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Attorneys for the Business of Life

Remote Workers


Employers with remote workers: Avoid these 3 potential legal issues

The COVID-19 pandemic upended our country. Schools shut down. Cities and states issued stay-at-home orders. Our front-line workers put themselves and their families at risk during uncertain times to try and help their communities get through the pandemic.

We learned many lessons during these tough times, and one was the value of remote work. It turned out the flexibility that came with a work-from-home option benefited more than just the workers. When done well, it also benefits the employers.

Although beneficial, there are some risks. Employers who have decided to continue to use remote workers are wise to watch out for these three potential legal pitfalls:

• Use noncompete agreements carefully. Noncompete agreements can serve as powerful legal tools for higher level employees. These generally withstand a legal challenge if they are reasonable in their scope — but what does that mean when dealing with a remote employee? It is important to carefully tailor a reasonable scope that applies to remote employees.

• Transparency and clear expectations. Make sure expectations are clear. Having set metrics can help to better ensure employer and employee are aware of these expectations and reduce the risk of disputes.

• Workers’ compensation. The Industrial Insurance Act holds employers responsible for injuries suffered “in the course of employment.” It does not specify location and neither does Washington state law. As a result, it is important to make sure your business’ telecommuting policy addresses this issue. This could include specifying a job site for remote workers to exclude coverage if the worker choses to travel to a coffee shop or other location.

Employment contracts tailored to your business’ needs can help to reduce the risk of a future dispute. Those who already have these documents may want to revise them to better fit a remote situation.

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