News & Thought Leadership from Sulloway & Hollis

April 5, 2022

The Journey Back to “Normal” Operations: Developing Return to Work Policies and Procedures

NH Business Review – April 2022

Roughly two years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic forced remote work upon employers, many of whom had likely never attempted to manage remote work on that scale. In the beginning of the pandemic, many employers were unsure whether their employees could be productive at home. Now, after a two-year long emergency field-test with their own employees, a significant portion of employers are electing to continue this remote model or a hybrid-working arrangement for their employees. Why? Because employees proved they did not need to be in the office to do their work.

The days of employer concerns regarding employee productivity at home have primarily been left in the past, because, in many cases, remote working resulted in increased productivity and lower on-site costs for the employer. A win-win. As such, for many businesses, remote work has become the new and welcome “normal.”

Should My Business Have a Hybrid or Remote Work Policy? Where Do I Begin?

Yes, for employers that have not yet adopted remote or hybrid work policies for employees that have job functions amenable to remote work, now is the time to do so. Employers with remote or hybrid work policies already in place should consider reviewing and revising the existing remote work frameworks to incorporate interdisciplinary input to enhance the remote work policy.

There are three elements to contemplate before beginning to develop a remote work arrangement: the positions, the infrastructure, and the interest. First, the employer must evaluate which positions in the business can adapt to remote work. Next, consider whether you can support the remote work adequately (e.g., equipment and administration). Finally, determine whether your employees have an interest in remote work. Generally, this third inquiry is directed not only at your existing employees, but at the employee market. For example, consider whether recruitment will improve with the offering of remote options.

Employers Should Take An Interdisciplinary Approach to Policy Development

If after addressing these elements, an employer has determined a remote or hybrid policy would be a benefit to operations, the employer can develop the policy that fits its industry and business model. Remote or hybrid work policies should be developed in consideration of industry-specific requirements, along with the following general categories:

  • Tax Impacts: e.g., can an employee residing outside of New Hampshire work remotely without incurring income tax impacts?
  • Wage and Hour Laws: for out-of-state employees, are there more favorable home-state laws regulating wages and hours, such as requiring a higher wage payment? Overtime payment?
  • Workers’ Compensation: for out-of-state employees, are there different requirements? Must you notify your carrier?
  • Equipment and Supplies: will these be company-provided or owned by the employee?
  • Cybersecurity and Privacy:e.g., are employees required to purchase a certain type of internet service or to have a dedicated workspace at home? Are you prepared technologically to protect sensitive data while working remotely?
  • Hybrid Arrangement: do employees have certain designated days to work remotely or flexibility as to when to come to the office? What serves the business need?
  • Supervision:e.g., are there regular check-ins with supervisors scheduled?
  • Employment policies: do the same handbook policies apply to employees while working remotely? Are there any necessary changes to accommodate remote work?

Employers Should Be Communicative

While employers are developing and implementing plans for bringing their employees back on-site on a full- or part-time basis, they should communicate a clear framework for implementation. Regardless of the type of return to work plan selected, employers should advise their employees on who is eligible, how to schedule their remote working days/shifts, how to request a remote working arrangement, and who to go to with questions.

Overall, while it is clear that remote working arrangements are likely part of the new “normal,” they raise several logistical and legal challenges, changes, and considerations. Employers should tread cautiously by taking an interdisciplinary approach to policy development and clearly communicating the policies to their employees.