Policies and Miscellaneous HR

8 minutes, 30 links

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Policies and Miscellaneous HR

Common questions covered here
Do I have to pay for home office equipment for any remote employees who work from home?
Do I have to follow OSHA standards for all my remote employees?
Do laws about discrimination and sexual harassment vary by state?

This section covers a collection of concerns that would largely be covered in a company’s employee handbook. For state-based variations on these categories, pay attention to New York and California, which have the most unique laws about these kinds of issues.

Equipment Grants

Many states, notably California, require companies to reimburse employees for any equipment or other things they are required to purchase in order to do their job.* This can range from office equipment to even something like the cost of opening a bank account in order to receive direct deposits.

It’s good policy to ensure remote workers have equally as comfortable and well-equipped work spaces as they would have in a corporate office.

Workplace Safety and Injury

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is a federal law that requires employers to provide safe and healthful work environments by “setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”*

importantOSHA issued guidance in 2000 stating that it would not conduct inspections of remote employees’ home offices; but employers are still responsible for keeping records of work-related injuries and illnesses for these employees.*

Twenty-one states and Puerto Rico currently operate their own workplace safety and health programs that cover private-sector employees. OSHA monitors these plans and requires them to be at least as effective as OSHA in protecting workers.* For a full list of and links to the state plans, see OSHA’s State Plans site.

importantSome states—notably California, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington—have state plans that have significantly more stringent requirements than OSHA. If you have remote employees in any of the locations that have state plans, you should become familiar with those states’ rules, particularly regarding reporting, training, and inspections for remote employees.

Discrimination

Federal, state, and local laws provide that employees should be free from discrimination not only during the hiring process and potential termination, but also during the course of their employment. Among other things, the law states that employers should not discriminate on these bases when making decisions about which employees will be allowed to work remotely.*

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal anti-discrimination laws. For companies with at least twenty employees,* the EEOC specifies that “it is illegal for an employer to make decisions about job assignments and promotions based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”

newThere are currently cases before the Supreme Court questioning whether gender identity and sexual orientation are protected from discrimination under federal law, which would affect employers with fifteen or more employees.*

importantState and local laws can expand protections against discrimination for employees. For example, while there are ongoing cases disputing whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by federal law, twenty-one states and D.C. prohibit such discrimination.*

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a chart outlining state-level discrimination laws across the country, which is a useful place to start; but you should always check for updated information.

Sexual Harassment

Although sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination, it is worth considering separately here because of the many specialized laws that address it. Harassment of remote employees is both feasible via a variety of channels provided by modern tools, and potentially less visible, as well.**

Federal, state, and local laws prohibit harassment against applicants and employees because of their sex. Under federal law, conduct must rise to a certain level to be considered sexual harassment; it must “explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment, unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work performance, or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”*

importantState and local laws may expand sexual harassment protection beyond what federal law provides. For example, California has indicated that a “single incident of harassing conduct” would constitute sexual harassment, even if it did not affect the employee’s employment or unreasonably interfere with their performance.

cautionCritically, employers can be held liable for sexual harassment that occurs in their company if they do not take adequate steps to prevent and punish it.* Some states and localities require employers to provide sexual harassment training to their employees. For example, New York requires all employers who employ anyone in the state to provide annual training to their employees, even if the company has no other contact with New York.*

Disability

Under federal law—specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—employers with fifteen or more employees must provide “reasonable accommodations” to individuals with disabilities.*

Allowing an employee to work remotely can itself be considered an accommodation under the ADA if a medical condition interferes with the employee’s ability to do their job in the workplace.*

importantEmployers may be required to provide accommodations like a computer stand that would allow a remote employee to enjoy equal employment opportunities and would not cause the employer undue hardship.

Expenses

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to reimburse employees for business expenses. However, many states do have laws enforcing this, notably California. The California Labor Code (section 2802) stipulates that employers must reimburse employees for “all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties.”* For remote employees, this can include things such as cell phones, laptops, and any home office equipment they may require to work remotely. California has some of the strictest labor codes in the country, so if you’re abiding by them for everyone, you should be well covered across the board.

Policies and Miscellaneous HR Checklist

An effective checklist for policies and miscellaneous HR issues will include:

  • Establish reporting and record-keeping policies to comply with federal workplace safety rules.

  • Check the workplace safety laws that apply in the states where you have remote employees; determine whether they apply to those employees; and ensure you comply with relevant regulations.

  • Put in place policies to ensure that decisions about promotions, assignments, raises, and so on are not made on discriminatory bases.

  • Put in place policies to prevent workplace sexual harassment, ensure that employees know how to report complaints, and provide effective remedies for harassment.

  • Determine whether the states or localities in which you have remote employees have any specific anti-sexual-harassment training requirements and provide such training as appropriate.

  • Provide reasonable accommodations to remote employees with disabilities so that they can enjoy employment opportunities equal to those of employees without disabilities.

  • Have a policy in place for expense reimbursement that reflects potential state-based variations.

Payroll and Taxes

In general, most basic employment rights (including minimum wage, overtime, and more) are governed by the laws of the state where an employee works.* When it comes to payroll and taxes, this is very much the case. If your company is in California, but you have an employee in New York, they will need to pay local New York-based taxes, and you will be responsible for tracking and withholding those. You’ll also need to be aware of withholding requirements for things like workers comp and disability insurance. Below we list all the payroll and tax requirements you’ll need to track, noting whether they are merely federally mandated or whether they might vary down to the state, county, or municipal level.

Minimum Wage

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets a national standard for minimum wage for non-exempt employees.*

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