With a global pandemic comes wage and hour considerations that may not have been issues for employers pre-pandemic.
(1) Business expenses
With employees working remotely, workers are incurring necessary business expenses related to Internet access, print cartridges, personal cell phones, data plans, paper, and other equipment. In addition, even employee-provided face coverings (when required) and thermometers (when used for pre-shift health screenings) are business expenses. The business expenses born by the employee cannot, in their effect, reduce the hourly rate below minimum wage. So, if the weekly pay minus expenses incurred divided by hours worked is less than minimum wage, the expenses must be reimbursed or the weekly pay increased. In addition, business expenses cannot cut into pay for overtime.
Some states require business expense reimbursement; Ohio does not.
(2) Overtime (non-exempt employees only)
When non-exempt employees are working remotely, employers should clearly explain work hours and break time. Non-exempt employees should be instructed to report all hours worked, including time spent responding to e-mails and answering telephone calls off-hours. If the employer prohibits unauthorized overtime, employers should pay non-exempt employees for working unauthorized overtime and then instruct them not to perform unauthorized overtime in the future (or discipline them for the unauthorized overtime).
If supervisors see work performed outside normal work hours (e.g., an email sent after-hours), the employer could be held liable for knowing about off-the-clock work.
Consider an electronic time clock system or signed time sheets to ensure that there is a verifiable time record.
(3) Exempt employees
Exempt employees must be paid their entire weekly salary for each week in which they perform any work. Employers can reduce the weekly salary for an exempt employee during an economic downturn (subject to the minimum weekly salary for exempt jobs ($684/week)) on a weekly basis, but that salary cannot change each week based on how much work is available. In addition, any furloughed exempt employee cannot be permitted to perform any work (including responding to phone calls, texts, or e-mails, no matter how brief).
Finally, with furloughed non-exempt employees, exempt managers should not be performing large amounts of non-exempt work to make up for short-staffing. Doing so could endanger their exempt status.
(4) Preparing to work and screenings
Employers that screen employees before work for COVID-19 symptoms may be required to pay employees for time spent waiting to report to work and waiting for the pre-shift health assessment.