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.

WFH: Is it as Good as You Imagined?

The day has finally arrived, you are working from home full-time! Are you out of your pajamas yet? Have you at least brushed your teeth, eaten breakfast, fed the cat? You may respond by saying you don’t have any video calls, so it doesn’t matter if you have combed hair or fresh breath, and the kitchen is within arm’s reach so it doesn’t matter if you eat regular meals or have now moved onto snacking throughout the day and sharing your food with the cat. Well, for your own well-being, go take a shower, feed the cat, and then come back to reading this article…
…don’t you feel better and ready for the day?

Working from home sounds great, but it takes discipline and practice for the transition to be successful. Below are a few tips from the Lake Effect team on working remotely.

  • Set Up A Workspace. If you don’t have a designated home office, create a separate place that is considered your “workplace” with minimal disruptions, even if it is temporary and used for other things later in the day. If the space is used for other things or even visible later in the day, try to pack up or tidy the area to transition back to home life. Jenn likes to be extra tidy and hides her phone charger in a secret hiding place, so her son doesn’t “mistakenly” think it’s his!To minimize distractions from family members, consider creating and communicating your schedule or times that you will be available to them. Leann and her husband tag team parenting and working from home. When one is WFH, the other is the main parent contact for the kids.

    If you don’t have the background noise and miss the noise of an office, try finding music that you can work to. Hannah finds it easier to focus to upbeat instrumental hip hop playlist when working from home.

  • Create A Routine. Start your day as if you were commuting to work – pick up the house, prep healthy snacks for your workday, shower and eat breakfast away from your workspace. Make a realistic schedule for your day so when you are ready to begin the day you have a plan – those distractions will be minimized if you have a plan. Be compassionate with yourself if at first those distractions win and you don’t stick to your schedule. Sometimes, the list looks more manageable the night before or early in the morning than when the day actually rolls out.Remember to step away from work during the day to stretch, get some fresh air and to give your eyes a break from the computer screen. When Tricia works from home, she tends to create a list and tackles at least a certain number of tasks or works for a certain amount of time and then will move around the house to switch laundry, eat lunch or empty the dishwasher.

    Without a commute, you may have an additional hour in your day. How can you use this time to create a healthy habit? Can you convert the “drying rack” back to a treadmill and start walking 30 minutes every day, read business related books, or add a morning yoga/meditation routine? Jane and Sheila exercise with their kids and dogs to burn some energy and take a break from emails and virtual classes. This may also be a great way to end your day and flip the switch from work to home.

  • Communicate Your Schedule/Availability to Your Coworkers. Working with and being available to your team is still essential when working remotely. If you are using tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack to collaborate, make sure you are logged in and available to your coworkers while you are working. When the Lake Effect team sees each other online in the morning, we send a quick ‘good morning’ message to each other just like if we were arriving in the office. Of course, as Peggy will tell you, our texts start much earlier. If you aren’t proficient in using these tools, believe us, it gets easier each time!If you have “left the office” for the day, honor your time away from work. When work is just a few steps away, it is easy to take a minute, which can turn into an hour, to respond to an email. Balancing time with yourself, your family and friends is essential during this time.
  • Pick Up the Phone or Initiate a Video Chat with Your Coworkers. Texting and email are efficient ways to communicate a direct message but calling or initiating a video chat with your coworker may be a more effective approach to discuss and solve more complicated issues. It also provides an opportunity for a social interaction, all while practicing social distancing, and your coworker may even have a Netflix or book recommendation for you! At Lake Effect, we have an ongoing list of book, movie and TV show recommendations in Teams.
  • Put Down the Cookies and Get Moving. You know this has happened already, especially if you are working close to the kitchen! By prepping your snacks and meals at the beginning of the week or day, just as you would if you went to the office, the cookies and chips will be less tempting – okay, probably not less tempting but you have set yourself up for successful, healthy habits! Also take time to work out and decompress each day. If the sun is shining, go soak it up!!!

We are all wired differently when it comes to our preferred work styles and what works for us when working remotely. Knowing how you work best can help in your success to work remotely or in the office. If you have taken your Everything DiSC Workplace, pull out your profile or log in to and review your Motivators/Stressors. For those of you who need a refresher or may not be familiar with DiSC (a personal assessment tool to improve work productivity, teamwork and communication), here is one motivator of each style: (D) multi-tasking, (i) teamwork, (S) steady pace, (C) clear guidelines. Using these motivators as an example, a person with a preferred style of i may want to consider scheduling time throughout the day to work with other team members. As we are all navigating our new WFH situation, make sure you are asking your coworkers and your supervisor for what you need to be successful in the workplace.

Stay well, be kind, and grant each other grace. If you see a coworker struggling with working from home, reach out and share your best practices.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to assist and advise if you have questions related to engaging your remote team or learning more about DiSC. Contact us at or 1-844-333-5253.

Sustain Your Culture with a Remote Workforce

Just last week the majority of your staff worked on-site and now your entire team is working remotely, potentially with a whole family, including pets, in their home offices! You’ve tested out the technology and applied the wage and hour laws, but how do you continue engaging your team and sustaining your workplace culture?

Engaging Your Team.

  • Set Clear Expectations. Communicate with your team members if you expect them to be available and on-line during specific hours, accessible on certain technology platforms, and meeting certain deadlines – just as if they were working in the office.
  • Provide the Necessary Tools and Resources. Arrange for your team members to have access to the technology, files, and office supplies they need to perform their jobs. Offer flexibility for childcare, taking care of ill family members, taking care of themselves, or basic physical and mental wellness during this time of social distancing.
  • Communicate Related Policies and Any Other Temporary Policy Changes. Remind employees that policies, such as attendance, request for time off and leaves of absence, still apply and some, like anti-harassment/discrimination and use of technology, also pertain to email, chat, text, video, social media, etc.
  • Continue Coaching & Development Conversations. Continue regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings, encourage on-line learning, and be accessible to your team. If working remotely is new to your team members, ask them if they need help navigating the new work situation.

Sustaining Your Workplace Culture.

  • Continue Regularly Scheduled Workplace Gatherings. If you normally have daily stand-up meetings, weekly staff meetings, etc., continue to hold them using technology.
  • Consider a Daily Message From Leadership. During any time of change, regular communication is important. Consider a daily video call, email or chat post from a leadership team member to communicate most recent changes, status of company, etc.
  • Consider Daily Department Meetings. If your team is used to being together each day, consider implementing a daily department conference call so the team can connect, communicate deadlines, and collaborate.
  • Live Your Values. Continue to support your values by implementing new practices aligned with your mission, vision and values.
  • Celebrate and Have Fun. We are all navigating our current situation together and learning as we do. It is stressful and uncertain. Have fun, laugh, connect and celebrate as often as you can. If you celebrate milestones (birthdays and anniversaries) in the office, continue the tradition virtually. Now may be a great time for your Engagement/Wellness Committee to create some fun virtual activities!
  • Trust. You hired your team members because you believed they could perform their job. Allow them to do what they excel in, support them during this change and see how your team can become stronger yet during this time of uncertainty.
  • Stay well, be kind, and grant each other grace. When we get to the other side of COVID-19, we may have more best practices to implement in our daily work lives.

Keep watching for blogs from your Lake Effect team for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to assist and advise if you have questions related to engaging your remote team. Contact us at or 1-844-333-5253.

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)


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