Telecommuting and Employee Rights: Wage, Hour, & Discrimination Considerations in 2024

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Discrimination, General Issues, Wage & Hour

Telecommuting and Employee Rights: Wage, Hour, & Discrimination Considerations in 2024

Introduction

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau brief, 15.2 percent of U.S. workers worked from home in 2022. While this number is down from almost 17.9 percent in 2021, it is still far higher than the 5.7 percent that worked from home before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.

Advancements in telecommunications technology – which facilitate communication within work teams no matter each member’s location – have also contributed to the rise of telecommuting. For a good discussion of the benefits of remote work and how it has evolved, see this article in Business News Daily.

In California, remote workers have the same protections and other rights as those who work in person. These protections include wage and hour and anti-discrimination laws. There are, however, some specific considerations involving remote work. One of the most important is that if an employee of a California employer is based in a different state, the laws of the state where the employee resides generally apply to what rights and protections that employee has.

This blog is part one of two parts. It will cover employee rights and protections under California law. California employers that have telecommuting employees who reside in other states will need to also consider the laws for the applicable state(s). Moreover, all U.S. employers must take into account their obligations under federal law.

I. Wage and Hour Laws for Telecommuters

Below, we highlight some important wage and hour law considerations for telecommuters.

Overtime. In California, non-exempt employees must be paid 1.5 times their regular pay rate when they work more than 8 hours in a workday (“time and a half”). If the employee works more than 12 hours in any workday, they must be paid at least 2 times their regular pay rate (“double time”). Furthermore, on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek, non-exempt employees must earn 1.5 times their regular pay rate for the first 8 hours worked. Any additional hours worked must be paid at least 2 times the regular pay rate. Failure to meet these requirements constitutes unpaid overtime. For more details on overtime laws, see our blog here.

Minimum Wage. Effective January 1, 2024, the minimum wage in California is $16.00 per hour for all employers. However, some cities and counties require a higher minimum wage than the state does. An employer must also follow the stricter applicable standard, i.e., the higher of the wage standards applicable to their location. For example, while the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, employers in California must pay at least the state’s minimum wage rate, and if their city or county requires an even higher rate, they must pay that.

Meal and Rest Break Requirements. California employers must give non-exempt employees a 10-minute rest break for every 4 hours worked (or major fraction thereof – meaning at least 2.5hrs of work) and a 30-minute meal break after 5 hours of work, plus an additional 30-minute unpaid meal break when working more than 10 hours in a day.

Off-the-Clock Work. “Off-the-clock” work means work tasks employees perform outside of their working hours for which their employer does not compensate them. It can be any type of activity that benefits the employer and otherwise counts as a part of the job. In addition to the initial missed pay, this type of labor does count toward the calculation of an employee’s overtime pay, vacation pay, and other benefits. We have a detailed discussion of off-the-clock work, including examples, in our blog here.

Tracking Work Hours. As they do with other workers, California employers must maintain accurate records of remote workers’ hours worked, including regular hours, overtime hours, and meal breaks.

To help employees keep track of their work hours, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division offers Recordkeeper and Work Hours Calendar documents. The agency also offers The DOL-Timesheet App.

California-specific work hour-tracking apps include Clockify, Buddy Punch, Apploye, Toggl Track, Jibble, and Paymo.

Misclassification. Some businesses misclassify their workers as independent contractors when, in fact, those workers should legally be employees. Employers may tend to do so more with remote workers than those in traditional office settings. California is one of 33 states that uses some form of the three-factor “ABC” test to determine independent contractor status, though each state’s law varies. Under California’s version of the ABC test, a worker is considered an employee and not an independent contractor, unless the hiring entity satisfies all three of the following conditions:

  • the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
  • the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
  • the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

Additional discussion of misclassification is available in our blog here and here.

    Seek Legal Action

    Legal counsel can help you understand your rights, available options, and advise you on gathering the necessary documents and witnesses to support your claim.

    Since 2001, the attorneys from Rothschild & Alwill, APC have dedicated themselves to workers needing legal assistance. Our experienced labor and employment lawyers can advise you on any potential legal claims. You deserve sound judgment, hard work, skilled representation, and to be treated with dignity during every step of the process.

    Email us or call or office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.

    CONTACT US TODAY TO SCHEDULE YOUR FREE CONSULTATION

    Ensuring a Discrimination-Free Work Environment

     

    employment protections discussed below. Remote work can be a catalyst for discrimination that may include disparate pay and promotion opportunities, reduced access to training or development opportunities, or exclusion from important meetings or other discussions. Moreover, video communications may reveal details of a remote worker’s home circumstances that could lead to microaggressions and other uncomfortable situations. For a detailed discussion of microaggressions, see our blog here.

    Discrimination and harassment. Both federal and California laws prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace, including telework, based on protected characteristics. Moreover, employers are legally obligated to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct discriminatory and harassing behavior.

    Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), protected characteristics include age (40 and over), ancestry, color, creed, denial of family and medical care leave, disability (mental and physical) including HIV and AIDS, marital status, medical condition (cancer and genetic characteristics), national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

    For more information on these protections, see our blogs here and here.

    Equal Pay. The California Equal Pay Act (CEPA) is a broader law than the U.S. Equal Pay Act (EPA) in terms of coverage and requirements. Although both statutes address pay discrimination, the federal EPA only prohibits pay disparities based on sex, while the CEPA prohibits pay disparities based on sex, race, and ethnicity. We discuss equal pay requirements in our blog here.

    Other Legal Concerns

    Reimbursement of expenses. Under California Labor Code Section 2802, an employer must reimburse employees “for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer.” These include expenses related to remote work, such as internet usage, telephone calls, computer setups, and equipment.

    Workplace posting requirements. All employers in California must meet the state’s workplace posting obligations. California Labor Code Section 1207 allows employers to distribute these notices via email to teleworking employees.

    Workers’ compensation. Remote workers are generally covered by workers’ compensation insurance in California. Employers are responsible for ensuring that remote workers have access to workers’ compensation coverage and for reporting any work-related injuries or illnesses to their insurance carrier.

    Conclusion

    To ensure you properly address the tricky application of workplace legal requirements to remote work, it is essential to seek the guidance of seasoned legal counsel. Schedule a consultation with the experienced employment attorneys at Rothschild & Alwill, APC. Email us or call our office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.

    Do not miss part two of this blog, in which we cover the unique challenges, obligations, best practices, and other considerations involving remote work.