Remote work realities of life in the time of corona (virus)

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In the face of local and state orders mandating individuals to “stay at home” and “shelter in place,” many employers are turning to telework and allowing employees to work from home as a way to maintain business continuity and payrolls. This means non-exempt employees who have never before worked from home face a new reality.

Employers can prepare for this by having direct communication about expectations, reminding employees to track their time and meal breaks, take timely breaks, and open the lines of communication regarding any difficulties, technical or otherwise. For example, many employees may be dealing not only with a new work set up, but also having to simultaneously manage caring for their children due to social distancing measures. When possible, employers should be flexible in terms of employee work hours to facilitate productivity, taking this (hopefully short-lived) new reality into account.

Another important consideration is employee expenses. Labor Code 2802 mandates that necessary expenses be reimbursed. California courts have interpreted this to include “reimbursing” employees even if they pay a flat amount for their phone or internet, unaffected by use for company purposes, and even if such use is “de minimus.” Cochran v. Schwan's Home Services, Inc. (2014) 228 Cal. App. 4th 1137. Since remote employees are using their own phones, internet, computers and the like to telework, having a clear reimbursement policy and process can avoid confusion and future lawsuits. Teleworking arrangements may provide a workable solution to the challenges of the Coronavirus situation, but employers must consider the variety of compliance issues such arrangements can create and should consult with counsel to discuss their specifics.