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HR Considerations for Remote Employees

by Tim AustinAugust 20, 2018 8:00 AM

As time goes by, more employees are working from home. CNN reported in 2017 that “the number of telecommuting workers has increased 115 percent in a decade,” and that nearly 4 million employees spend at least half of their time working remotely

Telecommuting is attractive to employees for many reasons, such as flexible work hours and more time to spend with family, but employers need to consider how the trend will impact their HR initiatives. Here are some ways that remote employees can change how you manage HR.

A small business employee working from home.

Performance Management

How do you manage an employee that you don’t see every day? With technology and some effort, it may not be as hard as you think it is. In fact, some evidence shows that working remotely can improve performance. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “77 percent [of employees] reported greater productivity while working offsite.” In addition, the article cites a U.S. News & World Report story that states “Telecommuters log five to seven more hours per week than non-telecommuters” With good management, remote employees can be a boon for business.

Of course, this can all depend on making sure that proper management practices are in place to monitor performance and make sure that employees stay engaged. In terms of monitoring performance, timesheets or online time tracking can help you keep track of employee productivity.

It’s also good to set up phone or video check-ins to see how they’re doing (but not so often that it feels like they’re being micromanaged). In addition, regular facetime can help remote employees feel like they’re a part of the company.

While telecommuters can have flexible schedules, it’s a good idea to make sure that part of their schedules overlap with office workers and that they work together via Skype or other communication programs. 

Payroll

Like every other employee, telecommuters like to be paid. However, remote employees might be subject to different payroll regulations and laws depending on where they’re located. Each state, county, and even city can have its own stipulations on how much people are paid and how it happens. This can affect multiple aspects of payroll compliance, including:

  • Minimum wage
  • Income tax withholding
  • Leaves of absence regulations
  • Common ownership concerns
  • Workers compensation regulations
  • Required information on paystubs
  • Payday frequency requirements
  • Paycheck delivery requirements
  • Payroll deduction requirements
  • Overtime calculation (if it differs from the federal regulations)

Nobody wants to be hit with costly non-compliance penalties, especially for infractions that could be easily avoided. If your employee works in a different city, make sure that you or your payroll provider checks each state’s payroll regulations to make sure that your business is compliant.

Hiring and Firing

While some HR functions may be impacted more by remote work locations, the hiring and firing processes are very similar to what it would be for anyone who works on location. Aspects of the process like creating face-to-face time for an interview, assessing skills, and determining if someone is a good culture fit all apply to remote employees as well.

While it’s not always possible to have remote applicants sit down for an in-person interview, technology gives you a way to conduct a “face-to-face” interview. Video interviews through Skype and other tools allow you to still get a more personal feel for how an applicant would fit through nonverbal communication and body language.

As for termination, you need to take the same precautions that you would for someone located in your office. Create a checklist of matters to address when an employee is terminated, such as final pay requirements, removing IT and security access, and retrieving any company property in their possession (if the employee has anything). If the employee is out of state, make sure to review the laws in that state. For example, final payment laws can differ, impacting what’s included in a final paycheck and deadlines for when it must be provided.

Another item to consider is how you inform your soon-to-be former employee about the termination. Even if he or she telecommutes, it’s good to let an employee hear the news face-to-face, whether it’s for an in-office meeting or through something like Skype. The latter may not be as personal, but it’s much better to let someone know about a dismissal during a video conference than via email.

Workplace Safety

Even though remote employees may not work in your office, they still may be subject to health and safety legislation. The level of responsibility an employer has regarding workplace safety for remote employees is hazy. 

According to SHRM, OSHA is on record as saying that it “will not conduct at-home workplace inspections and that it will generally not hold employers liable for at-home safety issues.” However, the article also cites attorney Alec Beck stating that “OSHA continues to maintain that employers are responsible for safe working conditions regardless of location.” 

As a result, the best plan of action is to create safety reporting systems and policies that can help protect you and your employees. SHRM suggests the following risk management strategies to help reduce the chance of claims against your business:

  • Create an at-home work policy and disseminate it to all employees
  • Require that remote employees create and provide evidence of a dedicated work area at home that has been set up according to your specifications
  • Periodically follow up to ensure compliance
  • Require employees to have homeowner's or renter's insurance that covers any potential equipment damage or liability
  • Review the employer's insurance to make sure that all contingencies are covered—including business travel incidents
  • Make it clear that computer security issues are monitored and that employees wishing to use their own computers must have safety protocols installed

Prepare Your Business with a PEO

It takes a lot of hard work to run a business. Telecommuting adds yet another layer of complexity to HR management, a task that already requires plenty of time and know-how. This amount of work and expertise is a big reason why many businesses turn to a Professional Employer Organization to help manage HR.

At GMS, our experts can help you save time and strengthen your business through payroll management,  benefits administration, and other key functions. Contact GMS today to talk to one of our experts about how we can help your company.

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