Remote Worker? You’re Vulnerable.

Remote Worker? You’re Vulnerable.

If you are a remote worker, you know the benefit of your job status.  First, there’s that two minute commute from your room to your desk.  You’ve stocked your kitchen with your favorite coffee or tea and snacks.  You’re allowed to arrive at your desk in sweats, a concert tee and flip flops.  There’s no email from HR afterwards reminding everyone of the meaning of business casual.  Moreover, you may have more flexibility if you are a remote worker.   Your schedule may allow you to visit an elderly relative or pick up the kids from school.  There’s a downside, though.  It’s not a surprise, then, that we see many remote workers in our law practice.

We represent remote workers in many industries.  These include technology, biotechnology, health care, pharmaceutical companies, law firms, insurance, architecture, engineering and construction firms, and higher education.  Many companies are now built around a strategy of having an army of employees working remotely.  Start-ups often rely on remote workers.  Read on to find out why you are vulnerable if you are a remote worker in Massachusetts.  We outline steps you can take to protect your job.  We also talk about when to seek legal advice.

A Remote Worker Having Issues with a Supervisor is at Risk for Job Loss

We often first see remote workers when they are having issues with their supervisor.   If you work remotely, you may have less face time.  You might attend fewer of the informal, casual meetings that happen in the workplace.  Many remote workers report that they’ve only met their supervisor a few times in person.  This makes you vulnerable.  If your supervisor knows you as a person and not just a remote worker, your job may be more secure.  The manager who knows you well may take steps to protect you when there is a re-organization or lay-off.  If you don’t know your supervisor well, there will be no one to advocate for you.  Consequently, a poor relationship with your supervisor is a risk factor for termination.  It can also impact on your ability to get severance if you are let go.

If you are a remote worker, you may need to develop your relationship not only with your manager but also with the levels of management above you.  You’re at a disadvantage in relationship-building as a remote worker.  You may miss the informal opportunity to connect with these managers in the office kitchen, on the way up in the elevator and at the office pizza lunch.   Consequently, you may need to make an extra effort with your supervisor.

Relationship Building Protects Your Job

You may have trained yourself to avoid any company outing that isn’t mandatory.  That can be a risky strategy.  Even if you work remotely, you need to attend company outings and company parties.  That Duck Boat tour, ice cream social, Red Sox outing or holiday party may be optional.  But if you avoid these events,  you are missing out on key opportunities to develop your relationships.  You may need your co-workers, managers and others to advocate for you.  They are more likely to go to bat for you if they know you well.

If there are opportunities to socialize with others in the company, don’t avoid them.  Relationship building protects your job.  Communication issues are more likely to develop where there is a lack of trust.  Remote employees need to work harder to develop relationships.  This is true because they communicate largely by chat, email and text.  There are all forms of communication that are subject to misinterpretation.  When things go sideways, it’s important that you have champions within the company.  If you don’t, you are vulnerable.

If you are already having issues with your supervisor, you may need to speak with an employment lawyer about your rights.  Having a poor relationship with your supervisor is often a risk factor for your losing your job.  If you think it’s a hostile work environment, or you are being treated differently from your co-workers you likely need legal advice.  Keep in mind that there are short statutes of limitations for filing claims, so contact a lawyer right away if you think you may have legal claims.  Many claims expire after only 300 days – less than a year!

A New Supervisor Is a Risk Factor for Termination

If you are a remote worker and you have a new supervisor, you need to get strategic.  We often represent remote workers who are let go after they are assigned a new supervisor.  Here’s why.  New supervisors often like to build their own teams.  They may not value your experience if they want to shake things up.  A new supervisor can view you as the “old guard” who needs to go.  This can be true even if you are flexible and forward thinking.

Often the culture of a company is in flux.   A new supervisor may be front and center in that new company culture.  In this new culture, your view point, perspective and expertise may not hold the same value.  Moreover, there may be a short time frame for developing trust with your new supervisor.  Developing trust and a sense of loyalty in a compress time frame  can present challenges for remote workers.

Understanding that you need to get quickly on board with a new supervisor can help protect your job if you are a remote worker.  Failing to build a solid relationship with your new supervisor, can be a risk factor for job loss.  As soon as you think you are being discriminated against based upon age, race gender, national origin or another protected category, you should contact an employment lawyer.  If you think your job is at risk, you probably are vulnerable to job loss.  Employees with discrimination claims often wait too long to connect with an employment lawyer.  You may lose your rights if you wait too long.  Employment claims are time sensitive.

A Remote Worker in Massachusetts May be Mis-classified

If you are a remote worker and receiving a 1099, you may be mis-classified as an independent contractor.  Massachusetts law makes it difficult for companies to hire workers as independent contractors. There’s a strict three part test in the Massachusetts Independent Contractor law that can be challenging for companies to meet.  If you are receiving a 1099 and your taxes are not being withheld, it is possible that you are being mis-classified as an independent contractor.  Remote workers are often at risk for being mis-classified as independent contractor.  If you are mis-classified, you may have legal claims.  You should contact an employment attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights if you are a 1099 worker.  All claims have time frames for filing and if you wait, you may lose your rights.

The Not So Fine Print

We see patterns in our practice, like the ones described above.  However, every case has its own unique facts.  Before you take any action, you should contact an employment lawyer and get advice on your own situation.  We can’t provide legal advice here and this isn’t intended as legal advice.   Keep in mind that it is best, if possible, to establish a relationship with an attorney before a workplace issue turns into a full-blown crisis.  Employees who have received a verbal or written warning or performance improvement plan, should contact counsel now.  Ditto for employees who are seeing their doctor for workplace related stress or anxiety.