The benefits of teleworking vs remote working requirements

Managing a remote workforce comes with its own rewards – and challenges. To reap the full benefits of teleworking, your policies need to cover these key points.

Taylor Murphy

by Taylor Murphy

While countless companies implemented remote working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, they soon saw that the benefits of teleworking extend beyond protection during a pandemic. With the potential for performance perks, such as decreased costs, reduced environmental impact, and increased productivity, today, many businesses plan to continue the practice. However, along with its benefits, teleworking comes with requirements that you must include in your policies to keep workers safe and productive.

Be clear on the general duty clause to reap the full benefits of teleworking

To experience the benefits of teleworking, you need to first be sure that your remote employees are well and are working well. Like with guidelines for returning to the physical office, you’ll also need to align with requirements to keep remote workers safe.

One such obligation comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The agency’s general duty clause states that you must furnish each worker with a place of employment, which is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This requirement applies to onsite and teleworking employees alike. However, exactly how it relates to your business’s remote workforce depends on the type of work they’re performing at home.

According to agency policy, OSHA will not inspect home worksites except, for example, home-based manufacturing operations when a complaint indicates there’s a violation of a safety or health standard that threatens physical harm or creates an imminent danger. For other, non-manufacturing, teleworking environments, OSHA may informally tell a company of a complaint regarding home offices conditions but will most likely not inspect.

On top of OSHA, keep in mind that safety issues, such as ergonomics, can be more strictly regulated on the local level. Always check your state and local regulations for any additional requirements related to teleworking so that you can remove any regulatory blind spots from your policies. Otherwise, advantages such as reduced overhead from less commuting costs or savings from phased-out physical facilities will be counteracted by costly non-compliance penalties and/or lost workdays.

Keep up on recordkeeping for remote workers

When wanting to leverage teleworking in the long-term, another requirement to consider is whether your company can maintain necessary records for remote workers. If your company is required to maintain records of work-related injuries and illnesses, then that requirement still applies even if those incidences occur at home. That is, if they are work-related and meet the recordability criteria.

For an at-home injury to be recordable, it must occur while working for pay or compensation in the home. And it must be directly related to the performance of work, rather than to the general home environment or setting. To offer tangible examples, if an employee drops a box of work documents and injures their foot, the injury is work-related. On the other hand, if an employee injures their knee because they trip over the family dog while rushing to answer a work call, the injury is not work-related.

When it comes to COVID-19, infection is a recordable illness if all the following are true: the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, is work-related (as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5), and
involves one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7. These recording criteria include, for example, medical treatment beyond first aid and days away from work. Educate your team on these specifications and any state or local recording requirements to be clear on what records to keep for your remote workforce – and to be sure that non-compliance doesn’t come back to bite your business in the end.

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For even more benefits of teleworking, consider offering more than compliance

Companies taking steps to enhance work-life balance beyond what’s required can cash in more on the benefits of teleworking. Specifically, when employees feel supported and that their needs are met, it improves their relationship with the business and, therefore, their productivity.

To further develop or enhance your internal policies, look to countries that have more robust teleworking regulations to protect employees’ well-being. For instance, in Spain, employers must form a written agreement with the teleworking employee regarding coverage or compensation for home-working costs. Further, several European countries are enacting legislation related to employees’ “right to disconnect.” For example, in Ireland, workers do not have to perform work outside normal working hours routinely, cannot be penalized for refusing to attend to work matters out of hours, and must respect another person’s right to disconnect.

Are the benefits of teleworking what’s best for your business?

In addition to keeping employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent rise in remote working has proved positive for other business aspects. Now that companies have seen how workforces can remain productive when remote, they plan to keep the progress going. Yet, reaping the benefits of teleworking still means staying compliant with regulations. And you’ll have to weigh any potential advantages against what requirements are possible for your company to implement and maintain.

If you, like other companies, plan to count in teleworking in the long-term, make sure that your internal policies factor in obligations that extend past the physical office. First, look to any mandatory regulations that apply, such as OSHA’s illness and injury recording requirements or the general duty clause. Second, consider expanding your policy to include other practices for compensating teleworking costs or setting times when employees can disconnect. All along the way, make sure to check in with employees, monitoring their productivity and mental health, to keep up the good work – and keep well-being the priority at work.

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