(Note: This article focuses on nonexempt, or hourly, employees and not exempt employees.)
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted employees out of the office and into their homes to work remotely. Indeed, telework has become the default mode of operation for many white-collar employees in the United States — and the shift to virtual work necessitated by the pandemic will likely carry over into the post-pandemic world, with more than half of workers reporting they would prefer to keep working remotely if given the choice.
But the work from home revolution has blurred the lines between work and, well, everything else: Research conducted during the pandemic found remote employees in the United Kingdom, Austria, Canada, and the United States are working an average of 2.5 hours more than they did in the office.
The survey by NordVPN reported there were “no significant drop of business VPN usage at lunchtime, indicating potential short lunch breaks while working remotely,” and noted a 41% increase in business VPN server traffic on Thanksgiving compared with the average weekend, which “suggests that people are spending their family time working.”
The reality of the situation is clear: as work and home life merge, many employees are clocking more hours than ever before. In light of this trend, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance to clarify employer’s obligations to track teleworker’s compensable hours.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more Americans are teleworking and working variable schedules than ever before to balance their jobs with a myriad of family obligations, such as remote learning for their children and many others. This has presented unique challenges to employers with regard to how to track work time accurately,” said Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton.
Here’s what employers need to know, according to the DOL:
Guidance for compensating remote workers
When it comes to compensating remote employees, the bottom line remains: Employers must pay employees for all hours worked — including “work not requested but suffered or permitted, including work performed at home.”
In other words, employers must pay employees for any and all hours worked at home, regardless of if the work was specifically requested by the employer.
The burden is on employers to ensure that work is not performed when they don’t want it to be, or when they haven’t explicitly instructed it. Employers should consider having a system in place for tracking the time of nonexempt employees. It is also recommend that employers make themselves well versed in applicable state wage and hour regulations regarding pay and meal/rest breaks.
Employees however are responsible for ensuring their employers have “actual knowledge” of all hours worked, as compensation depends on whether the employer knew the work was done.
Employers then should establish a “reasonable reporting procedure for non-scheduled time and then compensate employees for all reported hours of work, even hours not requested by the employer,” says the DOL.
Guidance for split-worker compensation
The DOL’s guidance on split-workers, or workers who work from home for part of the workday, was also updated during the pandemic.
According to the DOL, employers are not required to pay travel time to employees who work from home for part of the workday.
“An employee does not need to be paid for hours that she is off duty—that is, periods when she is completely relieved from duties and that are long enough to enable her to effectively use the time for her own purposes,” said DOL administrator Cheryl Staton.
However, the DOL clarified that travel between worksites during the workday is compensable.
About the author
Lia Tabackman is a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Richmond, Virginia. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, CBS 6 News, the Los Angeles Times, and Arlington Magazine, among others.