Laure Martinleads Global Business Operations at Boundless. A wanderlust by heart, she has spent the last decade creating and managing benefits programs, expense platforms, cash flow operations and rolled them out globally. In the process, she has coped with and mitigated the stress of international staff compliance by learning how to do things right. In this post, she shares valuable insights about being a compliant remote employer.
We have spent the last few weeks, covering in detail the risks that companies, distributed or not, run by working with independent contractors long term. With repercussions for everyone involved, we hope this has given you some food for thought. If any of it applies to you, in this post, we would like to give you five clear reasons why you should be a compliant remote employer.
Avoid prosecution in multiple countries
There are various laws and regulations that any employer in any country needs to comply with. Previously we talked about the dangers of misclassification if you work with independent contractors and do not adequately employ them. Fines, lawsuits and even prison time are real dangers you might have to deal with for breaking this fundamental employment rule in your home country. However, when you work with people in different jurisdictions, your liability extends beyond just the country your company is based in and covers the worker's country as well.
This means that the consequences you are facing could be double, triple or multiples more depending on the number of countries people are spread across. As a remote employer, the fact that you do not have a legal entity present in that country will not shield you if you are compliant.
To prove the point, I will tell you a story from France dating a few years back. Mr D. was working as a contractor for an American company, serving as their representative in France. He was happy to be a consultant and bill his one client once a month because he was hoping to build a client base over time. As time went by, it became apparent that Mr D would not be able to create a multi-client consultancy. He was fully occupied by working with the American company, stripping him from devoting any time to work on anything else. He wasn't even allowed to have an assistant. When his contract was finally terminated, he filed a case against the American company in a French court for misclassification. Not only did the French court find the American company guilty, but it also imposed fines on all accounts and ruled that the company had to grant:
the lump-sum compensation for concealed work
compensation for non-compliance with the dismissal procedure
compensatory payment for related notice and paid leave
statutory dismissal indemnity
indemnity for dismissal without real and severe cause
payment for the damage linked to the absence of employer contributions
salary reminders for the year 2014 and related paid holidays
damages for the lack of financial compensation for the non-competition clause which had been drafted according to the standards of American law.
In the words of Mr D's solicitor, Marc Powell-Smith, "the total of these requests was high and constituted an unforeseen expense for his American employer." The fact that an ocean divided the two countries didn't save the American company from stringent French labour law.
Avoid remote workers overworking
Remote comes with a higher degree of autonomy for individuals, which is among its biggest benefits. However that means that, as their employer, you don't know when they are working and when they aren't. This carries a significant risk that people will work too much. The blurring of work and home life is happening as is and, with remote work, there is a greater danger in that. Burnout, which was officially labeled as an occupational phenomenon disease by the World Health Organisation in 2019 is the obvious worry to have; however, in some countries, overwork can have legal consequences too.
Working remotely is often governed by requiring the delivery of specific work by a given deadline, instead of doing so within set working hours. While this gives a lot of freedom for remote workers in terms of organising their time and doing things that office-based employees may not be able to, it exposes the company to risk around not providing break and rest periods stipulated according to the law. In the EU for example, as an employer, you must ensure that your staff does not work more than 48 hours per week on average (including overtime), over a reference period of up to 4 months. Your employees must be given at least 11 consecutive hours of daily rest and at least 24 hours of uninterrupted weekly rest. To assure these regulations are implemented, countries like France have passed "Right to disconnect law", which govern this even more stringently.
Ensure focus from your team members
On the flipside of remote workers putting in too much time is the fact that they may also be putting extra time into work for other clients in case they are independent contractors. That is because, in most countries, in order to be correctly classified as a contractor (vs. an employee), they must have multiple clients. You cannot expect them to give your company 100% focus or dedication on the grounds that they have to give their time and attention to others too. Employing them properly would secure the exclusivity.
Have all financial interactions in order
Instead of reimbursing expenses after they have been incurred, companies may opt to give company credit cards to remote workers. The use of such a card can be very clearly stipulated within an employment contract. However, with a commercial deal by which independent contractors are regulated, the use or misuse of something like a company credit card is more challenging to govern. In case of misuse, getting back the money would be difficult. You do not have the law on your side because as an independent contractor who doesn’t have close ties with the company, the individual probably shouldn't have been given a company card in the first place.
Be able to sleep at night
Working in global operations and HR for companies previously, I have felt a big responsibility for the company’s workers. An important upside of employing people legally and compliantly is that it removes a lot of unnecessary stress. I have experienced it first hand, at times when I have had to pay the salaries of over 100 people around the world, some of whom were independent contractors. It is no exaggeration to say that I have sometimes lost sleep over it. Knowing that people have been paid on time with taxes filed, benefits accounted for is not usually the achievement or win companies might celebrate with fanfare. You don’t get a “you smashed it” comment but to me it has felt like I did.
Beyond monthly pay, I have worried what would happen if an independent contractor had an accident, developed a chronic condition, or simply got pregnant. I know from personal experience how limited the supports can be for independent contractors. Getting to bask in the glow of ensuring workers are well taken care of is definitely not to be underestimated.
How do you become a compliant remote employer?
The crux of the solution is to make sure everyone you work with is appropriately employed. This might mean working with employment lawyers in each country you have people in, establishing entities, registering tax numbers and having access to country-specific compliance information. Managing all that complexity can quickly become overwhelming and unsurmountable to tackle.
An alternative to that is an Employer of Record model, where another company becomes the legal employer of your workers, taking care of all this complicated compliance. You still maintain the working relationship, assign tasks and manage performance, and simply transfer the compliance and legal responsibility to an organisation that has a truly deep understanding of the local rules and regulations in the worker’s jurisdiction.
Boundless operates an Employer of Record model and can help you legally and compliantly employ your remote workers. Learn more here.
Need help in figuring out how to employ your international workers?
The making available of information to you on this site by Boundless shall not create a legal, confidential or other relationship between you and Boundless and does not constitute the provision of legal, tax, commercial or other professional advice by Boundless. You acknowledge and agree that any information on this site has not been prepared with your specific circumstances in mind, may not be suitable for use in your business, and does not constitute advice intended for reliance. You assume all risk and liability that may result from any such reliance on the information and you should seek independent advice from a lawyer or tax professional in the relevant jurisdiction(s) before doing so.
Written by Irina Dzhambazova
Irina Dzhambazova is the editor of this publication and leads many of the marketing efforts behind Boundless. Previously she crafted stories at SaaStock and Dublin Globe and travelled the world capturing case studies of companies using the Kanban Method. Throughout this experience, she was almost always "the remote worker" and knows a thing or two about the potential and challenges of this way of working.
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