Dustin Mueller - MSM&C

Attorney at Mueller, Schmidt, Mulholland & Cooling

Practice Areas: Motor Vehicle Accidents, Workers’ Compensation, Property Insurance Claims

With the surge in remote work opportunities, many workers are unsure of their rights and their employers’ responsibilities. Understanding the legal framework governing remote employment is crucial to avoid being taken advantage of. Learn more about the applicable labor laws, rights, and responsibilities of remote workers and their employers.

Key Takeaways

  • Just like on-site employees, remote workers are protected by federal labor laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants eligible remote employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.
  • Employers must accommodate disabled remote workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Payroll regulations, tax considerations, and payroll obligations vary by state and municipality.
  • Anti-discrimination rules also apply to remote workers, prohibiting unfair treatment based on age, race, religion, and more.
Aspect Remote Workers Employers
Labor Laws Governed by FLSA Must comply with FLSA
Leave Rights Eligible for FMLA Must grant FMLA leave
Disability Rights Protected under ADA Must provide reasonable accommodations
Payroll Regulations Vary by state and municipality Must adhere to payroll laws
Overtime Pay Covered by FLSA Must pay overtime
Anti-Discrimination Protected from discrimination Must follow anti-discrimination laws

Can remote workers sue for discrimination or harassment?

Yes, remote workers can sue for discrimination or harassment. Remote workers have the same rights as on-site employees. If they are harassed or discriminated against based on age, race, religion, or other protected characteristics, even when working from home, they may have the right to pursue legal action.

Which Remote Worker Employment Laws Apply?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive increase in the number of people working from home, remote work was a popular option even before 2020. Today, more businesses are embracing remote work compared to the pre-pandemic days. Although that’s a win for employees who dread long, congested commutes, it also opens up uncertainty over work-related legal rights for a large section of the workforce. 

Every remote worker needs to know their legal rights, both in general and pertaining to industry-specific legislation. In the event that an employer commits any infractions, remote workers have the right to seek legal remedies, which may include financial compensation. Our workers’ rights attorneys may be able to help.

A number of federal regulations safeguard the rights of remote workers. These regulations ensure that workers who labor outside of typical workplaces still receive reasonable compensation and benefits. 

Under the law, remote workers must be treated by employers in the same manner as in-office personnel. Aspects like pay, overtime, breaks, and paid time off for remote workers are governed by the same federal and state legislation as that of on-site workers.

Remote work allows employees to work for companies located far away—even out of state. How can remote workers determine which state’s laws apply to them? 

The laws of the state in which a worker lives typically govern their rights as a remote worker if their employer is located in a different state. The issue becomes more complicated for a remote worker who travels and works from different locations. It’s particularly important to understand how labor laws operate even before accepting a remote position so that the worker knows their legal rights are.

Which Remote Worker Employment Laws Apply?

What Labor Laws Apply to Remote Workers?

With the exception of employees who are considered exempt under Department of Labor regulations, all remote workers are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This federal labor law applies regardless of whether the employee works for the federal, state, or municipal government or companies or organizations in the private sector. 

The federal labor legislation that governs the US is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, also known as the FLSA.

The FLSA establishes a number of requirements that have an impact on both remote and on-site workers, including:

  • Minimum wage: The FLSA outlines the federal minimum wage for workers. Because Iowa hasn’t enacted its own minimum wage laws, employers in the state must follow federal minimum wage legislation. 
  • Overtime: Non-exempt covered employees are eligible for overtime pay. To be paid overtime, workers must put in more than 40 hours in a workweek, regardless of whether they’re working on-site or remotely. 
  • Recordkeeping: Employers must maintain basic records containing information on the time and compensation of each employee, including remote workers.
  • Hours worked: The amount of time an employee spends on duty, at a designated location, or on the employer’s property counts toward their total hours worked. This gets a little complicated with remote workers, who aren’t required to be on their employer’s property or at a designated location. However, because they carry out their duties while on duty, remote workers are still covered under the FLSA.
  • Coffee Breaks: Should remote workers be paid for coffee breaks? Employers are not required by federal law to give their workers lunch or coffee breaks. However, many company policies allow for such short breaks. Employers that do provide breaks between five and 20 minutes long must calculate such breaks as compensable work hours toward the total number of hours worked in the workweek. In other words, an employee can’t be required to clock out to take these brief breaks. However, their employer does not have to pay them for mealtimes that continue for thirty minutes or longer under federal law.

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Does Remote Work Affect My Rights to Leave?

Covered employees are permitted to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This includes remote workers.

Under FMLA, workers are entitled to up to 12 workweeks of family or medical leave in 12 months for the following circumstances:

  • Serious medical issues that prevent the worker from carrying out necessary job duties
  • Giving birth to a child and/or caring for a child in the first year following birth 
  • Taking care of a parent, did, or spouse who has a critical illness
  • A child placed in foster care or adoption and caring for the newly placed child within the first year following placement

Employer Responsibilities for Remote Employees with Disabilities

Remote work can be a game-changer for workers living with disabilities, but in some cases, an employee may still require accommodations. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against disabled employees, including remote workers, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Employers must make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. One way in which employers may accommodate workers with disabilities is by changing or adapting the workplace. Offering remote work opportunities is one form of adapting the workplace. 

Employers are not required under federal law to provide remote work opportunities to every employee or even to all employees with disabilities. However, the federal government does consider telework to be a reasonable accommodation to be granted to employees with disabilities in certain situations, such as when the job can be completed from home. 

In order to fulfill their duty to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, employers may be required to change certain rules or waive certain qualifying restrictions, such as requiring a year of on-site work before the employee is authorized to work remotely.

Employer Responsibilities for Remote Employees with Disabilities

Payroll regulations

Pay is an important part of your employer’s responsibilities. Employers are subject to a variety of payroll rules, including federal, state, and local government regulations. 

Not knowing how payroll regulations apply to remote workers isn’t an excuse for employers to violate these regulations. Businesses need to be aware of the laws that concern their remote workers and make proactive efforts to remain in compliance. 

An employer’s payroll obligations to its remote workers include the following: 

  • Tax: Withholding taxes per federal and state tax regulations
  • Deductions: Managing payroll tax deductions from employees’ paychecks, as well as deducting health insurance premiums, retirement savings and other optional or mandatory job-related costs
  • Payday: Upholding a regular pay schedule for staff members, regardless of whether their payment frequency is weekly, biweekly, monthly or semi-monthly 
  • Pay stubs: Maintaining and reporting accurate data, such as accruals of paid sick leave, on workers’ pay stubs
  • Delivery: Overseeing the method by which companies pay workers, which can range from a physical paycheck to be cashed or deposited to direct deposit into a designated bank account

Which Employment Law Applies to Overtime Pay?

Under the FLSA’s overtime pay requirements, employers must compensate covered workers—including covered remote workers—for any hours worked above the standard 40-hour workweek.

Can Remote Workers Sue for Discrimination or Harassment?

Anti-discrimination rules apply to remote workers in the same ways as they do to on-site personnel. Discrimination and unjust treatment may still happen even when employees work from home. 

Federal law prohibits employers from firing workers, rejecting qualified applicants, or treating a worker differently from others in the workplace based on their age, race, national origin, color, sex, creed, or religion.

Additionally, employers are prohibited from using what we in the legal industry call “facially neutral” hiring procedures. Although these procedures may not seem discriminatory at first glance, the effects of these policies unfairly disadvantage candidates and employees who identify as members of a certain race, religion, national origin, sex, or gender.

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on protected characteristics in any area of work, including:

  • Job postings
  • Application process 
  • Hiring
  • Background investigations
  • Job recommendations
  • Promotions and assignments
  • Salary and perks
  • Discipline and release
  • References for employment
  • Reasonable modifications for a disability or a religious belief
  • Instruction and apprenticeship

Why You Should Consider Professional Legal Help For Your Troubles

Labor regulations and employee rights are complicated areas of the law. Remote work adds an extra layer of complexity. Still, understanding one’s rights as a remote worker is essential—especially if the employee believes a labor law infraction, an illegal denial of leave or disability accommodations, or discrimination in the workplace may have occurred. 

Remote workers can seek legal assistance from experienced workers’ rights attorneys to understand their rights and what the legal process looks like.

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In Summary

The legal landscape of remote work has only become more complex as more employees are working from home. A remote worker who has questions about their employer’s compliance with labor laws, leave rights, disability accommodations, payroll regulations, and anti-discrimination rules should consult a workers’ rights attorney about their rights and legal options. 

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For legal assistance and guidance on remote work employment laws, please contact our experienced team. We can help with legal options when considering a workers’ rights claim.

Providing Unmatched EXPERIENCE On Your Case When you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been treated unfairly or you’re in the middle of a legal disagreement, it can be difficult to know what your rights are and how to proceed.

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