Hush Trips: How to Minimize Remote Work Compliance Risks

If your company allows employees to work from anywhere, or if you discovered an employee took a hush trip, consider these compliance implications.
 Blond man in sunglasses sits at a table on a tropical beach and works on his laptop.

With the ebb and flow of remote work, employees are embracing the freedom to truly work wherever they have an internet connection. Enter the age of the “hush trip.” A hush trip is when an employee works from a location other than their designated work location, without first informing their employers. Managers are increasingly likely to encounter an employee celebrating National Great Outdoors month by working from a beach or a ski resort as employees crave the ability to better balance work with personal time. In fact, a 2023 study found 44% of Gen Z employees have taken a hush trip, with 45% of the Gen Z respondents saying their trip was never discovered. These hush trips, however, can bring about compliance implications for employees and employers. If your company is considering allowing employees to work from anywhere, or if you discovered an employee took a hush trip, keep in mind these compliance implications 

Take taxes into consideration for extended hush trips 

The famous quote, “in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes,” by Benjamin Franklin, remains true for hush trips. States have their own guidelines on when non-residents owe income tax based on length of time worked in the state. For example, Arizona and Hawaii require non-residents to file income returns with the state if an individual works there for at least 60 days in a year. However, Maine’s threshold kicks in at 12 days per year. States may also have a threshold as to how much income is earned within the state to require withholding. Again, the threshold will vary by state, and can be further complicated by definitions of taxable income that also vary by state. Employees should be aware of the taxation rules for each state they visit so they are not caught unaware during tax season. 

States have their own guidelines on when non-residents owe income tax based on length of time worked in the state. Employees should be aware of the taxation rules for each state they visit so they are not caught unaware during tax season. 

 

 

Wage and hour compliance varies by location

Ensuring wage and hour compliance becomes more complicated due to a hush trip. Each state has its own rules for wage and hour compliance, including overtime obligations, overtime exemptions, and meal and rest break rules. For example, a few states have daily overtime rules, including Alaska, California, Colorado, and Nevada. Even between Alaska, California, Colorado, and Nevada, the daily overtime rules vary. For example, employees in Alaska, California, and Nevada may be entitled to overtime if they work more than 8 hours in a single day. In Colorado, employees may be entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 12 consecutive hours, 12 hours in a day, or 40 hours in a week. If you have employees working from these states, your company could be required to pay the employee overtime. 

To mitigate unexpected wage and hour issues, employers can take the following steps:

  • Reiterate policies regarding recording all time worked and compliance with meal breaks even when working remotely
  • Update policies to reflect examples of remote work time
  • Implement attestations though your timekeeping systems regarding meal breaks and recordation of all hours worked
  • Train managers to ensure they do not inappropriately alter employee timecards and ensure that all time is recorded if they have knowledge that an employee works overtime  

Rules about safety apply wherever your employees go

Safety issues may arise during hush trips. OSHA requires employers to provide a safe working environment.  The responsibility to provide a safe working environment includes a safe environment for remote employees. If an employee suffers a work-related injury, the injury must be recorded on the OSHA 300 log. Whether or not the injury is “work-related” when suffered on a hush trip is difficult to determine and will be fact-specific. For example, if an employee injured him-or herself by dropping a box of work documents on their foot, the injury is likely work-related. However, if the individual suffered the injury while taking care of their children, even during work hours, the injury is likely not work-related.  While OSHA will not hold an employer liable for work-related injuries occurring in home offices, and arguably, during a hush trip, the injury must still be recorded. 

Open communication, including clear instructions on the importance of a safe office, even a remote office, can reduce risk of an injury occurring. Employers should provide instructions and handouts on the safe setup of a remote office, including the safe use of equipment. Employers should also provide a clear method to report injuries, including a hotline number and an electronic reporting means. Employers can require employees to sign off on periodic safety checklists, which may include the possibly of a remote location. Lastly, train employees on your policies and processes to ensure all employees understand expectations and requirements in maintaining a safe workplace. 

Take steps to ensure data privacy and security

Public WIFIs, shared accommodations, and public transit bring data privacy and security concerns. Employees on hush trips may inadvertently expose sensitive and confidential data through unsecured networks, loss or theft of their company devices, or phishing scams. A data breach could be costly, with the average cost of a data breach hitting $4.45 million in 2023. Companies do not want to be in the position of finding out about an employee’s hush trip at the time of a data breach. 

Companies can take steps to protect themselves and their data, even if an employee is on a hush trip. 

  • Strong Security Policies: Have clear and comprehensive policies that cover remote work and travel. Ensure employees understand the expectations and consequences of non-compliance. 
  • Training: Regularly train employees about your policies and cybersecurity best practices, including recognizing phishing scams and securing devices. 
  • Secure Access: Require the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) when accessing company systems remotely. 

How to make remote work successful for your organization

By fostering a transparent and supportive work environment, employers can empower employees to enjoy the benefits of remote work while minimizing potential issues involving taxation, wage & hour, data security, and injury to employees. Remember to:

  • Establish Clear Remote Work Policies: outline expectations for communication, work hours, performance standards, and safety considerations. 
  • Promote Wellbeing: Encourage employees to take their vacation time with a complete break from work and email. 
  • Embrace Flexibility: Consider allowing “bleisure” travel, where employees can extend business trips for leisure. 
  • Prioritize Cybersecurity: Educate employees about safe online practices and provide resources like VPNs for secure connections. 

Whether or not your company allows remote work, you can take steps to minimize compliance risks in the event a hush trip is taken.