Legal Tips for Managing Hourly, Non-Exempt Employees Working Remotely

As employers are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, many are mandating or allowing employees to work from home (WFH). It is crucial that employers take steps to prevent their non-exempt employees from working off the clock or working overtime without approval or being compensated. Below are some legal tips for employers as you navigate what might be unchartered waters for managing non-exempt staff.

Non-exempt employees WFH must still be paid at least minimum wage and compensated appropriately for all hours worked, including overtime. All of the federal, state, and local laws still apply!

Employers need to provide their employees with a reliable system to accurately track and submit their actual hours worked. Your remote non-exempt employees must be “clocking in” and “clocking out” during the work day. Keep in mind that federal and state laws requiring meal and rest breaks still apply to employees WFH. In Wisconsin, any break less than 30 minutes must be paid. This is a great time to review your policies and share them with your employees as a reminder.

Make sure your non-exempt employees WFH have a clear understanding of their scheduled work hours or the number of hours they are expected to work during a day, and that they must not work outside those hours unless requested to do so or get approval to do so.

Remind non-exempt employees that checking, reading, and responding to work-related emails or texts is “work” and must be recorded as time on the clock! Better to err on the side of paying people even for de minimus time. Now is not the time to unnecessarily reduce employee’s time or pay.

Make sure your managers are aware of their team members’ regularly scheduled work hours or the number of hours they are expected to work, and reinforce the expectation that non-exempt team members are not working outside those hours. If employees do work outside of their normally scheduled hours, they must track those hours and communicate that to their manager. The key is that employees are generally available during core hours of operation.

Review your process for submitting, reviewing, and approving requests for overtime to make sure it will work effectively with a remote workforce.

Under federal and Wisconsin law, employers are only required to pay non-exempt workers for their actual time worked. Employers may reduce non-exempt employees’ regularly scheduled hours due to closures, decreased demand, etc. However, if you have employees outside of Wisconsin, be aware that some states and cities require employers to pay workers for a certain number of hours if they have started their day or their scheduled workweek.

Employees cannot “volunteer” their services to their employer, even if an employee asks to do so! Federal, state, and local laws require employers to compensate non-exempt employees for all time worked and any time an employer suffered or permit an employee to work, whether with or without your approval.

Generally, employers must pay for the expenses non-exempt employees incur to work remotely—such as buying a laptop or a different smart phone plan—if requiring the employee to pay for it would result in the employee’s wages falling below the required minimum wage. However, some states outside of Wisconsin require employers to pay for employees’ business related expenses incurred when working remotely. Best practice is to ask employees what they may need and provide any paper, ink, files, etc that they may need, or permit them to expense any incurred costs.

For HR tips, see our blog on sustaining your culture with a remote workforce.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to assist and advise if you have questions related to employee classifications, remote working options, or general Fair Labor Standards Act matters. Contact us at or 1-844-333-5253.

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