Want to Telecommute? Think Like an Employer
by Rosalind Mays
An e-mail exchange with a telecommuting job-hunter brought the realities of finding home employment to glaring light. She wrote: "You should create a telecommuting classifieds much like newspapers do for regular job openings. You should charge the employer to list the open vacancy and offer the information to your visitors (via your website)." She went on to say that she had found a possible telecommuting job and would offer this to anyone who wished to apply. She believed this was the "route" I should take instead of offering a "how-to" book on finding telecommuting jobs.
I didn't want to burst her bubble or discourage her idea on the off chance that she, or anyone else, could actually produce something as wonderful as an income-generating telecommuting classified. However, I knew from my experiences in the telecommuting world that such a thing (at this stage of the home employment era) was almost impossible.
The e-mailer wrote back a few days later that the telecommuting job she had found was not available because the employer was working on "liability issues" in regards to teleworkers. The position would be opened as soon as they dealt with this problem. I didn't hear from the e-mailer again.
Why haven't I heard from her? Because she hit the object I've been butting my head against for the last year -- the telecommuting brick wall -- liability issues.
Telecommuting jobs are hard to find because employers don't want to deal with the mess that telecommuting creates. What mess is this? Well, to fully understand the situation, you must think like the employer. So what are employers thinking about? Well, let's pretend you are an employer. You have posted an open job and an applicant asks about the possibilities to telecommute. Wearing the employer's shoes, think about solutions to these problems:
How will you keep your company's property safe?
Most businesses (especially those with employees) are required to have insurance that will replace equipment and furniture should they be damaged or stolen. But most insurance policies stipulate that the equipment must be on the premises or on company grounds when the damage occurs. Under this requirement, how is the telecommuter's remote office equipment insured? Does the company's insurance extend coverage to other locations? If so, will it raise the cost of your business insurance? If you can't get extended coverage, would you have your tele-employee take out home business insurance? Or do you ask the tele-employee to get a rider, an addition, on their home insurance and you, the company, pay for that additional coverage? All these solutions can potentially cost a fortune if you have more than one tele-employee.
How will you keep company information -- company secrets -- safe?
Many company sites have stringent rules on the exchange of information and there are ways to keep a close eye on employees and what they are doing on company grounds -- cameras, audits, bugs, etc. -- and yes, employers use these devices. When a tele-employee is at home working, the employer really has no idea if the teleworker is sending every company communiqué to the competition for a fat pay-off. There is really no way to know what the tele-employee is doing.
What happens if your tele-employee injuries himself at home?
Employee and safety laws are strict on the issue of employee's work environment. Many employers of teleworkers inspect home offices yearly to make sure everything is up to code. But here's the real question: what if your tele-employee left their house for lunch and when they returned to resume work, they broke their leg on slippery stairs? Are you, as the employer, liable for this? Would the tele-employee receive disability or workman's compensation?
Even more frightening, what if your tele-employee was working on a project after the customary quitting time -- let's say midnight. The teleworker is working on a project to get ahead of a deadline; he/she got up from the computer terminal, slipped and fell. Would you, as the employer, be liable? The tele-employee was working on a project for you and your company. Should the employee file a workman's compensation claim? Is the employer responsible for "anything" that happens to an employee throughout their home, 24 hours a day?
These are viable concerns, because at this date all these questions do not have clear answers. None of these problems are addressed in current employment law. And these three issues are just the beginning. Here are more concerns that plague employers:
- Being able to signify whether or when a tele-employee is doing work on company time or their own time.
- How to control and monitor problems like sexual harassment and illegal activities.
- How to control moonlighting or employees working on personal matters on company time.
- Employees misrepresenting the company.
- Children in the workplace, which totally conflicts with Workers Compensation laws. (Which is why most employers require telecommuters to have child care available.)
You never realized the legal hell telecommuting creates, huh?
This is not to discourage you from finding your ideal telecommuting opportunity. There are telecommuting jobs out there. But now you know, if you proposition an employer about telecommuting possibilities and they mumble something like: "It sounds promising, but we have to look into liability issues," you should move on to your next job lead. A statement like this signifies that this employer has never faced the possibility of tele-employees and they are not ready for you, the telecommuter. How do I know they aren't ready? Because dealing with the above issues can take months or years for a company to viably address.
Look at it this way, now you are armed. You have the real deal on why employers are hesitant to hire telecommuters. You're ready to find employers who have worked out these issues and are open-minded to flexible working conditions. You know the code, now get out there and find that job.
Good job hunting!
Rosalind Mays successfully found at-home employment as an Internet Researcher after 685 hours of hard job searching.