Navigating Legal and HR Pitfalls Related to Remote Work and Situations
Legal and HR issues abound with remote work. A panel of experts recently discussed some of these issues and gave some great guidance, while also scaring some people, during a session in the 2022 iSeries Conference. Managers and employees should take their advice and review their own situations.
A recent session during the iSeries conference titled: Navigating Legal and HR Pitfalls Related to Remote Work and Situations: A Panel Discussion, brought some interesting, helpful and scary scenarios that research administrators should be aware of as they navigate the often-confusing world of remote work. The primary take-away from the session was that having policies in place and regular communication will help institutions avoid many of the common pitfalls. Because employment and tax laws across various municipalities, states and countries have significant and material differences, it's extremely important to consult with the appropriate experts familiar with the areas in which remote workers are, or will be, located. For example, income and various tax withholding laws typically involve both the employer’s location and the employee’s location. When an employer and employee are in different cities, states, or countries, there can be significant changes that the payroll department is simply not prepared to handle. An institution’s failure to properly withhold taxes could create problems for both the institution and the employee.
Is the remote work required or is it a choice? Do job descriptions reflect the current policy and practice? These are important questions that institutions need to consider. Institutions could potentially be liable for another state's corporation business tax simply because just one of their employees is working from home in that state. The rules in Timbuktu (which, if you didn’t know, is a real city in Africa) differ greatly from College Town, USA (which may or may not be a real city).
Institutions also need to remember that some states require a higher minimum wage than others and may require employers to reimburse employees for home office expenses (like laptops and phones). In addition, failure to consider collective bargaining issues and “Right to Work” variations can create other problems. Workers’ compensation laws generally apply to all workers who suffer an injury or disease arising out of, and in the course of, their employment. This can include injuries occurring in an employee’s home. For example, courts in different states have dealt with trip-and-falls involving home pets and come to different conclusions as to whether the injury arose out of, and in the course of, employment.
How different states treat privacy claims can have important implications as to what constitutes employees’ (and their families) reasonable expectation of privacy in certain situations. What happens when a naked toddler runs behind a parent during a Zoom call? Is that broadcasting child pornography? What if the office staff overhear private conversations in a home during a call or vice versa?
Many of us deal with export control and these issues abound with remote work arrangements. Remember, simply having access and exposure to items and technology can constitute an export. What if your remote worker is in another country and gets an email with confidential information pertaining to intellectual property? What if someone else in the home saw it?
These are all issues that can be dealt with when proper policies are implemented, and the appropriate experts are consulted. The experts that graciously participated in our panel discussion and helped with this material are:
Lauren A. Smith, Attorney, LANIER FORD
Laurel Long, Associate Vice President Human Resources, University of Alabama Huntsville
Mike Slocum, Slocum & Boddie, PC
Bill Ford, Senior Counsel, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
And, of course, since some of them are lawyers, I also have to include the very important disclaimer that none of them participated or provided content as a representative of SRAI or of their employers and you should not take this material as specific legal advice or act on it without consulting with your own legal or tax counsel. As mentioned in the beginning, the primary take-away from the session was that having policies in place and regular communication will help institutions avoid many of the common pitfalls.
Authored by Kevin Titus, Business Director
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
SRAI Board of Directors At-Large Member, SRAI Distinguished Faculty, Clinical & Translational Research Working Group Chair