Human Capital & Careers

Safety Uncertainty Stalls Telecommuting: GAO

Employers are also uncertain how state tax laws apply to interstate telecommuting, report says.
Craig SchneiderJuly 13, 2001

Employer uncertainty about how state and federal health and safety apply to employees who work at home may be stalling the rise of telecommuting, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report released on Thursday.

The report cites telecommuting proponents who say some 16.5 million employees telecommute, working from remote locations such as their homes, at least once a month and 9.3 million telecommute at least once a week.

However, the GAO report finds several employer concerns that serve as potential barriers to telecommuting. They include assessing whether the employer has the types of positions and employees suitable for a telecommuting program, maintaining security over sensitive company data while monitoring the actions of remote workers, and ensuring that telecommuting activities do not adversely affect profits.

The report also notes that employers are uncertain of how state tax laws may apply to interstate telecommuting. Telecommuting may establish a physical business presence in a state where none previously existed and

  • expose employers to additional corporate taxes,
  • expose employees to additional income taxes,
  • require employers to collect sales taxes in states where telecommuters reside
  • result in litigation for employers over tax issues.

Employers are also uncertain of their responsibility to provide safe workplaces when it involves home offices, the report notes. The current OSHA directive states that employers are not liable for the safety of an employee’s home office, but employers fear that the policy may be reversed.

Employers tend to address safety concerns by offering guidance about home-office safety and design and/or providing ergonomic furniture for telecommuters, the report says.

Other barriers to creating telecommuting programs include federal tax matters, wage and hour laws, and workers’ compensation.

For the full report, click here.