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Questions about Work from Home Laws

Companies these days are increasingly allowing employees to work from home in order to save on time and costs of actual office space and other overhead. However, this has also given rise to different types of working relationships between employers and employees, who, when faced with legal issues, are not clear as to which laws they are governed by.

Here are some top work-from-home questions.

After allowing an employee who has had a baby to work from home for a year, the employer forces her to either resign or go to office to work. Can the employee collect unemployment?

An employee of this nature will not only be able to collect unemployment but may also sue for discrimination since an “at-will” employee cannot be terminated or treated differently on the grounds of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, past, current, or future military obligations, FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) usage, or filing of a worker’s compensation claim.

If for some valid reason, including physical disability, an employee needs to stay home and is not taking paid time off, can an employer require that he work from home? Will the employee be obligated to go to the office to work if the employer later requires him to do so?

The law generally law does not dictate the details of the terms and conditions of the employer. With a few exceptions, an employer can set any work requirements. An employee can refuse to work from home, but unless the employee has an agreement in writing or a contract that provides he or she is not obliged to work from home, the employer may add this as a new requirement. An employer also has the right to require an employee to work from the office in the absence of a contract that states otherwise.

However, with regards to a qualified disability, under the American's with Disabilities Act, the employer cannot take adverse action against an employee since this would lead to discrimination.

Is it possible to get sued in a work-from-home job?

Anyone working from home must be aware of the contractual obligations to which they can be held accountable. In certain web-related jobs, one can inadvertently break the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003) law while promoting or advertising for the website you work for and so, much care needs to be taken while working at such jobs.

Is there a law pertaining to the access of personal information of employees by the employer by virtue of sharing of computers?

There is no law which requires the employer to tell the employee whether he can access personal information or not. However, it would be a violation of both the state as well as federal law for the employer to access any personal information of the employee.

Is an employer obliged to compensate employees who work from home but are required to visit the corporate office twice a week? Is it obligatory under law to pay mileage?

The US Fair Labor Standards Act does not require the employer to pay employees for the time spent traveling from their homes to the place of business and neither does mileage have to be paid. However, if the employer requires the employees to visit other places during the course of their work, the employees could request travel time and mileage.

Does an independent contractor working from home have any rights to sue if the employer suddenly suspends the contract?

An independent contractor does not have any rights except those provided within the contract. Discrimination statutes do not apply to independent contractors but only to employees. As such, an independent contractor does not have any recourse unless the company's actions specifically violate the contract.

How can one find legitimate work-from-home opportunities without falling prey to scams?

Once one has identified the company one wants to work for, it would be advisable to check with the Better Business Bureau on their website to see what sort of grade the company has and what the complaints are, if any, against them. One could also check with a state’s Attorney General's Office as complaints against companies are lodged with them; this office could also provide information on work-from-home scams.

Can an employer demand access to a work-from-home “at-will” employee’s personal computer even after the employee has quit the job?

In the absence of both a contract stating so, and the provision of a computer by the employer to the employee to work on, the former has no right to access an employee’s personal computer.

Whether you are an employer or an employee working from home, the legal issues regarding work-from-home can be confusing. Legal experts can help clarify some of these concerns in the changing economy.
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