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Surprise visits from the boss to your home office are probably legal

Your employer must have your written consent to

Your employer must have your written consent to inspect your home office, experts say. Credit: Getty Images

DEAR CARRIE: My company is instituting a formal policy for flextime, including telecommuting one day a week. A detailed agreement I am expected to sign regarding my home office seems like an overreach. I would have to agree to scheduled or impromptu visits during business hours by a member of human resources or management to inspect my home office. I have resisted. HR is asking me to explain why I don’t want the visits.  I must admit the idea makes me uncomfortable. Could you let me know if this is something that can be legally enforced? — Home Office Unease 

DEAR HOME:   You are not alone in your concerns. Help Wanted has received this question before from  telecommuters who were freaked out at the prospect of visits from company execs who could show up unannounced.  

Lawyers have said that employers need employees’ written consent for home-office inspections. Not giving your consent could cost you your job. Since New York is an employment-at-will state, employees who are not covered by a contract can be fired at any time for any reason, provided the reason isn’t discriminatory.

 Your employer most likely has a valid reason for inspecting your home office, other than playing a game of “gotcha.”  The company could run afoul of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations if you are hurt in your home office because of a hazardous situation.

Here is what the OSHA website says: “Employers are responsible in home work sites for hazards caused by materials, equipment, or work processes, which the employer provides or requires to be used in an employee's home.”

But here’s an interesting caveat: OSHA doesn’t conduct inspections of employees’ home offices, nor does it require employers to do so.

However, employers are still responsible for making sure the work sites are safe. 

I hope this information allays your concerns.  

DEAR CARRIE: My daughter works in a daycare. She told me that all of the teachers and assistant teachers were informed that everyone was going to  start receiving a salary rather than hourly pay.

When some of the employees calculated their annual salary at the new rate and compared it with their 2017 W-2 forms, they found they would actually take a pay cut.

Is this legal for the daycare to do? Some of the employees work more than 10 hours a day, five days a  week.— Disguised Pay Cut

DEAR DISGUISED: The daycare has to be careful about any ill effect its new pay policy may have on hourly workers, such as shortchanging them on minimum wage and overtime. Just because an employee is salaried doesn’t mean he or she can’t be considered hourly, or nonexempt, as well. The duties of a job largely determine the status of the employee who holds it.

Hourly workers must be paid at least the minimum wage, which on Long Island is $11 an hour. And they must be paid overtime of at least one and one-half times their regular hourly rate for any hours that exceed 40 in a workweek.  If the new salary, computed on an hourly basis, doesn’t equal either one, the employer is violating labor laws.

If your daughter is a teaching assistant, she is most likely nonexempt. So she should check to see if the lower pay takes her wages below minimum wage or if the cut fails to meet the overtime minimum when she works more than 40 hours a week.

The teachers may be exempt from both overtime and minimum wage if they fall into the professionally exempt category, based on their education and duties.

But whether an employee is exempt or nonexempt,  the pay cut wouldn’t be legal if it violated a collective bargaining or employment contract.

     

Go to bit.ly/workathomeLI for more on OSHA regulations and home offices.

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