Wrinkles in Time-Tracking for Remote Workers Present Challenges

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By Genevieve Douglas

Technology allows for remote employees to be working at any time, so tracking these employees’ hours can present challenges for human resources departments, Jamie Lizotte, HR Solutions manager at compliance solutions provider ComplyRight, told Bloomberg BNA June 6.

First and foremost, nonexempt, hourly employees could become very expensive for an organization if they’re consistently working overtime through mobile access, she said.

It’s up to employers to weed out employees who can’t be trusted to diligently track their time worked, record it, and report it accurately, because “it’s really based on the honor system” with remote employees, Lizotte said. Employees who work remotely should have earned a “position of trust” with the employer, she added.

HR should start by developing an overtime policy that prohibits any extra hours without prior approval and communicate the guidelines clearly to employees, Lizotte said. Other best practices to prevent unauthorized overtime include limiting employee access to company emails, software, or computer systems during off-work hours, Lizotte said.

It’s also important to thoroughly train managers and supervisors on the policies because they’re the ones who will be enforcing them, she said. If an employee is breaking the organization’s overtime policy, there should be consequences that have already been communicated to the workforce, she said.

Focus on Productivity

When it comes to tracking time worked for remote employees, the focus should be “all about productivity,” meaning whether the work gets done in the appropriate amount of time versus actual hours worked, Helene Wasserman, a shareholder in Littler Mendelson’s Los Angeles office and co-chair of the firm’s litigation and trials practice group, told Bloomberg BNA June 7.

Some companies take additional measures, such as having remote employees call in throughout the day, but “there’s no foolproof method because once someone is out of your visual sight” there’s no real way to make sure they’re working, Wasserman said. “It all comes down to trust; if you trust people to work remotely,” you have to trust them to be honest and accurate about their hours worked, she said.

To avoid potential legal liability, HR should ensure that remote workers know exactly what expectations their supervisor has about their work habits, and HR should focus on “laying those ground rules,” Wasserman said. HR also has to be clear that remote work is not a pathway for employees to work 24/7 or to be paid for work that isn’t done, she added.

Avoiding a Culture of Burnout

Apart from the legal and cost considerations of tracking remote time worked, employers should also ensure that workers aren’t on a path to burnout, Mark Robinson, chief marketing officer of workplace solutions consultancy Kimble Applications, told Bloomberg BNA June 7.

In a Kimble Apps survey of 1,200 individuals, employees who work and track billable hours (such as accountants, lawyers, IT consultants, and marketers) said they often underreport the hours they work. In cases in which employees worked more than 40 hours per week, Kimble Apps found that management is aware of the extra hours only about half (49 percent) of the time. When it came to recording the additional hours spent on work, almost a quarter (22 percent) of respondents said they did not record additional hours, even if they worked more than assigned.

But any change in this kind of corporate culture of overworking and underreporting has to be stopped at the top of the company, with the C-suite setting the precedent, Robinson said. There are many managers and leaders who will send an email late on a Sunday night, and the rest of the employees think this is what they have to do as well, Robinson said. They often create this kind of culture inadvertently by working when it’s most convenient for them, without seeing how that lays an expectation on others to be plugged in 24/7, he said.

Robinson also advised that HR educate employees about the best ways to use technology. From email to text messaging to social media, HR needs to be clear about the expectations of communication, and when it’s appropriate for that communication to take place, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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