Our HR experts just finished reworking a medium-sized software company’s employee handbook to help them prepare for a post-COVID workplace.
The goal: help them ditch their office space and craft a handbook for the modern, post-COVID era.
To get this done we used our ‘Compliance Strike Team‘. A team of HR professionals, Compliance Researchers, Creative Writers, and (former) employment attorneys. Okay, there were just four of us, but we do check all of those boxes.
Aside from all of the massive state and federal compliance changes, companies are operating differently now that technology has become critical to business. Businesses are more focused, lean, remote, and most importantly, they are embracing technology in every way.
This particular client used to pay for 20,000 square feet of Class A office space. But they gave it up in favor of a 100% remote workforce.
We think that trend is going to become the norm, and not the exception, in the future. We’re sharing some “lessons learned” from the handbook process. Specifically: what similar companies should consider including in their handbook once this pandemic is behind us.
Here’s what we came up with:
1) Comprehensive remote work policies
As physical offices reopen, employers are facing a question from employees: Do we have to come back into the office? This is a complex decision based on a company’s needs and manpower. Whatever the decision is, it should be memorialized in writing somewhere. Preferably in your employee handbook. When an employee requests a remote work accommodation, you need to be able to direct them to a handbook policy explaining when and whether they can or can not be permitted to work remotely. Having a clear and practical remote work policy can have a dramatic impact on reducing employee frustrations. Even more, referencing and using to your remote work policy when confronted with various (relevant) situations reduces the risk of an employee claiming unfair treatment or discrimination.
2) Leave tracking is a must
If you have hourly employees like part-timers, interns, or even full-timers who track hours (e.g. for contractual reasons) you probably know that a time tracking system is critical. Aside from protecting against FLSA claims, state wage and hour claims, and benefits claims, the DOL issued a bulletin last August regarding the “Employers’ obligation to exercise reasonable diligence in tracking teleworking employees’ hours of work”. Yes, it can be difficult to know when remote team members are working versus surfing the web. But the onus is on you as the employer to know what hours are being worked – and to pay employees for every hour that they worked for the company. This is why having a leave tracking systems where employees can report hours, and a policies/documentation in place related to tracking hours, is so important.
3) Consider equipment and office reimbursement policies
As more companies opt to leave their physical offices behind, many are adding policies regarding what items they will reimburse employees for. These reimbursements may include tools and resources related to a home office setup or technology that allows an employee to be more productive from home. Consider designating one manager as the recipient of all reimbursement requests so that they can approve them and funnel them to your payroll team for processing.
4) Have sick leave and PTO policies
Right now, 16 states require some form of paid sick leave. If you’re in a state without a paid sick leave requirement this might not be at the top of your mind. But if you decide to go fully remote (and give employees flexibility on their work location), you’ll want to revisit your paid sick leave and PTO policies. We’re even seeing “edge cases” where employees technically work remotely from their home office but primarily work from a Starbucks in a state that their employer wasn’t even considering. So do they work from their home or do they work from a random state that you didn’t know about? Making sure you’re compliant with every state where an employee works or could work is very important. And this can get even more complex if you have a salesperson that is generating revenue in states that you’re not familiar with or considered operating in. With thoughtfully crafted policies, you can avoid constant changes to your handbook by addressing these types of possible scenarios.
5) Define working hours
Does your employee handbook note that work hours are 9-5? If so, that might work if all of your employees are in one time zone. But what if employees are working from different time zones? As work location flexibility increases, so does the importance of having a well-defined working hours policy. Consider specifying “core hours” – hours that all employees are expected to be available for – in order to facilitate easier scheduling and collaboration. Once this is done, you’ll be able to provide more flexibility about the rest of the working hours. Alternatively, if you require availability during specific hours, you’ll want to specify those working hours, making sure they apply regardless of the employee’s home time zone.
6) Have a relocation notification policy
As companies do away with in-person work requirements, employees are taking the opportunity to relocate. Some are moving closer to family. Many are going somewhere with a lower cost-of-living. And some are just moving to a place they’ve always wanted to live. If your employees move, you’ll want them to notify the company ASAP. This is because fully remote employees’ homes are their work locations. And if they move their residence, their work location has also changed. Because state and local filing and registration requirements may accompany the move, the company, and especially your HR team, needs to know. Imagine a scenario where your remote employee relocates to a state that requires disability insurance – and you don’t have it. Or to a state that offers statutory benefits like Paid Family Leave, but your company hasn’t been paying into the program because you didn’t know your employee had established residency in that state.
7) Be able to process payments quickly
Payroll has evolved over time, but the expectation has always been the same: Employees want to be paid correctly and on time. However, sometimes there can be issues with an employee’s payroll – it could be a mistake on the employer’s end, something the employee miscommunicated, or it could be a limitation on the payroll company’s side. In order to fix a mistake quickly, a company should consider requesting an alternate electronic payment account from employees. This could be an account in PayPal, Zelle, or Venmo – or it could be an account and routing number (assuming your bank allows you to process same-day ACH or wires). By having this information on file, and informing an employee up front that you may make payment to that account, you can address any “speed of payment processing” issues you run into. If you have this information you’ll always be able to get employees the money that they are owed, you’ll have the ability to get money back from an employee (overpayments, loan repayments, incorrect expense reimbursements, etc.) without requesting a check, and you won’t have to worry about upsetting employees who were overpaid or underpaid. This policy will also help you avoid wage theft claims or wait time penalties if you’re in a state that requires final payment on an employee termination date.
8) BONUS: Be able to articulate your compensation strategy
This one isn’t so much a handbook policy, but more of a general strategy. With employees living and working all over the country – or possibly abroad – you’ll want to define how you pay people. For example, should two employees performing the same job be paid the same if one is working from Manhattan and the other is working from Des Moines, Iowa? Having a basic philosophy around how you compensate employees, and what “market rate” you pay at will go a long way within your organization with respect to creating an equal and just environment. It’ll also help retain employees and could help improve company morale.
Are you looking for additional help regarding your company’s post-COVID employee handbook and best practices regarding remote work? Reach out to our team of experts at Suitless for a free consultation and assessment: firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog post about reasons for going remote also offers some new ideas.