How HR Teams Can Maintain Compliance with a Virtual Workforce

Apr 23, 2020 | Blog

By: Rodika Tollefson

Even if your employees aren’t in the office, your business still needs to make sure your processes and policies are being practiced.

Businesses that have never had a remote workforce entered an unfamiliar territory when states across the U.S. implemented shelter-in-place mandates. In some cases, employers only had 24 hours to transition.

Now that companies are a little more comfortable with remote work, employers should evaluate if they’ve been keeping up with compliance procedures and policies.

“If you had to throw things together quickly, now you need to make sure you’re doing everything the right way,” says Chad Sorenson, president of Jacksonville, Florida, firm Adaptive HR Solutions and president-elect of HR Florida State Council. “Go through and audit your processes.”

Recording Work Hours

Recording the hours worked for remote employees who are paid hourly may require new procedures. Simply paying for eight hours regardless of time put in may not satisfy Department of Labor record-keeping requirements, notes Terry Bonnette, labor and employment attorney with Nemeth Law, PC, in Detroit, Michigan.

“Whether it’s a time clock in the cloud or employees physically keeping track of their time, it’s very important to have a mechanism for accurately recording the time,” he says. “And if you’re just using an honor-system time sheet, make sure employees sign it on a weekly basis as if it were an affidavit.”

Bonnette adds that employers should realize the new work-from-home environment requires more flexibility.

“Employees may need to take longer or more frequent breaks at home than they would at work,” he says. “That’s something employers will need to accept.”

With children at home at the same time, employees also have the additional pressures of taking care of family needs while trying to get their work done. Employers will need to be flexible about performance as well, Sorenson says.

“All employers need to understand that performance and productivity can be impacted for everyone working from home,” he says.

Tracking Attendance and Leave

Without the physical separation of home and work life, both salaried and hourly employees may forget to report to their managers when they’re taking time off for sick leave or other purposes.

“You have to over-communicate at this point because you don’t have the interaction at the office right now,” says Tana M. Session, PhD, a Los Angeles-area organizational development strategist, speaker and consultant.

One strategy she recommends is for managers to send friendly reminders to their teams to inform them if they’re sick or absent on a day. This also helps managers know when not to expect any work or communication, as well as to monitor lack of performance.

Addressing Performance Issues

One area that becomes challenging in the remote environment is performance—especially for managers who are used to basing performance on time spent at the office.

“There’s a fair amount of flexibility involved and you need to adapt, but you still want to hold employees accountable for their performance,” Session says. “It’s always best to deal with something in real time and not let things pile up.”

If an issue comes up that would typically involve calling an employee to the manager’s or HR office, Session recommends scheduling a video meeting.

“To be compliant and make sure they’re protecting themselves and the organization, managers need to treat employees like they were still at the office,” she says.

A video meeting also gives managers the ability to maintain “face time” as well as use facial expressions as clues for potential concerns.

Focusing on Safety

When employees work on site, employers have to follow Occupation Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) compliance, as well as workers’ compensation laws.

“When you have employees working from home, you have to consider, to what extent does that become a remote workplace for either OSHA or workers’ compensation compliance,” Bonnette says.

The cases may become more nuanced. For example, tripping over a dog while walking to the printer may be less likely subject to workers’ compensation, he notes.

“But if I have a thousand file boxes to bring home and I injure my back moving them from my car into my home office, that falls into a much grayer area,” he says.

Sorenson, of Adaptive HR Solutions, says the bottom line is to remember that “safety issues still apply in the home office.”

“It’s important to provide tips to employees on how to make sure they have a safe workplace—and that if they have an injury while working from home, they still need to report that injury,” he says.

Maintaining Data Privacy

Businesses are documenting more things digitally in the remote environment. Compliance with data privacy laws may be a bigger challenge since HR documents often contain sensitive employee data like birth dates, social security numbers and payroll banking information.

“All of that needs to be secured,” Bonnette, of Nemeth Law, says.

HR managers may also see an influx of paperwork if employees are infected with COVID-19, because employers need to provide documentation for paid leave reimbursement and tax credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

All employers need to understand that performance and productivity can be impacted for everyone working from home.

—Chad Sorenson, president, Adaptive HR Solutions

“If people are working at home, particularly those in HR processing these documents, keeping them private becomes a matter of concern,” Bonnette says.

To maintain data privacy and security, employers need to ensure that those handling sensitive information from home follow best practices. They may include procedures such as:

  • Connecting to the company network and applications via a corporate virtual private network (VPN).
  • Ensuring the devices and applications are patched and up to date.
  • Encrypting all data transmission (which means not sending sensitive documents via unencrypted email).
  • Maintaining physical safety (such as securing laptops and locking up confidential paperwork).

Training Managers

With the prospect of some states maintaining restrictions for several months, businesses should ensure they’ve properly trained managers on how to manage their remote teams.

“We don’t want to create compliance issues by not training our managers on what they need to do differently,” Sorenson says.

Documentation is one area that could pose problems.

“We have so many new things going on and we’re not in our normal environment, so we need to figure out how to track everything,” Sorenson says.

Session recommends for HR professionals to create regular check-ins with managers. For example, HR could schedule weekly conference calls with managers to discuss concerns, challenges and strategies—as well as encouraging them to touch base when they have questions or aren’t certain how to approach something.

“Managers should lean on HR to walk them through the options and pitfalls before making decisions,” Session says.

Shifting Gears

Considering all the new things that HR professionals are dealing with currently, Bonnette says this is not the time to reinvent the wheel. If your business had time to prepare to work from home by doing things like making paperwork digital, great. But it would be difficult to implement some of these retroactively.

“The best thing to do is figure out your basic needs and how to meet those needs most efficiently,” he says.

He recommends approaching the situation the same way many of the shelter-in-place government mandates are by focusing on essential business.

Rodika Tollefson Freelance writer and journalist