WORKING FROM HOME DURING COVID-19
Now that Governor Pritzker has decided to move Illinois into Phase 3 of reopening, a number of employers have decided to open up shop again. However, the executive order that lays out the rules for Phase 3 still encourages all businesses to facilitate working from home when possible. So, what are the best practices for a work-from-home environment, and what responsibilities do employers have to pay for employees’ resources at home?
One of the biggest concerns for any business, whether employees are working from home or not, is keeping data secure. We utilize email countless times a day, sending proprietary information, trade secrets, employee medical information, and other confidential info back and forth. Many employers have already implemented cybersecurity measures in the workplace, such as encrypted email systems and private, password-protected internet service. But what about when an employee is working from home without access to any of the data-protection bells and whistles of the workplace?
The first thing is to make sure your employees are using a secure, private internet network when working from home. There are lots of unsecured network options offered by various companies, but those pose major data-breach risks and should not be used under any circumstances for work-related activities.
Another security measure to consider adding if you haven’t already is two-factor authentication. Essentially, it is a two-step process wherein an employee will provide their login information for whatever platform they’re using (email, online payroll program, etc.), and will be prompted to input a code that is sent to their phone, electronic key fab, or other device. So, access to sensitive work information will be doubly-secure when your employee is logging in from home.
Lastly, you may want to consider subscribing to an online or desktop-based password-management system. Instead of relying on employees to write down their passwords and keep them in some sort of notepad or book, a password manager will keep all of that sensitive information stored in a central, secure location on their computer. It lessens the possibility that someone can rifle through your employees’ belongings and find access to their email and other important work accounts.
As important as online security may be, that does not mean that you should ignore the physical safety of your information, as well. Employees may be writing down to-do-lists with confidential client information or printing off sensitive documents throughout the day as necessary. With this comes the potential for others to come across confidential business-information that would have otherwise been appropriately destroyed in the workplace. To combat this, employees should be instructed to regularly shred any documents that contain work-related information.
Employees should also be told to be vigilant when it comes to protecting company property. Working from home means that your property is not only accessible to your employee, but whomever walks through the employee’s home. That may be family, friends, or even people entirely unknown to the employee, such as apartment maintenance staff. Employees should never leave the company’s property unattended and out in the open for others to access. And under no circumstances should company property be shared with others in the employee’s household. A work computer is a work computer, and should only be used as such by the employee to whom it was assigned.
Who Pays for All of It?
Back in 2019, Illinois passed an amendment to the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. This amendment requires employers to reimburse employees for work-related expenses. Specifically, this means paying for “all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee within the employee’s scope of employment and directly related to services performed for the employer.”
If you’re going to require a secured private internet network, a subscription password manager, a physical lockbox for storage of company property, use of a home printer, etc., these resources and items need to be funded, at least in part, by the company. The law does have limitations, however. For example, employers are not required to reimburse for losses caused by employee negligence, normal wear and tear, or theft (unless the theft results from the employer’s negligence). Nor are employers required to reimburse unauthorized expenses, requests that fail to comply with written reimbursement policies, or costs exceeding employer-established expense caps.
There is a discussion being had now about to what extent employers will be responsible for these expenses, considering telework is becoming the norm now during COVID-19. The fact of the matter is that Illinois’ reimbursement law is very new in the grand scheme of things. Case law takes a while to develop, and not enough time has passed yet for the state to develop any significant body of case law for us to see how courts interpret the statute. That means we’re largely left guessing at how strict the Illinois courts might be when it comes to what actions are and are not compliant with the law, based on other states with similar laws.
Your safest bet is to make sure you have a reimbursement policy in place that complies with Illinois law by having an attorney review it.
Aside from all the serious stuff related to privacy and reimbursement, there is something to be said for trying to maintain the status quo regarding your office culture. Happy employees make for a more productive staff, which is always a plus for the business.
Stay in touch with your team. There are countless video-chat and conference call options for you to choose from. Keeping regular contact with your employees will not only help maintain a semblance of normalcy and replicate the frequent interactions you would otherwise have while at work, but it’s a way of making sure the team is maintaining productivity and meeting deadlines. Keep each other accountable!
Also, you might consider maintaining your regular “fun” work activities, or create new ones if you didn’t have them before. For example, lots of offices occasionally schedule happy hours for employees to interact with each other in a more casual setting. All work and no play isn’t going to help any of us when we’re stuck inside like this! Do what you can to facilitate camaraderie amongst your employees – it can do a lot of good.
Last but not least, consider purchasing our Advanced FFCRA Toolkit, which includes a Short-Term Telecommuting Agreement that specifically addresses the current COVID-19 pandemic, along with numerous other documents to assist you with paid sick leave, expanded FMLA, and the employment decisions you may run into along the way.
Should you have any questions about policies to address COVID19 or any other laws that may affect your business, or would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC at (847)253-8800 or contact us online.
Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC is a full-service law firm with various areas of service to assist your business, including: Employment Law, Intellectual Property, Commercial Real Estate, and general Business Law services. Individual services include Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, Probate, Guardianship, Divorce and Family Law.
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