Telecommuting: Perks and Pitfalls

HR Headliner

According to a recent survey by FlexJobs, 65% of employees believe they would be more productive working from home than in a traditional office environment, with most respondents citing fewer distractions and interruptions as the reason for better performance.

The survey also found that many people rank work-life balance higher than pay rate when considering a job prospect, and would be more loyal to their employer if it offered flexible work options. So what’s not to love? More productive employees who will accept lower pay and be loyal to the company? Let’s all telecommute!

Of course, it’s not that easy. While telecommuting and flexible work arrangements can be an excellent benefit to attract and retain a quality staff, there are a variety of potential pitfalls to keep in mind:

  •  All but the most structured individuals will struggle with work and personal boundaries from time to time. Despite the best of intentions to stay productive throughout the day, young children in the house, that overflowing laundry basket, or the temptation to make “just a quick Target run” can easily creep into scheduled work hours.
  • Telecommuting employees may feel out of touch with the rest of the office team, and miss out on valuable collaboration that takes place during on-site meetings and informal chats.
  • Working from home creates an unexpected risk for workers’ compensation claims. If the employee trips over a garden hose while taking a client’s phone call in the backyard, would the claim be covered?
  • Remote access to company computer systems can compromise your network security and trade secret protections.

If your company would like to offer work-from-home options, we recommend the following steps to minimize the risks:

  • Identify which jobs are eligible for telecommuting and be consistent in your approvals of staff requests.
  • Agree on the number of work hours an employee is expected to complete, and remind non-exempt staff that meal and rest period policies still apply.
  • Agree on work priorities and performance standards, and hold employees accountable for deliverables. Regular check-ins and performance assessments may be especially important for telecommuting staff.
  • Provide company-owned equipment such as a laptop, cell phone, or other necessary electronics, and search usage histories regularly.
  • Reduce safety risks and company liability by setting guidelines for work locations. This could include prohibiting the employee from working away from the home office and reminders to immediately report injuries that occur during work hours.
  • Consider requiring the employee to work from the office at regular intervals (such as one day per week) and encourage on-site attendance at key meetings to maintain personal connections with co-workers.


When “Back to School” Means Time Off Work

HR Headliner

The summer has flown by, and many of your employees are sending their children back to school this month. Here is your “refresher course” in the leaves of absence provided by California law relating to school activities.

Labor Code section 230.7, which applies to all employers, provides an employee with unpaid time off to appear in his/her child’s school due to the child’s suspension. The employee is required to give reasonable notice of the need to visit the school.

Labor Code section 230.8, which applies to employers of 25 or more employees, provides up to 40 hours of unpaid time off per calendar year for a variety of reasons:

• to find, enroll, or re-enroll a child in a school or with a licensed child care provider;

• to participate in activities of the school or licensed child care provider; or

• to address a child care provider or school emergency.

Some important details to remember:

• School activities can include field trips, class parties and assemblies, volunteering in the child’s classroom, and extracurricular sports that are sponsored by the school (including after school hours.)

• If an employee’s child is cared for by a friend or family member who is not a licensed care provider, you are not required to approve time off.

• “Child care provider or school emergency” can mean anything from a natural disaster or disciplinary problems, to a care provider being unavailable or simply requesting that the child be picked up. If an employee is unable to drop his/her child off at daycare because the care provider is sick, it’s covered under this law.

• When possible, such as to enroll a child in school, the employee must give reasonable notice of the need for time off. In the event of an emergency, the employee need only give notice.

• Employees can be required to use accrued vacation/PTO for the absence.

• An employer may require documentation from the school or day care provider.

• You may limit the employee’s time off to eight hours in a calendar month.

Contact Sierra HR Partners if you’re unsure how to handle an employee’s request for time off.

We’re here to help!


Staff Welcome!


Staff Welcome!

Staff Welcome!


July 2018 HR Headliner

HR Headliner

July 2018 HR Headliner

Consistency is Key: Build Trust and Minimize Risk Through Consistent Standards for Employee Conduct

July 2018 HR HeadlinerMost of the media coverage about Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood exploits has faded, but the story still holds an important lesson for California employers. It was reported that in his employment contract with The Weinstein Co., Harvey was protected from termination when claims of sexual harassment were filed against him. All he had to do was pay a fine to the company, and business could continue as usual. The penalty payments increased for each additional offense, showing that the Board had no expectation that his risky behavior would stop.

You surely do not have this type of agreement with any of your managers or employees. But, have you ever minimized a complaint by saying “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it”? Ever looked the other way on an employee’s inappropriate behavior because she is a top producer? Ever avoided discussing aggressive behavior because you’re uncomfortable with confrontation?
These sidesteps may not be as shocking as writing sexual harassment into a contract, but they could have substantial consequences for your company.

When employees perceive that the company excuses or ignores the inappropriate behavior of certain individuals, they may be discouraged from discussing any kind of concern with management – from harassment to safety to payroll problems. A company policy promoting your “open door” is only as good as managers’ willingness to really listen and take appropriate action. If members of your management team are not confident in handling employee complaints, invest time in training and role play scenarios to ease those concerns. If there are problems with favoritism, mismatched communication styles, or simply overbooked schedules, identify those barriers and find ways to remove them.

When complaints are submitted to management or HR, a thorough investigation and appropriate remedial action are critical. Even if you don’t believe the claim has merit… even if it’s coming from the most over-sensitive person in the office… even if it is alleging wrongdoing by your best salesperson or a top executive. Conduct an impartial investigation and take timely steps to correct any wrongdoing and prevent it from occurring again. This consistent approach will demonstrate to employees that their well-being is taken seriously, and can reduce the legal risk for the organization. You’ll also avoid being the next shocking headline!

Upcoming events:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sexual Harassment, Abusive Conduct, and Discrimination Prevention Training​

Register by E-Mail

Register / Pre-Pay Online

Thursday. July 26, 2018

Legal Beagle Bagel Breakfast

Topic TBD

Contact: receptionist@flclaw.net for more information


HR Headliner: June 2018

HR Headliner

HR Headliner

HR Headliner

June 2018

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Here at Sierra HR Partners, our Consultants are frequently asked about creative scheduling requests from employees that on the surface, may appear to benefit both the employer and the employee. For example, an employee may wish to do extra work over the weekend with those hours added to a vacation bank rather than included in the normal paycheck. Or, an employee may request to work four 10-hour shifts and forego overtime so she can have three-day weekends*. These deviations from California wage and hour law may seem innocent, particularly because they are often at the request of a well-meaning employee. No harm, no foul… right?

[We work in California, so you’re probably guessing the answer to that question already!]

A recent California Supreme Court decision regarding independent contractors cited an interesting statement from the U.S. Supreme Court that sheds light on this topic:

The Court reasoned that if exceptions to wage and hour law were allowed for employees who were willing to work “voluntarily,” employers might be able to coerce them to testify that the arrangement was acceptable and waive their legal protections. This could have a negative impact on competing businesses who were trying to abide by state and federal regulations.

This means that an employee’s seemingly generous offer to complete a project “off the clock” could result in significant penalties for the business in the future. If the employee happens to be terminated or otherwise becomes disenchanted with the employer, a legal claim for unpaid wages could not be defended by showing that it was voluntary. Even the employee’s signed request would not remove an employer’s legal obligations to abide by state and federal wage and hour rules.

Any earned wages that are not paid to the employee at the time of termination could result in penalties of one day’s wages for each day payment is not made, up to a maximum of 30 days. This is in addition to any actual payment that may be owed for regular or overtime hours.

The Department of Industrial Relations puts it this way: “Assessment of the waiting time penalty does not require that the employer intended the action or anything blameworthy, but rather that the employer knows what he is doing, that the action occurred and is within the employer’s control, and that the employer fails to perform a required act.”

Remember that you are free to change work schedules and duties for your employees as appropriate for your business. Extra hours to complete a project, or a schedule that exceeds eight hours in a workday is perfectly acceptable… so long as you always pay in accordance with the law.

*This type of schedule is permissible only by following specific steps to establish a valid Alternative Workweek Schedule and filing the information with the Department of Industrial Relations.