How Nonprofits Can Avoid the Legal Pitfalls of Telecommuting Employees

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As technology for the home office improves, more nonprofits and employees are taking advantage of the benefits of telecommuting.  Laptops are lighter, faster, and more portable.  Smartphones, iPads, and other e-readers continue to sell in record numbers.  Cloud computing enhances colleagues’ ability to share information efficiently.  Video conferences are becoming the norm, not the exception.  These technological advances, when combined with the growing concerns over gasoline prices and work-life balance, make telecommuting a very attractive option for many nonprofits and their employees. 

Of course, federal and state labor laws still apply to the telecommuting employee.  Whether a nonprofit should, or in some cases must, permit telecommuting depends upon an analysis of the unique issues that telecommuting raises under federal and state law.  Set forth below is an overview of some of the logistical and legal issues nonprofits should consider when creating or reforming their telecommuting programs. 

Which Positions Are Best Suited for Telecommuting?

No matter the technological developments, telecommuting will likely never be appropriate for every employee.  For example, it is very unlikely that a nonprofit’s receptionist could perform his or her duties while telecommuting.  Similarly, employees performing client intake services may need to physically perform their duties at the job site.  In contrast, positions which primarily entail the electronic transfer of documents or other information are typically better suited for telecommuting, subject to proper safeguards for confidentiality and client privacy.  Other common characteristics of roles fit for telecommuting include a low need for direct supervision or guidance, limited face-to-face interaction, and easily measured performance benchmarks such as quantity of output instead of actual time spent at the job site.

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