Employees Working From Home: How Nonprofits Can Better Mitigate Legal Liability Risks
It has been just over 13 months since COVID-19 was first discovered in the U.S. Yet today, even with vaccines being rolled out and statewide mandates slowly being relaxed, many nonprofit organizations are continuing to allow their employees and volunteers to work from home. And while the reasons behind the surge in telecommuting workers may differ among organizations, most share similar liabilities. If your nonprofit clients have employees working remotely, it’s important for them to understand any new workplace risks they may be up against in terms of liability risk exposures and to consider how to best manage the risk.
Don’t wait to address improper online actions or misconduct. Video conferencing has become the new standard in meeting formats, rapidly replacing standard conference room meetings and audio conference calls. Just like in-person meetings, employees on virtual conferencing/messaging platforms need to act in a professional manner. It’s important for organizations to remind their managers and supervisors of their duty to immediately report any violators of employment laws or company policies involving inappropriate behaviors and allegations of harassment. In doing so, the organization can help prevent a potential litigation situation against the nonprofit.
Implement a time tracking system for employees to record their hours. With so many employees working off-site, it can be a challenge for organizations to accurately monitor workers’ hours. When this happens, the organization could be opening itself up to potential wage and hour violations. Such problems can quickly escalate to liability issues, especially with nonexempt employees who allege that they are not being properly compensated. It’s fine for organizations to be flexible with regard to these new work arrangements, but in doing so, they need to create a system for accurately tracking employee hours.
Provide proper work-from-home accommodations for disabled workers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that employers are obligated to provide proper accommodations to employees with disability-related limitations who are working remotely. Accommodations may include specialized equipment, modifications to the work environment, or even adjustments to work schedules or responsibilities. Because every situation is different, it’s important for the organization and the affected employees to discuss what constitutes a disability and what these individuals may need in order to do their job safely while working off premises. Specific accommodation requests should be put in writing and executed in a timely manner, as failure to do the latter could result in a violation of the ADA, as well as trigger a liability lawsuit against the organization.
Discuss coverage requirements with the organization’s insurance carrier. When there is a shift in the workplace, as when employees are working remotely, it’s important for the nonprofit’s insurance policy to have the proper coverage and limits to protect against potential work-from-home liability exposures. As an insurance professional, you can assist by reviewing existing policies and ensuring that the organization has the right coverages and limits, including management liability insurance to cover legal expenses that may arise from having work-from-home employees.
While these recommendations certainly don’t constitute an all-inclusive list, organizations can help lessen their liability exposure to legal risks that come with employees working remotely by identifying the risks, being proactive, and securing the right liability policy. As an insurance professional, it’s important that you understand what your nonprofit clients may be up against and to discuss coverages that meet their individual needs.
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