In the wake of a historic surge in remote work, corporations are now assessing their workforce — and seeing major compliance issues. Corporate leaders are realizing their employees are scattered across the US and around the globe, and companies have few ways to track employee whereabouts. Alarmingly, as jurisdictions take a stricter stance on remote work, an unchecked remote workforce is exposing companies to severe tax and compliance risks.
Fortunately, leaders can embrace the future of remote work without exposing the company to excess risk. Here are some ways to improve employee tracking and lower risk going forward.
1. Understand the Risk of Untethered Remote Work
Corporate leaders will have a difficult time-fighting risk in this new remote world if they don’t understand it. Here are a few risks corporations face if leaders don’t know where workers are conducting business:
- Duty of care: If companies don’t know where their employees are, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to protect them. If political unrest erupts, natural disasters strike or pandemics sweep through a region, employers need to know where their workers are to promote a safe work environment.
- Payroll and social security tax: Tax laws vary from country to country and state. If employees are working around the globe unchecked, they may find that they’re on the hook for more taxes than they planned. This can lead to frustration with the company or tax violations that harm employees and the company’s reputation.
- Corporate taxes: In some cases, employees that work in a jurisdiction may trigger extra tax obligations for a company, meaning corporations may be expected to pay corporate taxes in areas where they didn’t even realize employees were working.
There’s a second trend that’s amplifying these risks: jurisdiction clampdowns. More and more governments are now using technology to communicate with bordering nations and track people working within their jurisdiction. These converging trends point to a risky future for companies that fail to keep track of their remote employees’ physical locations.
2. Don’t Fall into the GPS Trap
As corporate leaders discover the need to track employees, their gut reaction often is to issue company phones, computers, or other devices with GPS tracking capabilities. Although GPS may seem like a magic bullet, it could expose the company to even more risk.
Here are a few reasons GPS tracking is not the best way to keep track of employee location data:
It may be illegal.
GPS tracking laws vary from one jurisdiction to the next, and in some cases, corporations may face legal consequences if they monitor an employee’s whereabouts without the worker’s consent. For instance, in one case that was settled out of court, Arias v. Intermex Wire Transfer, a worker sued her employer after she was fired for removing GPS from her company-issued phone. Since many of the laws around GPS tracking are still vague, it’s risky for companies to track remote workers using GPS devices.
It can invade privacy.
Beyond presenting a legal risk, many employees simply don’t want to be tracked via GPS. It can feel like an invasion of privacy to workers, which can lead to cultural damage or retention issues.
It can lead to HR and legal workload nightmares.
Even if employees agree to GPS tracking, corporations still need to manage the data that comes streaming in. For instance, the company may need to keep track of specific data laws that vary from country to country to avoid legal violations. That can create more legal or HR paperwork that requires extra labor to sort through.
3. Create or Update Remote Work Policies
Creating or updating remote work policies is critical if employers want to communicate where employees can and cannot work. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t have a travel policy, let alone one that accounts for new remote work habits. The 2020 International Business Travelers Benchmark Report found less than 60 percent of businesses surveyed have a global travel policy, and slightly more than half of the companies described their employee tracking capabilities as “inadequate.”
Here are a few tips for corporate leaders who want to create or update their remote work policies:
- Try to keep remote work policies as simple as possible.
- Decide where remote workers will be allowed to work.
- Determine how long employees can work in a given location.
- Map out which departments will be involved in remote work approvals.
- Communicate policy expectations to employees.
- Create an FAQ document or other support resources to help fill in remote work gray areas.
4. Take a Proactive Approach to Employee Tracking
The best way for corporate leaders to obtain remote worker location data is to ask for it simply. Here are a few examples of proactive employee tracking techniques:
- Manager check-ins: Implement employee check-ins where workers routinely let managers know where they’re working or plan to work.
- Monthly surveys: Send out monthly surveys asking employees to update their location information.
- Internal time reports: Ask employees to track when they’re working, what jurisdiction they’re working from, and what projects they’re working on.
- Employee emails: Periodically send an email asking your remote employees where they work.
Above All, Take Action
Many companies have announced that they are small working businesses, proactively enhancing the employee experience by allowing current employees to remain working remotely or to hire remotely for new roles. Some have already done their homework to identify countries where the immigration and tax authority has embraced remote working to encourage businesses to send employees to their country. Rather than adopting a restrictive approach focused on working only where a company specifies, some companies are actively encouraging their employees to work remotely and promoting locations where they can do so.
The best employee tracking solutions will vary from company to company. Still, as remote work weaves into the typical workday, the best safeguard against risk is action. Corporate leaders who refresh their remote work policies and keep track of employee whereabouts can now bypass headaches and avoid compliance disasters in the future.