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Remote Workers Rights: How At-Home Employees Are Fighting for Fair Employment

The pandemic accelerated the work-from-home trend dramatically by sending most US workers out of the office for nearly two years. While this has led to significant innovations in remote work technology, company policies have been slow to keep up. Critically, many remote employees have found their employers do not respect their rights and autonomy as they would in-person workers’. 

For example, most companies understand that they cannot require in-person employees to buy necessary equipment for their jobs without compensation. However, businesses have frequently pushed remote employees to purchase equipment out-of-pocket. This is a fundamental violation of employment rights, whether you work in person or remotely. 

Remote workers are fighting back, though. For example, employees of major biopharma company Syneos Health have filed a class action lawsuit against the company for failing to reimburse employees for business expenses incurred while working remotely. The plaintiffs allege that the company did not offer reimbursement for expenses such as the cost of electrical, Wi-Fi, utility, and other bills directly caused by their need to work from home. 

This is just one of the dozens of similar lawsuits being filed against companies that have failed to respect remote workers’ rights. Other complaints range from hourly workers not being granted breaks to unlawfully cutting pay because of the move to remote employment to illegal surveillance during employee off-hours.

You still have the same protections as any other employee, even if you work from home. If your employer has violated standard employment law, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit and pursue compensation for your losses. But first, you need to know what remote workers’ rights entail.

Your Rights as a Remote Worker

Whether you work in-person or from home does not significantly affect your rights as a worker. Your classification is considerably more important. For example, your rights as a contractor differ substantially from those of an employee who receives a W-2. In addition, your rights as an hourly worker will be different than if you receive a salary. 

There are a few fundamental remote worker rights you maintain regardless of your classification:

  • Health and safety: You always have the right to a safe and healthy workplace. You can take legal action if you are forced to work in an unhealthy environment. 
  • Freedom from discrimination or harassment: You have the right to work without facing abuse because of your gender, race, religion, or orientation from coworkers, management, or customers. If your employer does not take steps to protect you from harassment or discrimination, they are liable for your pain and suffering.
  • Knowledge of surveillance: Your right to privacy means your employer must always inform you when you are being watched or recorded on the job at home or in the office. Failing to tell you about and consent to surveillance or surveilling you when you’re off the clock is against the law.
  • Contractual fulfillment: Your employer must always abide by your employment contract, including abiding by terms about pay and termination, or face legal consequences. 

If you are a salaried remote worker, your rights also include the following:

  • Compensation for mandatory business expenses: Employers cannot require you to pay for compulsory costs of business, and they must reimburse you for these required expenses, such as the costs of equipment when you’re required to work from home.
  • Reasonable accommodations: If you are disabled temporarily or permanently, your employer must grant you reasonable accommodations for your work, such as allowing you to work remotely full-time or permitting you to get up and walk around on the clock to avoid pain.
  • Fair pay: Your employer cannot pay you less than your employment contract guarantees, even if you work from home. Compensation for remote workers cannot be different than that for in-person workers unless there is a specific benefit tied to in-person work included in your contract.

If you are an hourly (nonexempt) worker, you also have rights such as:

  • Meal and rest breaks: If you’ve wondered, “Do work-from-home employees get breaks?” The answer is yes if you’re hourly. Most states require employers to give you at least one unpaid 30-minute meal break for every six hours you work, and one paid ten-minute rest break for every four hours on the clock. Requiring you to work through these breaks is illegal.
  • Overtime: Federal law requires all employers to compensate nonexempt workers at 150% of their regular hourly wage for all time they work above eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. Failing to provide overtime pay is considered wage theft.

Your employer cannot violate these rights whether you work remotely or in the office. 

How to Ensure Your Rights as a Remote Worker Are Respected

If you believe your employer is violating your rights as a remote worker, you can and should stand up for yourself. Your time and skills are equally valuable whether you work at home or on-site. You can defend your right to remote employee protection by doing the following:

  • Document violations: Keep track of communications and policies that prevent you from taking breaks or receiving fair pay for your time. This is often easy for remote workers since most communication happens via email or messaging.
  • Notify your employer: Let your employer know that the violation is occurring. Even if this does not resolve the issue, it shows you attempted to fix it internally.
  • Consult with an attorney for remote workers: If telling your employer about the problem doesn’t resolve, talk to a skilled lawyer about the best path forward.

At the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, we have the skills and experience to help you stand up to employers who try to violate remote employee rights. Our knowledgeable attorneys will help you determine if you have grounds for legal action and guide you through the process of pursuing compensation. Start the process by scheduling your consultation today.