More companies are permitting or even encouraging remote work by employees. Remote work allows flexibility for the employee, helps with recruiting and can reduce overhead by limiting the necessary physical office space used by the business. But remote work also has its drawbacks. One of the less obvious drawbacks that may catch employers off guard is how to manage leave, paid and unpaid, for someone who works remotely and is rarely, or never, in the office. This was an issue raised in a recent open discussion by a group of managerial employees working in various locations for one of our clients.
Even for workers who are physically present each day in the office, managing leave can present challenges when an employee’s need for unpaid leave is not readily apparent or when intermittent leaves challenge a work team’s ability to complete a project. With paid leave, managers must manage employees who ask to take leave during busy work periods or poor performers who ask for time off when they need to be focusing on improving productivity. These challenges are exacerbated when the employee works from home. How does the company know, record and manage time for an employee who works from home and needs intermittent leave for a medical issue? Does the employer know that the employee was in bed half of the day with a migraine or went to a doctor’s visit? When an office worker is away due to illness or needs to take a few hours off work to take care of a home repair or attend an event for a family member it is generally obvious that the employee is away from the office and should record the time away as leave. The same is not true, however, for remote workers who are already at home. Without careful management, remote workers could essentially have unlimited leave, so long as they occasionally check in with their managers.
Much of the solution to this issue is careful management by individual managers; however, that management should be based on a detailed and consistent policy addressing the work-from-home program. Employers must establish parameters at the outset and explain the company’s expectations for remote workers. While these policies should include the more obvious issues such as recording time worked, communication with management, and any required in-office time, employers should also carefully consider and address how employee leave will be managed for employees working from home and how to apply such policies in a manner that is fair to both those who work in and outside the office.
For example, the policy should make clear that if an employee is taking leave time for medical reasons, they are not required nor expected to be working while on leave. Likewise, employees who work from home and take vacation time are not expected to be working. The submission of work time while on leave must be promptly addressed – are you working or on leave? Furthermore, hourly paid employees must document their time off and submit their leave hours along with their work time. Setting the expectation that the employee must timely notify their supervisor when they are sick or taking time off, just as if they were working at the office, is also important. The line between work and nonwork time for the work-from-home employee can be easily blurred. Accordingly, the more detailed an employer’s policy is in addressing these issues, the better it will be equipped in handling these potential issues and minimizing the abuse of its leave and time off policies.