The pandemic didn’t start remote work, but it certainly added fuel to the fire, making it much more the norm instead of an outlier. Pre-2020 many employers didn’t want to even entertain the thought of remote workers…but Post-COVID, technology and attitudes have changed enough to not just allow it, but encourage it. For jobs that lend themselves to remote work, employers can save office and desk space, while workers save drive time and gas money. It can be a win-win!
Remote work also allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility…you can potentially start and end work at different times than normal, or take longer breaks in the middle of the day if you need to run an errand. That can lead to the feeling among the workers, though, that legally-required breaks might be something that can be ignored…but that is not the case.
Give Me A Break!
Since we are a Tennessee company, we’ll use that state’s laws to provide specifics…just remember that your employees will be bound by the laws of the state your company is headquartered in.
Tennessee law requires that if an employee is scheduled for 6 hours of work (or more) they must be given a 30-minute unpaid rest break. Most people think of this as the “lunch break.” There is an exception to this law, however…”if the nature of business provides many opportunities for employees to rest or take a break.” The very nature of remote work is that it lends itself to allowing extra opportunities for employees to rest.
If you aren’t sure if your remote workers have “extra opportunities to rest,” and would therefore be exempt from this law…you should probably talk to an attorney specializing in labor law. They would be the ultimate resource on that issue. Once you have the matter settled for your specific business, then you should document it. This is where I remind you (once again) that you should develop an employee handbook that contains the policies and procedures for your business. That way the employees can’t say they didn’t know…no matter what the decision is going to be.
If you don’t want to consult an attorney, then I would advise you to err on the side of caution…require the 30-minute meal break. If you’re using Gusto, you can require employees to clock in and out during each shift, including for their meal breaks, creating a legal record that they took the breaks. If they do not do so, you have the ability to see that and remind the employee that they are required to take the breaks. Doing so through email creates a “digital paper trail” that you have done your part to comply with the laws.
About That Digital Paper Trail
Remember that the digital paper trail works both ways…remote employees are protected by the same anti-discrimination laws as “in person” employees. Oftentimes it can be easier to prove workplace discrimination for remote employees simply because their emails, texts, and other communication methods create legal records they can present.
Again…it works both ways…in those instances where malicious employees try to file frivolous lawsuits for discrimination, you have access to the same legal records that can prove that no one in the company did anything wrong.
In Writing Or It Didn’t Happen
Whether it’s in your employee handbook or in a digital paper trail, it’s best to take the attitude of “put it in writing.” Word of mouth promises, admonitions, or harassment is hard to prove. But put it in writing and it’s hard to argue with.
Find a way to get electronic signatures on important documents…whether it’s an e-signed PDF or PandaDoc, you should use some way of establishing a method in your company of getting employees to e-sign for employee handbooks, write-ups, and anything else of legal importance.
Another protection for your company is to have a good way to back up emails and other forms of communication, so you are able to produce them upon demand. Talk to your IT professional about what would work best for your situation.
Remote employees are definitely here to stay and it’s up to employers to adapt to this new reality. Make sure you are staying in compliance with your local, state, and federal requirements for employees. And make sure you have ways to document and prove your compliance…in the end it protect you and the employees.