A spotlight on the legal, cybersecurity, tax and insurance issues that employers and employees face and must overcome in the work-from-home environment.
By Lisa Goulian Twiste, Contributing Editor May 5, 2022
Remote work, already more common in recent years, has become the norm in 2020 as part of the COVID-19 public health response. Even with government mandates lifted and the pandemic appearing to be on the wane, many New Jerseyans continue to work from a home office — at least some of the time — making it increasingly important for businesses to rethink their corporate structures and to flesh out its “work from home” policies.
A 2020 survey by The Conference Board, an independent association of business and research members, found that 83% of companies expect full-time employees to continue working from home for at least three days a week. week after the pandemic. According to a February 2022 study from the Pew Research Center, 59% of Americans with jobs that can be done remotely work primarily from home, up from 71% at the height of COVID-19, but up significantly from 23% before. 2020. .
“If we are to look for a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we can work effectively from home and be productive,” says Eileen Oakes Muskett, partner at Fox Rothschild Attorneys at Law in Atlantic City. “However, as there is no longer a legal obligation to allow employees to work from home, employers must analyze each individual situation to determine whether working from home is the best alternative for both employer and employee. .”
Above all, Muskett urges customers with work-from-home employees to establish a remote work policy with guidelines for the workspace (including the type of equipment to be used); protect confidential information (including employees who bring sensitive documents back to the office on “shredding days”); and making time for regular breaks and exercise. “You want to give employees a safety checklist and virtual training on how to set up a workstation that includes a chair at the correct height,” she says. “If employees are working at a dining room table, you may see an increase in neck injuries.”
Muskett also suggests creating a virtual bulletin board where the employer posts notices that would typically be hung in a lunchroom, as well as implementing a time-tracking system for non-exempt employees, as working time unplanned and unpaid can cause problems down the road. – in particular in the event of dismissal of an employee.
“There are so many great programs out there for tracking work,” she says, referring to employee monitoring software like Time Doctor, Toggl, RescueTime, Hours and others. “What I’ve recommended to clients is that their employees review and certify their timesheets weekly. This way you have an affirmative statement from the employee that there has been no other working time that is not counted in their recorded time.
Additionally, Muskett says it’s important to keep company culture alive, which can include “team days” in the office. “Employers need to find a way to be flexible while still getting that collaborative, interactive work experience that most of us need to be efficient and produce the most optimal work product,” she adds.
In 2021, a Help Net Security survey of 1,000 small and medium business owners found that 77% believe remote work poses a substantial cybersecurity risk to their business, while 66% find it is much more difficult to monitor their online infrastructure with so many employees. work from home. Cybersecurity being paramount, remote workers can take several steps to protect sensitive data from online predators, such as having separate computers for personal and professional use, choosing a strong password, learning to detect and avoid scams by phishing, install regular software. and antivirus updates, and always keeping the VPN enabled. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
According to Nicholas McCourt, cybersecurity engineer at East Windsor-based Integris, changing the way homeworkers think about cybersecurity is important. Many rely on their firewalls which, while offering some protection, are not “smart” like the latest software designed to monitor the network and look for suspicious activity.
“Companies have employees all over the world, so when the pandemic hit, (these programs) had to operate 24/7,” he says. “It’s a managed response, ensuring security is software-based rather than hardware-based, and vulnerability management, which has become more important than installing an appliance on a network and ‘running a scan once a year to tick a box.’
When it comes to insurance for remote workers, the costs are typically split between the company and the employee, says Matt Peroni, personal insurance underwriting supervisor for NJM Insurance Group in West Trenton. Employers typically maintain coverage for company-owned computers and equipment, while the employee’s home insurance policy must cover personal property, including furniture, purchased for household use.
Peroni goes on to point out that a home insurance policy is generally not designed to cover home-based businesses; in fact, many policies contain exclusions for incidents that occur on an employee’s property in connection with business-related activities. “Fortunately, an employer’s professional liability insurance policy often provides coverage to employees for injuries that occur while working from home,” he says. “At the same time, a remote employee who is injured at home and files a claim must prove that the incident occurred within the scope and scope of their employment.”
For an entrepreneur building a home-based business, a personal home insurance policy may provide limited coverage for certain
business-related risks, but generally won’t cover business-related liability or protect business data, Peroni says. He recommends reviewing your personal insurance policies to confirm coverages and exclusions and identify gaps. “Entrepreneurs, including sole proprietors, should consider several different types of coverage, including commercial liability, business owner, commercial auto, workers’ compensation, and professional liability policies” , he adds. “The coverage needed will vary depending on the nature and structure of the business.”
And while remote employees may think they’re not responsible for paying taxes in the state where their physical office is located, that’s not necessarily the case, says Robert Carpenter, CPA, partner at Grassi Advisors & Accountants at Park Ridge. It’s also important to note that even if they work from home some or all of the time, employees who receive a W-2 from an employer are generally not eligible for a home office deduction – a reserved benefit. to the self-employed. whose home office is “for exclusive and regular business use, is the principal (or sole) office of their business and is used solely for business purposes”.
Working from home undoubtedly has many advantages, both for the employee who saves time and travel costs, and for the employer who can potentially reduce the size of office space and overhead. . “Now that traditionally non-remote employees have had a taste of working from home, there is a lot of value in the form of employee retention and satisfaction to allow them to continue in remote or hybrid roles,” adds Carpenter. “Employees who have proven they can work effectively in a remote environment have earned that confidence, and it goes a long way in helping them achieve the work-life balance they crave.”
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