The Questions We Keep Hearing…

Ernie Neve, CPA

August 13, 2020

’ll admit, this one caught me off-guard the first time I heard it – and the second, third, and fourth!  This seems strange, but, admittedly, there has been so much poor or questionable information shared by respectable sources, some employers might not require masks.  It’s unlikely, given the environment today, any employer would require an employee to NOT wear a mask, but if so, the first place to start is in a private conversation with your boss to discuss your point of view.  In all likelihood, this shouldn’t be a long-term problem.

“When I’m working from home, is it legal for my employer to access my computer, emails, or cell phone?”

In short, yes – if the company provided them to you, them they have a reasonable expectation of accessing the accounts or the assets.  On the other hand, the current precedent in this situation is that any employee would have been advised of the company’s right to do this when the device or account is created or when you were hired.  Obviously a far larger part of the workforce is remotely working, so policies that have been in place for many years and may have been “forgotten” about are suddenly in a position to be utilized.  

“Can I keep working from home after we reopen the office?”

While your employer may decide this is a good idea, if the workplace poses no known risk, then they have the right to decide how – and where – the job is to be done.  Yes, this means even if you really liked telecommuting, they can call you back.  On the other hand, if you have created an excellent track record working remotely, you may be able to have a personal conversation with your boss and determine if there is a way for you to continue to do so.  Just understand, they are holding the cards in this situation, and “fighting” it is a losing battle.  

“My employer is requiring masks but not providing them, is that legal?”

Not at all.  OSHA has been very clear about this - The federal OSHA General Duty Clause requires that an employer provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm — this includes injury from infectious diseases such as COVID-19.   It’s worth noting that the shortages of masks and gloves in some areas may cause employers to ask employees to bring their own, but if that is the case, then they cannot require employees to wear them.   I expect this will be a real challenge in the coming months, but there is so little room to misinterpret the law in this case, it’s probably done more out of ignorance than malice.  

There have been plenty more, but these seem to be the most common.  Again, I’m certainly NOT an attorney, but, like I said, these all seem to be straightforward.  I hope this helps, and remember, our real superpower is answering your questions about taxes.  Nevertheless, we’re happy to help!

 

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