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5 Legal Considerations for a Remote Team
Have a remote team of workers? There’s many financial benefits but the legal aspects of remote work arrangements are less clear. Emma Heuston, founder & principal lawyer from the Remote Expert, helps us out.
Remote teams have the potential to be a fantastic addition to a business. Implemented correctly, remote employees see savings to the bottom line of a company on rent, staff overheads and reduced staff turnover and drive profits for your business.
But, our current workplace culture is built on bricks and mortar. It was adopted during the industrial revolution and has remained relatively unchanged since, despite the technological changes we have experienced as a society since then.
The legal system we have in place supports that traditional workplace culture. However, who says you have to do what everyone else does? With some careful planning and structures in place for a remote team, you can implement a remote work arrangement (or hybrid remote and in office team) and reap the benefits of lower overheads and increased profits.
When implementing a remote team, the top 5 legal issues to consider are:
1. Employment Agreements
Make sure everything is documented in writing. A handshake is not enough. You need offers of employment and an employment agreement in writing.
If you are changing an existing employee’s arrangements, any new arrangement needs to be documented in a variation to their employment agreement.
The reason for the “get everything in writing rule” is to protect you and your business.
You need to make sure what has been agreed is communicated properly and that any newly agreed work from home arrangements have a probationary period. Existing arrangements should also be subject to regular review to ensure they are still working.
The key thing is to stay in the drivers’ seat of these arrangements rather than be subject to an arrangement that has crept up informally by the employee staying home without it documented. Coming back from an informal relationship where employee discipline is required is difficult and better avoided if at all possible.
2. Remote Workspaces and insurance
If you have an employee (and there is a difference between an employee and a contractor, but that is a whole other article), you are liable for their workers compensation insurance and a whole other bunch of entitlements.
So, it follows that you need to make sure that their workspace is suitable and that your data and confidential information is protected. There have been cases (including where a Telstra employee fell down the stairs at home and was held to be doing her job) where employees have been hurt and successfully claimed a workplace injury against their employer.
To protect you and show you have fulfilled your duty of care to your employee we suggest a remote workplace health and safety audit. Our workplace audit has been designed to send your employee would be sent a link to an online audit, complete with a video on ergonomic office set up and have provision to take and upload a photo of their workspace. The audit report also contains their latitude and longitude measurement to ensure that the remote workspace is the correct address given by the employee.
This audit is a practical way you can have your employee self assess without the cost of sending out someone in person to inspect their workspace. You can also use it to drill down on the data security and confidentiality issues to ensure the employee has their own secure workspace and is not operating in a communal area of the home where data security and confidentiality might become an issues outside of a traditional office environment.
3. Remote Work Policies
A policy provides an employee with boundaries around their expected behaviour, work hours and the way they must conduct themselves in the job. It also provides consistency for managers to deal with any issues and the performance management of an employee. Traditional policies deal with traditional workplaces and it is a good idea to ensure your policies cover remote team issues.
Think of a policy as a set of guiderails that will apply if something goes wrong. Without the guide rails, you can’t steady the employee back onto the track.
At the Remote Expert we have created two complimentary policies – the Employee Handbook that includes policies specific to remote (as well as in office) employeeand the dedicated remote work policy, which looks at things like cyber security, and remote work policies.
The ownership of the equipment a remote employee uses is a curly question. While it may help the employer save on overheads if the employee owns the equipment, there are certain downsides to that scenario.
If an employee owns the equipment, where a laptop or computer is concerned, the data security or anti virus protection may not be up to scratch. Further, the employee may use the device to visit sites or download torrents or other dangerous items that could give the computer a virus and place the employer’s data in danger.
As to furniture and other items, a contribution towards the employees home office can be a fabulous show of goodwill for an employer towards an employee and ensure the employee is set up for efficient and productive work. Even a new chair (for example) would be cheaper than the lease expenses and overheads for that same employee “in office”.
The ideal position, in my view, is that the employer owns the computer equipment and gives it to the employee on loan under their employment agreement with updated data software and programs and secures connections, such as two-factor identification. The employee must then only use that computer for work related matters (they can use their own device for personal matters) and return it at the end of the employment relationship.
However, this is a matter for the employer and the employee to discuss. The important thing is that you are aware of the risks of either option as an employer and that you document your agreement to avoid risk as the employment relationship continues.
Unless you set the types of expenses and who pays them out on the table they can lead to issues with any employee, let alone a remote employee. A traditional office worker may not expect you to pay their train fare to the office each day. But a remote worker asked to attend head office once every 3 months may expect you to cover their expenses for head office attendance.
Then there are the home office expenses. Should this be your expense as an employee or something that the employee bears as a trade off for the convenience of working from home?
There is no right or wrong answer to these issues, it comes down to what the parties agree and what has been clearly communicated. The take away here is that it should be set out clearly in the employment agreement and a procedure put in place for expense approval to ensure that no hairy issues arise as the employment relationship progresses.
The 5 issues above are the tip of the iceberg where remote work arrangements are concerned. If you would like to know more or want to know how the Remote Expert can help your organisation become remote ready (or clean up your existing remote work arrangements) get in touch with Emma by booking a free discovery call here or via email at email@example.com
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Stuart Reynolds is the founder of Fullstack Advisory, an award-winning accounting firm for businesses leading the future. He is a 3rd generation accountant who specialises in tech companies, crypto and entrepreneurs.