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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to order telecommuting employees back to the office has sparked a passionate debate over the increasingly common practice of working from home.

Criticism from many, especially those working parents, sees Yahoo taking a step backwards in dealing with the realities of the modern workforce and tech industry.

Moving a workforce to home is a great way to contribute to a great corporate culture, but there are some legal issues that do come up that are specific to telecommuting. TFL covered this issue on KOGO on February 25, 2013.

Nothing’s Changed

Just because employees are now at home, that does not mean all those legal guidelines dealing with employees go away. In that way, remember that nothing has really changed.

Meal Periods, Breaks and Overtime

Since meal times and overtime still apply, employers have to tweak their habits with communication and engagement. Because they work from home, it may be more tempting to take calls and respond to emails during after hours or during their breaks. Simple communication protocols and policies can prevent a labor law violation in this area. For example, having a check-in and check-out remote system can help promote breaks and restrict overtime.

Confidentiality

For those businesses that require to keep some of their data confidential or if they have a trade secret that they require limited access, technology has had great advancements to allow secure data transfer and storage; however, there is a certain level of limited control you have to telecommuting employees and that’s the balance that an employer must address on a case by case basis. For example, access to confidential customer data should be limited so that it prohibits mass download of the data versus single record access.

Safe Work Environment

Employers must provide a safe work environment for their employees, whether at home or at the office. The legal implications to this rule has yet to be fully explored, but again there are some obvious precautions that can be done to prevent liability in this area.

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Discrimination

Though there are some major advantages for employees with families in telecommuting, employers should be careful as to not discriminate against those that do not have a family or men as this can be seen as gender or family based discrimination. The criteria for who may work from home should be objective to the job purpose and description.

Independent Contractors

It is very difficult to properly classify a personnel as an independent contractor when working on the employer’s premises, so it is common for independent contractors to telecommute; however, be careful, as just because your employees are working from home, this does not mean they are automatically classified independent contractors.

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