The COVID-19 pandemic has created a boom in remote workers for many churches, an arrangement that may remain in place for an unspecified period of time. Until the time comes when it is safe for church employees to return to work, employers need to either update their existing employment policies or devise new remote work policies for employees unable to return to work due to health or safety concerns.
When developing a remote work policy, church employers should anticipate these significant elements for COVID-19-related and other remote work arrangements:
Job responsibilities and priorities. The work location may have changed, but your expectations of your employees probably have not. While flexibility is called for in these unusual times, employees should still be reminded of their employer’s expectations and employees should be encouraged to communicate any difficulties they may encounter in meeting those expectations so everyone is “singing from the same hymnal.”
Technology. Remote workers may lack the same technology resources at home that they have at work. To do their jobs effectively, they still need a computer, a phone, and Internet access. If an employee does not have an employer-provided computer and is allowed to use his or her own devices, then they will need to comply with the same data privacy policies that are in place at work. The church may need to consider investing in new technology to support its remote workers.
Pay. Employees should be expected to maintain the same work schedule they had prior to working remotely and be paid accordingly. A remote work policy should require employees to record their work hours. Workers who are paid an hourly wage should be required to obtain permission prior to working any overtime hours.
Performance expectations. Supervisors should maintain regular contact with remote workers regarding work priorities, timelines, etc. Employers should make it clear that working remotely does not change an employee’s terms and conditions of employment and is subject to employer discretion.
Communication. Communication is key to ensure a successful remote work arrangement. Employers need to communicate the remote work policy clearly and make it available to all employees in writing. For employees that may remain on remote duty indefinitely, an employer may want to consider executing a remote work agreement.
Security. When working remotely, it is more important than ever for employees to protect proprietary information that could be accessible from their home office. This may include having the appropriate privacy settings on their home network, using locked file cabinets, updating passwords regularly, and other measures to safeguard the security of the church’s business operations.
Safety. Church employers should advise employees that they are expected to work at home in a safe environment. When it comes to an injury sustained while working at home, an employee’s eligibility for workers’ compensation will depend on whether the injury was work-related and the burden of proof will be on the employee. It is also important for remote workers to report any work-related injury immediately.
Application. Church employers who authorize remote work arrangements should use caution to ensure these accommodations are applied consistently and without any discriminatory impact on certain groups.
Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys are here to help answer questions and with establishing and crafting policies governing employment issues. We recognize how essential good employment practices are to a church’s ongoing mission, and we stand ready to counsel and serve the churches of Arizona. Contact us to learn more.