of working from their home base, while employers save money on office space and supplies. But the scenario can quickly become a costly one for small business owners. From data protection to overtime regulations, there are many bases employers need to cover in order to have a safe work environment.
Jeffery Kaufman, founding partner at KEL Attorneys in Orlando warned small business owners with employees working from home be aware of any safety issues of the space being worked out of to avoid potential lawsuits. He explained business owners are not required to do a search of their home or office space to ensure it is safe, but if it becomes apparent that the situation is unsafe, the business owner is required to do an investigation.
"The small business owner should have an action plan on how they will investigate [remote] workplace injuries," Kaufman said.
Small business owners must ensure their company’s data remains secure; allowing workers to telecommute means they will be able to access confidential data and trade secrets that are vital to your company's success. Kaufman recommended owners make sure employees are working on a company-issued computer that are up-to-date with security features.
"You can eliminate risk by having them sign a waiver that says they understand the aspects of their employment and do not share trade secrets," he said. "You don't want [employees] taking trade secrets and have to make sure they are not violating rules, and that you are protecting your clients."
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Remote employees may not feel the same degree of loyalty to the business as employees working in the office space, according to Paul Lopez, a labor and employment attorney from Tripp Scott Attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. If confidential data is accessed or copied without authorization, there is software that can notify employers in order to better protect proprietary information.
"These employees might be more prone to jump ship and take a better deal somewhere else," Lopez said. "They might feather their next to make a move somewhere else. You can't see what they are doing every day and these employees might feel they have more freedom, Big Brother is not watching."
Overtime regulations are another area of concern regarding remote workers, Kaufman cautioned. While it’s harder to monitor remote employees’ work hours, there is software available to keep tabs on employees. Having software that has employees log in and log out when done working is one way to ensure they are not working too little or too many hours, he said.
Lopez said businesses should also have employees keep daily time sheets that they prepare and sign themselves, that way there is a daily record of the amount of time they are working, so they cannot sue later for overtime that was unpaid.
"Also at the end of every pay period, the employer can require employees to verify a summary of the amount of hours they are being paid for, and require them to sign off on it," he said. "It becomes more difficult for an employee to actually say they worked more."
Spyware is another option small businesses can look into, Lopez said. This software will not only monitor when they sign in and out, but also see what they are doing while logged in, to some extent.
Above all, have written policies in place for telecommuting, Lopez stressed. Walk all employees through these policies and let them know that violation of these policies can and will lead to consequences.
"It's great to have wonderful written policies, but if you're not enforcing them, they're not worth the piece of paper they are written on," Lopez said.