Today I’m hosting a guest post from Leslie Krick, her previous experience working in law has given her plenty of insight into many legal issues. Today she is discussing that favorite work life benefit known as telecommuting. Enjoy!
Legal Issues Facing Employees Who Work From Home
Telecommuting is an expanding sector of the global labor market, for obvious reasons. Hiring practices are far more agile, drawing talent from all over the world; employees save hours of drive-time and gallons of gas every day; and companies are able to maintain smaller, more affordable office space. While many businesses have adopted telecommuting with enthusiasm, the legal system has predictably lagged behind. Current legal protections for employees and employers are built around localized, brick-and-mortar places of employment, so questions of jurisdiction and liability are hazy at best when a company employs individuals across state lines (or even in other countries). Here are a few legal “black holes” that employees should be aware of as they work from home.
1. Disability and Unemployment Benefits
Disability and unemployment status become complicated across state lines. A New York court has already ruled that a former Reuters employee working from Florida was not entitled to New York unemployment benefits, even though her employer was located in New York. Questions about workers’ comp, and the responsibility employers carry to provide a safe work environment, makes many employers leery of allowing employees to telecommute. If you’re working from home in your bathrobe and bust your toe on one of your kid’s toys, it ought to be nobody’s business but yours—but the law isn’t clear on that yet, since you were technically “on the job”.
2. Tax Concerns
One of the stickiest issues of the online economy is taxation: when employers and employees do business entirely across jurisdictions, it is not clear who pays taxes or even to whom the tax is paid. Since I work in Louisiana for an employer in California, for example, my employer had to consult attorneys in Louisiana to determine which taxes were to be paid, and to whom. Any business that allows employees to telecommute should have an established, written policy laying out these liabilities—for the protection of both employer and employees.
Before beginning a telecommuting arrangement, you need to know how your company feels about privacy. Your employer may require you to sign a waiver permitting them to inspect your computer files, monitor your computer usage during work hours, and inspect documents relating to your employment. (These definitions can be hazy, so just don’t do anything on the work computer that Mom wouldn’t be proud of). If they don’t draw up an agreement, you’ll be protected under the current legal interpretation of your right to privacy, which states that you’re entitled to privacy in any situation where you have a “reasonable expectation” of privacy. This means that your home workplace is private, but anything you do on a company computer or network (including telephone communications) can be monitored by the company.
In some jurisdictions, working from home will qualify you as a “home business”, which may not be allowed in a residential area without a license or permit. These permits can be expensive and difficult to obtain, and it is your employer’s responsibility to determine whether they will purchase these permits or require you to purchase them.
Since the law doesn’t make any of these issues clear, most of it will have to be hammered out between you and your employer. If your employer allows telecommuting, they need to lay down a plan to comply with state and federal regulations (cleaning up your kids’ Lego set aside), as well as your responsibilities and rights as a telecommuting employee. If they fail to do this, both you and they may find yourselves in a difficult legal situation.
About The Author
Leslie Krick worked as a legal secretary at a personal injury law firm for many years before making the transition to a full-time mom and wife. Leslie loves nature and uses it as a source of inspiration for her writing. She divides her time between her family and her writing, which focuses mainly on her knowledge of law. Leslie is currently looking for freelance work, and can be contacted at LeslieEKrick@gmail.com
- Corporate Tax Departments Will Start Hating Telecommuters (forbes.com)
- “Flexible Work” Trend Still Necessitates Wage-Hour Compliance (tlnt.com)
- Beware of hidden taxes for telecommuters (cbsnews.com)