Telework and Telelife: Tell it to the judge

One of the key components of a successful telework program is the set of agreements between employer and teleworker. We have always insisted that such agreements are absolutely necessary even for try-it-to-see-if-we-like-it programs.

Just as if to emphasize this credo, Patti Waldemeir’s article Courts define area between life and work in the 25 January 2007 Financial Times makes it clear [you may need a subscription to the FT to read it]. Telework governance has reached the age of litigiousness.

“When work is no longer a place, what are its boundaries?

In America, this is the kind of existential question that judges and juries simply cannot resist. So now, in the early broadband era, US courts are trying to set some hard and fast guidelines for the work-life divide.”

Therefore, in order to preempt a situation in which you find youself or your teleworking employees in court, consider adopting the following rules for agreement between employer and teleworker, at least for starters:

  • Work rules: clearly establish, preferably in writing and by mutual agreement, what work is to be performed by the teleworker(s); when it is to be completed; and what the results of the work should look like (success criteria). For employees paid on an hourly basis additional restrictions as to hours worked and timekeeping may also apply. Update the task details as necessary.
  • For home-based teleworkers, provide clear physical security and safety guidelines, require, again in writing, that the teleworker(s) acknowledge their understanding of the guidelines and certify that their home complies with the physical requirements. Consider whether an inspection of the teleworker’s home is required or optional and, if the home environment is not up to standards, who is responsible for correcting the deficiencies; this can be a tricky issue.
  • Formally establish the respective responsibilities of employer and teleworker; who is responsible for what. This includes what happens if the computer–or Internet connection–breaks; how often, and by what means, teleworkers are to report to their supervisors; child care rules for home-based teleworkers, and so on. The idea is to minimize risk for both parties without the employer coming across as Big Brother.
  • For information security require that all sensitive information on employees’ mobile devices, laptops and home-based computers be properly protected by encryption. Also require that these devices be kept up-to-date with virus and other malware protection software–or otherwise ensure against contamination of the organization’s data from external sources. The technology for this advances weekly.
  • Do all of the above before any telework is begun, then review and modify the agreements as often as necessary.

There may be other requirements, depending on your situation–or even the state or country in which the teleworker works. I know that setting up these agreements may sound like a lot of work but it can be well worth it if it results in the absence of litigation. In any case, check all this with your legal staff.
There are more details about these issues, and the reasoning behind them, in my book: Managing Telework: Strategies for Managing the Virtual Workforce.

Finally, Patti Waldmeir comments:

“As always in America, where there is uncertainty – and new forms of social organisation, such as telecommuting – there are lawsuits.”

Try to eliminate as much of this uncertainty as possible.

One thought on “Telework and Telelife: Tell it to the judge”

  1. This is interesting looked at from France where everything always needs to be ruled by law. Now, things are moving so fast and changes in law are so slow that we start to have some good stories from “case law” and those judgments are becoming the legal reference.

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