OK, the bad news, first. There are very few legal obligations on employers over and above those already owed to office-based staff, at least in the United States.
That doesn’t mean, however, that your employer is free of legal obligations entirely and there are certainly a few more moral obligations that they have to you.
So, we’ve laid out the main areas where obligations exist and drawn the distinction as to whether these obligations exist under law or not for your reference.
To Ensure A Safe Working Environment
Your employer has a legal obligation to provide you with a safe, ergonomically suitable workstation set up.
However, you may need to “nudge” them a little, particularly if they’re a small company, to get the ball rolling on this.
You might also read “why do home office chairs cause back pain” to get a feel for why this matters.
We would also argue that in the days of data-driven working, that your employer has a moral (and depending on where you live, possibly also a legal) obligation to ensure your privacy.
We would strongly discourage the use of constant surveillance tools for employees, it’s not helpful and it’s certainly not ethical.
To Provide Tech Support For A Reasonable Portion Of The Day
While there’s no legal obligation to provide tech support, it ought to be pretty obvious to all employers that if they don’t provide this – then you may end up taking a day of vacation for free.
The ideal tech support contract doesn’t need to run for 24 hours a day, but it should overlap the standard working day at both ends to help ensure that workers can access support at reasonable hours.
If your company doesn’t have a helpdesk this can be outsourced.
To Offer Flexible Hours (Within Reason)
Employers can insist on specific hours for remote work, but they shouldn’t, unless absolutely necessary (for example, if a hotline needs to be manned from say 9 to 5, then it’s reasonable to demand a 9 to 5 shift).
It makes more sense to make the working day somewhat more flexible, so that remote workers can organize their day to benefit themselves and the business.
The ideal is to have some “core” hours when everyone is available and then let people decide on the rest of their hours themselves.
To Provide Relevant Training And Development
There is no legal right to training, except in specific areas of health and safety, but there’s certainly a moral obligation on employers to train their staff to succeed.
That means you will need to talk to your manager with regard to this obligation. They should be able to find suitable online study or local experts to provide the help you need.
It also needs to be provided at the company’s expense. This isn’t something you should pay for – unless, maybe, you said you could do something at your initial interview that you can’t do, now.
To Allow “Optional Tech” (Within Reason)
Yes, we know that some IT departments have heart attacks when it comes to even the concept of staff bringing their own devices, but this is the age of the cloud and security issues are no longer a serious concern here.
While an employer is not legally obliged to let you use your own laptop, printer, etc. it makes sense to do so and instead of providing them directly, it makes sense to offer some sort of cash subsidy annually to allow you to buy your own.
To Pay For Business Specific Equipment And Services
Some work from home expenses are your problem, like the coffee that you drink, or the clothes that you wear.
But any form of specific hardware, software or service that you buy should be reimbursed by your employer, morally.
Unfortunately, the legal obligation on your employer is only that they cannot force you to cover your own expenses if those expenses would bring your wage below minimum wage.
The good news is that, in our experience, most companies are a lot more generous than that.
And if they aren’t? Then run, don’t walk away and find another job.
To Provide Clear Rules And Standards For Employees Working Remotely
Your employer should have a formal policy in place that makes it clear who gets to work from home, who may work from home and who may not.
They should also have a policy that lays out expected rules and standards for each group of employees. It should also include policies on all the areas outlined above.
They may not be legally obliged to do this, but failure to do so could lead to some ugly lawsuits around discrimination, unfair termination, etc. so it really is in their interest to do this.
We’ve tried to draw the line here between the ethical and legal obligations of employers for remote workers, because remote work is relatively new, the law simply hasn’t kept pace with the concept.
This means that it’s important for you to negotiate many of these areas when you sign a contract and not leave them to hope or prayer.
If you found this article useful you may also appreciate our article on working from home insurance issues and our article on how to troubleshoot your laptop while working at home.