Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Telecommuting employees raise special wage and hour issues

Dilbert comic strip for 12 16 2001 from the official Dilbert comic strips archive.

At Overlawyered, Walter Olson asks whether telecommuting is the next wave of wage and hour litigation. He might have a point. Some estimate that as many as 50 million Americans work remotely at least part of the time. Because many of these telecommuters will be non-exempt, how employers track their hours and pay their wages has the potential to cause problems.
Pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, non-exempt employees must be paid for all time worked, including overtime for hours in a week worked in excess of 40. Employers must also maintain a tracking system that accurately records this compensable work time. Because telecommuters work outside of the workplace, and often during odd hours, they present special problems for accurately tracking the amount of time spent working.

If your business is going to employ telecommuters, you should take appropriate measures—in a telecommuting policy or contract—to control the time spent working:
  • Employers should clearly communicate to the employee the number of hours expected to be worked each week.
  • Telecommuting employees must be required to accurately track all time spent working. Whatever the system used (pen and paper timesheets, Excel spreadsheets, timekeeping software, or electronic logins or other “punches”), employees must understand that they will only be paid for the amount of time reported.
  • Because telecommuting employees are working without direct supervision, all submitted work should be reviewed by a manager or supervisor to ensure that the work performed correlates to the amount of working time reported. An employer cannot dock time or refuse to pay an employee for time spent working. However, an employer can take away an employee’s ability to telecommute (or otherwise discipline) if the employee proves to be irresponsible or abuses the telecommuting privilege.
Telecommuting may not be “the next big thing” in wage and hour litigation. It raises, however, enough unique wage and hour issues that inattentive employers who ignore these issues risk getting burned.