Which Employment Laws Apply to Remote Workers?
Working from home has grown exponentially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more companies have allowed workers to continue working remotely. For that reason, remote workers need to understand their rights and which labor laws apply to them. And if violations occur, remote employees need to know that legal help is available.
Several federal laws protect remote employees’ rights, guaranteeing everyone who works outside the traditional workplace fair wages and benefits. Employers must treat remote workers like any in-office employee. That means they are subject to the same federal and state laws regarding wages, overtime, breaks, and paid time off.
If you work for an employer based in a different state, your rights as a remote worker are generally determined by the laws in the state where you reside. The situation gets more complicated if you are a remote worker who travels and works from various destinations, so it’s essential to understand how labor rules work before you accept a remote job position.
What Labor Laws Apply to Remote Workers?
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers all remote workers except those who qualify as exempt. The act establishes various standards that affect people working in federal, state, and local governments and the private sector, such as:
- Minimum wage – The FLSA outlines a federal minimum wage for workers. Since Tennessee does not impose a state minimum wage, employers are subject to the federal minimum wage law.
- Overtime – Covered non-exempt workers are entitled to overtime pay. To qualify for overtime, they must work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
- Recordkeeping – Employers must maintain basic records for every employee, including remote workers, with information regarding employee time and pay.
- Hours worked – Hours worked include the time an employee is required to be on duty, at a prescribed workplace, or on the employer’s premises. The FLSA covers remote workers because they perform their work while on duty or at a prescribed workplace.
Federal law doesn’t require employers to provide any employee with coffee or lunch breaks. However, employers that offer short breaks lasting five to 20 minutes must consider them compensable work hours that count toward the number of hours worked during the workweek. Meal periods lasting at least 30 minutes are not compensable.
In Tennessee, the Wage Regulations Act requires most employees to receive a 30-minute unpaid rest or meal period if they are scheduled to work six consecutive hours.
Does Remote Work Affect My Rights to Leave?
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), covered workers can take unpaid job-protected leave for medical and family reasons. Family or medical leave is allowed for up to 12 workweeks in a 12-month timeframe for situations like:
- Serious health conditions preventing the employee from performing essential functions of the job
- Birth of a child and caring for the newborn for up to one year after the birth
- Caring for a spouse, parent, or child with a serious health condition
- Placement of a child for foster care or adoption and caring for the newly placed child for up to one year of the placement
- Qualifying necessity due to a spouse, parent, or child’s covered active duty as a military service member
Employer Responsibilities for Remote Employees with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. Employers must also make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s known disability. That means employers must modify or adjust the working environment to provide equal opportunities for disabled employees. An adjustment or modification can include allowing remote work.
However, federal law does not require an employer to offer a remote work program to all employees. If you have a disability and your employer offers a telework program, they must allow you to participate. They must also meet the reasonable accommodation obligation by modifying policies or waiving eligibility requirements for disabled employees.
For example, some employers don’t allow workers to participate in remote work programs until they’re employed for a specific number of months or years. If you have a disability requiring you to work from home, your employer must waive the requirement to accommodate your needs.
Which Employment Law Applies to Overtime Pay?
The overtime pay provisions in the FLSA require employers to pay covered employees, including covered remote employees, for working hours beyond the typical 40-hour workweek.
Overtime must be at a rate of at least time and one-half of regular pay.
Can Remote Workers Sue for Discrimination or Harassment?
Remote employees have the same rights as in-person workers under anti-discrimination laws. Discrimination can occur even if someone works from home. They still communicate with their employer and can face unfair treatment.
Tennessee’s Human Rights Act prohibits employment-related discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to discharge, fail or refuse to hire, or discriminate against employees because of their age, race, national origin, color, sex, creed, or religion.
Federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee or job applicant due to:
- National origin
- Genetic information
Employers are also not allowed to use facially neutral employment practices and policies that disproportionately affect employees and applicants of a specific religion, race, national origin, color, sex, or disability.
Discrimination is prohibited in every aspect of employment, including:
- Job advertisements
- Application and hiring
- Background checks
- Job referrals
- Assignments and promotions
- Pay and benefits
- Discipline and discharge
- Employment references
- Reasonable accommodation and disability or religion
- Training and apprenticeship
Harassment is a form of discrimination. It is illegal for employers to harass a worker because of age, genetic information, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, or disability.
Get Help from an Experienced Tennessee Employment Lawyer
If you work remotely and suspect your employer has violated your rights, The Employment and Consumer Law Group can help you assert your rights. Call or contact us online immediately to learn how our employment attorneys can help. The first consultation is free.