Overnight, many businesses have been forced to adopt a new reality. In the face of a worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, thousands of companies have had to send employees home to work remotely or adjust attendance policies to accommodate extended hours, reduced hours or other circumstances.

You may be wondering how your company policies need to change to reflect these situations. Let’s take a look at some considerations for updating various policies such as remote working, attendance or paid leave during this complicated time.

What Is a Remote Work Policy?
A remote work policy is a statement that outlines when and how employees can work from locations other than your office — either temporarily or long-term. A remote work policy should describe who can work remotely, best practices to follow and conditions under which working from home is allowed.

Creating a Work from Home or Remote Work Policy

Before COVID-19 hit, only about 3.6 percent (some 5 million people) in the United States worked at home half-time or more, according to Global Workplace Analytics. That number has increased dramatically in recent weeks. Yet, a 2018 survey by UPwork indicated that 57 percent of companies don’t have written remote work policies.

Lack of clear company policies can lead to inconsistencies in expectations, performance and legal compliance. To keep your company and your employees on a productive path, create a comprehensive and well-written work-from-home policy. Your policy can be temporary or permanent. It should cover:

  • Eligibility. Define which employee roles are eligible to work remotely or from home. Typically, these are jobs that can be done from anywhere with access to a computer, internet or other tools.
  • Availability. If employees must be available during specific hours to perform their work, reply to customers, or attend scheduled meetings, be sure to outline the expectations in writing. Allowing one employee to make their own schedule, but not another, can create an unfair atmosphere.
  • Productivity. Clearly define what your job expectations are for each employee working remotely. Include specific productivity benchmarks or deliverables, such as number of cases resolved, number of client interactions, response time, or logged time on a project.
  • Tools. Ensure your remote employees have the right tools, such as computers with firewalls, high-speed internet, video or voice conference applications, mobile phones, and secure access to remote servers, virtual private networks (VPNs) or file-sharing systems.
  • Security. Outline what security measures should be used, such as firewall applications or secure channels for sharing documents. For example, if certain files should never be downloaded to private computers or devices, be sure to put this in writing.
  • Client confidentiality. Make sure employees understand what information must be kept confidential and the steps they need to take to ensure privacy. For example, this may include not putting calls on speaker or always sitting in a secluded room during sensitive discussions.
  • Tech support. Define what level of technical support your company offers, how employees can access it, and the steps to take in reporting any problems.Tech support. Define what level of technical support your company offers, how employees can access it, and the steps to take in reporting any problems.
  • Termination. Be sure to include a clause that gives you the right to cancel or suspend remote working privileges at any time, but also state that no employee will be terminated because of remote working.

Vacation, Sick Leave and Attendance Policies

Especially during a pandemic, it’s important that your sick leave policies are designed to encourage employees to self-isolate when ill. Revisit your sick policy to determine if you need to change the language, or adjust, extend or modify your policies in any way.

Attendance policies. Requiring punctual and regular attendance, and defining consequences for late arrival, early departure or other absences are key elements of an attendance policy. Does your policy need to be adjusted to accommodate remote working, social distancing or extended shifts?

COVID-19 Tip: Consider whether overtime pay should be considered for employees covering extra shifts.

Flexible work schedules. If your existing policy covers flexible work schedules, such as being in the office from 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. or a compressed schedule that offers every other Friday off, adjust this for your current situation.

COVID-19 Tip: Allowing employees to work staggered hours could help with social distancing.

Paid time off (PTO) and vacation policies. Offering unlimited, flexible, or floating PTO and vacation policies can increase productivity if implemented effectively. These policies allow employees to take paid vacation days, personal days, or sick leave days whenever they want (and in some cases, as much as they want.) Review your policy to determine if any changes are needed during this time.

COVID-19 Tip: Offering paid sick leave is not just a workplace policy — it’s a public health policy.

FMLA and COVID-19. Employees who need time off to care for family members affected by COVID-19 may be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Eligible employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Be sure your leave policies reflect this law. Additionally, the newly enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act expands FMLA protections, covers childcare obligations due to school closings, and provides other benefits on a temporary basis through December 31, 2020.

Get the Help You Need to Organize Your Policies

Keeping all your company policies organized and accessible remotely has never been more important. The Company Policies Smart App makes developing and distributing company policies a cinch. With just a few clicks, you can publish policies and notify employees, or print them out to distribute, depending on your needs.

Key Takeaways
  • Remote work policies can be long-term or temporary
  • Define specific expectations for employees working from home
  • Spell out any requirements for hours, accessibility and communication methods
  • Adjust attendance, vacation and sick leave policies for your current situation
  • Review your polices to ensure they reflect the new reality of COVID-19