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Your Rights When Working From Home

During the COVID-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic, working from home has become a reality for many across the country. Whether by employee’s choice, employer’s rule, or government mandate, working from home raises a variety of questions about your rights at work. The convenience of remote work and the development of technology may cause more work to become permanently remote. Read below to learn more about whether you are entitled to work from home, and your rights while working from home.

1. What is teleworking?

Teleworking means working outside of the traditional office, whether at home or in another remote location, using modern technology like home computers, laptops, or cellphones. Teleworking is also called telecommuting or working-from-home.

2. Can I get fired for teleworking/working from home?
Workers do not have a right to work from home, so you could be fired for insisting on working from home. 

However, if you have a disability, like asthma, lung conditions, or a compromised immune system, you may have a right to work from home under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, disabled individuals must be granted reasonable accommodations, likely including working from home during a pandemic, by their employers. Unfortunately, not all jobs can be done from home, so even if you are disabled, you may not have a right to work from home if your essential job functions are not doable at home.

Even if you cannot work from home, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act guarantees all workers some paid sick time if they cannot work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. How do I know if I am eligible to telework/work from home?
Generally, whether or not you are eligible to telework/work from home is up to your employer. However, if you have a disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer may be required to allow you to work from home if you are able to complete your essential job functions at home.
4. Am I able to work from home as an employee benefit or entitlement?
You may be entitled to work from home if you have a disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and you can reasonably accomplish your essential job functions at home. Otherwise, unless you have the right to work from home as part of a collective bargaining agreement, it is up to your employer whether or not you can work from home. 

Even if you are not entitled to work from home, you are likely entitled to take leave if necessary. Learn more about your rights to take paid or unpaid leave on our Benefits & Leaves pages.

5. What does it mean to be immunocompromised?

Being immunocompromised means that your immune system’s defenses are low, hurting its ability to defend against disease and infection, including COVID-19. Factors such asautoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes), your age, and a history of smoking could increase the chance of infection. Additionally, treatments for diseases like cancer and organ/bone marrow transplants can also weaken the immune system.

6. If I am immuno-compromised, or have another COVID-19 co-morbidity, and am worried about contracting COVID-19, is my employer required to let me work from home?
If you are immuno-compromised or have another COVID-19 co-morbidity, you likely have a right to work from home under the Americans with Disabilities Act if your work is able to be completed at home. If your work is unable to be completed at home, you likely can use paid sick time provided in the recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
7. What should I do if I believe I should be allowed to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What if my employer refuses to let me work from home?
You should approach your boss and request to work from home, explaining how and why you hope to work at home. If you have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and your boss is refusing to let you work from home, inform your boss that you believe you are entitled to work from home under the ADA. If your boss still does not allow you to work from home, you should consider contacting a federal/state agency  or an employment attorney.
8. How much should my employer be paying me if I am working from home?
If you are paid hourly, your employer is only required to pay you for your time worked. If your employer bars employees from working at their current place of business and you cannot work from home, your employer is not required to pay you if you do not work. Generally, salaried employees must receive their full salary in any week in which they perform any work, subject to certain very limited exceptions. If your wage is not specified in your employment contract, employers can generally change employees’ wages at their discretion, as long as they are paying the local minimum wage.

If you are working from home as a reasonable accommodation provided by your employer based on a disability under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer likely must pay the same hourly rate or salary.

If you are concerned about wage and hour issues, learn more on our Wage and Hour pages.

9. Can my employer require me to work from home?
Yes. An employer may encourage or require employees to telework as an infection-control or prevention strategy, including based on timely information from public health authorities about pandemics, public health emergencies, or other similar conditions. Telework also may be a reasonable accommodation for disabled employees.

Of course, employers must not single out employees either to telework or to continue reporting to the workplace on a basis prohibited by any of the EEO laws. (See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s publication, Work at Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation, for additional information.)

10. What privacy rights do I have while working from home?
During work hours, employers have broad rights to surveille employers, especially if the employee is using the employer’s equipment or network. That means employers can monitor the web pages you visit, what you type, all of your files, and your work emails. The employer may even be able to monitor your personal emails if you are on the employer’s equipment or network. They can also monitor your social media presence while you are working.

There are some limits to employers’ power to monitor employees. Employers cannot tape employees in bathrooms or break rooms, though what that means in the work-from-home context is unclear. 

There is more information about your privacy rights at work on our Privacy and Surveillance page.

11. Is my employer required to provide equipment for me to use if I am teleworking?
Federal law requires employers to reimburse workers for equipment used during telework only when the required expenses would push a worker’s earnings below minimum wage. Some states, including California, may also require employers to reimburse employees for work-from-home equipment. Otherwise, it is up to your employer whether they will reimburse you for equipment purchased to facilitate telework.
12. My supervisor requires that I am online/on my IM while I am working at home. Do I have to report to my supervisor while teleworking?

Yes, your supervisor can require you to stay online, on an instant messenger, or generally in contact with them during your work hours.

13. How can my employer track my progress while I am teleworking?
Your employer can use a variety of ways to track your progress and supervise you while you are teleworking. If you are using your employer’s equipment or network, your supervisor is allowed to monitor almost everything you are doing using that equipment or network. Even if you are using your own equipment, many employers are requiring employees to download employee monitoring software on their computers that track your productivity while you are working remotely.

There is more information about your privacy rights while working on our Privacy and Surveillance page.

14. Can my employer monitor my computer while I work from home?
If you are using your own computer and are on your own network, your boss cannot monitor your actions without your consent. However, if you are on your employer’s network or equipment, your employer has the right to monitor your actions, including what you type, your files, the web pages you visit, and your work emails. Employers could monitor employees using the employer’s hardware or network by recording internet activity, taking screenshots, using a device’s webcam, using GPS to track the employee’s location, and measuring productivity by keeping track of a computer’s idle time or tracking how long a program is running.

Your employee handbook also may have more information about your company’s privacy policy. Also, there is more information about your privacy rights while working on our Privacy and Surveillance page.

15. Can my employer force me to stay home and avoid crowds and events on my personal time?

Employers cannot control employees’ personal time, even if they recommend against traveling to certain locations or regions. However, employers may require you to provide evidence that you are not contagious before you are able to return to in-person work.

16. If I am returning to in-person work from teleworking, or working from home, can my employer require a doctor’s note that establishes I am healthy enough to return to work?
According to the Department of Labor, employers are allowed to require a doctor’s note to return to in-person work after teleworking or working from home. However, the Department of Labor encourages employers to consider new approaches to ensuring employee health, including relying on local clinics, or email to ensure that busy medical professionals are able to certify that individuals do not have the pandemic virus.
17. If I am injured during the course of my work while I am working from home, am I still covered by worker’s compensation?
Yes, you are likely covered. In general, all employees’ injuries or illnesses that arise out of and in the course of employment are covered by worker’s compensation, wherever the injury occurs. Injuries that occur on break time from work are also covered by workers’ compensation even if working at home.

For more information about filing for workers’ compensation, click here.

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