Telecommuting Policy - University of Wisconsin - Madison
UW-Madison recognizes the value of telecommuting for both employee and
employer. Telecommuting is a cooperative arrangement* based on the needs
of the job, the department or unit, and the university. The following is
the telecommuting policy for academic staff, classified and limited
employees of the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus.
• Telecommuting – Telecommuting is a voluntary* workplace alternative
where supervisors agree to allow an employee to regularly perform some
or all assigned duties at home or another location. This may involve the
use of telecommunications (cellular phones, faxes, calling cards,
pagers, etc.) or computer technologies. A telecommuting agreement
document detailing mutually agreed* upon work schedules, accessibility
levels, equipment purchases/loans-service purchases and any other
pertinent issues must be completed and signed before beginning
telecommuting. A telecommuting agreement is not required for occasional
situations in which the employee works at home.
• Telecommuting Agreement - a document that describes a specifically
approved telecommuting work arrangement, and any necessary
Employee Selection Criteria and Conditions
The Supervisor, Department Chair, and Dean/Director will review the
telecommuting request taking into account the factors listed below.
• Needs of the department or unit
• Needs of the employee
• Employee's work duties and the ability to measure or assess work performed
• Availability and costs of needed equipment
• Employee's current and past job performance, as documented in
performance evaluations, including time management, organizational
skills, self motivation, and the ability to work independently
• Assessment of other employees (e.g., interest, skills, unit longevity,
etc.) in the immediate work unit performing similar responsibilities.
• Effect on service
• Effect on the rest of the work group, unit or department
• Measurable objectives and results mutually agreed to by the employee
and the supervisor
• Other items deemed necessary and appropriate
Telecommuting is a prerogative of the University, not an entitlement of
employees. It is approved on a case-by-case basis consistent with the
mission of the University and the respective department or unit.
Telecommuting is not a substitute for dependent or day care.
*If the employee accepts the telecommuting arrangement as a condition of
employment when hired into the position, the employee will not be able
to unilaterally terminate the agreement; it can only be terminated by
Page 2 – Telecommuting Policy Cont.
Compensation and Benefits
Telecommuting is a management tool allowing for flexibility in work
options. It does not change the basic terms and conditions of
employment. Compensation and benefits will be set forth in University
policy or union contract, whichever applies. The telecommuter's salary,
job responsibilities, and University benefits do not change as a result
Telecommuting Agreement and Form
A completed Telecommuting Agreement Form (attached) is required and must
be signed by the Supervisor, Department Chair, Dean/Director’s Office
and the telecommuter. Copies of these documents should be kept in the
employee’s personnel file; and be forwarded to Risk Management if
University equipment is loaned to the employee. This agreement will be
reviewed and updated at least annually, and as the specifics or
equipment/services are modified.
Work Schedule and Overtime
The work schedule of the telecommuting employee will be determined by
the Supervisor and will be documented in the telecommuting agreement.
The working of overtime, accrual of compensatory time, accrual and
charging of leave time will be subject to the same rules and regulations
as are in place at the designated University work location.
With advance notice, an authorized University representative may make
on-site visits to the telecommuter's work location.
Equipment and Information Security
• University-provided equipment at home is not an entitlement of
telecommuting employees. Depending on the job, equipment needs for
telecommuters will vary and are determined by the supervisor.
• Telecommuting employees must abide by the University's policies
covering information security, software licensing and data privacy.
• Telecommuting employees must abide by University Purchasing and
Accounting policies for all purchases and expenditures incurred for
telecommuting equipment or services. The telecommuting agreement will be
required as documentation for purchases and expenditures related to
telecommuting and must be attached to all transactions.
• Maintenance on University-owned equipment will be performed only by a
University authorized technician. The employee will be responsible for
bringing the equipment to the employer-designated repair location.
Necessary maintenance and repairs on University-owned equipment will be
performed at the University's expense.
• Maintenance and repair of employee-owned equipment is the
responsibility of the employee. The University is not liable for such
equipment even if the employee is engaged in University work at the time
• Upon termination of the telecommuting agreement or employment, the
employee must return all University-owned equipment to the University.
Although my own salaried, exempt position means that I wouldn't be covered by the telecommuting agreement in question, I'd like to offer some thoughts on this very timely discussion of telecommuting policy for two reasons:
(a) as a faculty member split between two departments, I'm privileged to have a university-provided laptop computer and cell phone, along with the freedom to work remotely from home, from coffeeshops, etc. when performing various work-related tasks, and i would like to see the very real benefits of technology-enabled alternative work times and spaces brought out to more UW-Madison employees if possible; and
(b) I actually do research on the way new information technologies transform the time, space, and social relations of the workplace, so this discussion might be something I can contribute to. But please take my (rather long, sorry) comments as just a first-pass reaction to what I see as a constructive but flawed first-draft at a telecommuting policy ...
(1) “UW-Madison recognizes the value of telecommuting for both employee and employer.”
First of all, I would suggest that the agreement outline some of the possible benefits to employees and to the employer, to make clear both the purposes that telecommuting is intended to serve and the limits of telecommuting’s usefulness. For example, from the point of view of the employer, telecommuting can reduce the need for office space, parking space, and lighting/heating/electricity energy costs. But, telecommuting should not be thought of as an alternative to providing adequate equipment, workspace, transportation, childcare, work hours, supervisiory feedback, and opportunities for advancement to employees.
From the point of view of the employee, telecommuting can reduce the need for or time of travel from home to office, and subsequently reduce gasoline costs or other travel costs. But, telecommuting should not be an alternative to: (1) providing adequate work quality and/or work hours to an employee; (2) providing adequate office space and/or office equipment to an employee; (3) providing adequate parking or mass-transit options to an employee; and (4) as the document already states, “Telecommuting is not a substitute for dependent or day care.” (While this might seem obvious to some, a quick look through the management-oriented literature on telecommuting shows photo after photo of young mothers at home with small children on one hand and a computer/telephone on the other. Ridiculous, gender-biased assumptions are still pretty common.)
We should also recognize the potential (but not inevitable) urban-wide benefits of telework, such as possible overall reduction in travel, pollution, congestion, and energy use. (This is tricky, though, because home-based work has its own energy, pollution, and travel costs as well.)
(2) “Telecommuting is a cooperative arrangement* based on the needs of the job, the department or unit, and the university”; “Telecommuting is a voluntary* workplace alternative where supervisors agree to allow an employee to regularly perform some or all assigned duties at home or another location.”
It seems clear from the rest of the text that the proposed UW-Madison telecommuting policy makes telecommuting neither cooperative nor voluntary. As the document goes on to specify, “Telecommuting is a prerogative of the University, not an entitlement of employees.” Further, a footnote in the document states that “*If the employee accepts the telecommuting arrangement as a condition of employment when hired into the position, the employee will not be able to unilaterally terminate the agreement; it can only be terminated by the employer.” Thus telecommuting as defined by UW-Madison is an arrangement which may only be chosen by the employer, not the employee, and may even be mandated by the employer as a condition of continued employment. This is not cooperation, but coercion.
I would suggest that the policy make clear that upon entering into a “telecommuting agreement,” either the employee and/or the employer may terminate the agreement with adequate prior notice, and that such termination by either side should, by itself, in no way affect the continuation or definition of the employee’s job.
(3) “A telecommuting agreement is not required for occasional situations in which the employee works at home.”
I think this is a reasonable loophole. I would add “or at an alternate work location,” because not all telecommuting takes place at home.
(4) “The Supervisor, Department Chair, and Dean/Director will review the telecommuting request taking into account the factors listed below. [...]”
In addition to the factors listed, I would add “safety, security, and ergonomics of the proposed alternate work site,” both for the protection of the employer and for the protection of the employee.
(5) “With advance notice, an authorized University representative may make on-site visits to the telecommuter's work location.”
This is a tough one. When the alternate work location is the employee’s home, I think the employee should hold a right of privacy and be able to prohibit visits from the employer or the employer’s representatives. However, in order to ensure workplace safety, security, and ergonomics, or to install, maintain, and upgrade equipment, or even perhaps to drop off and pick up work in physical printed form, some contact with representatives from the workplace seems not only desirable, but inevitable.
I would suggest specifying some specific reasons that such visits might be required and/or requested, and specifiying some specific rules about what should happen if employees refuse such visits. For example, if an employee is not willing to have workplace representatives visit the site to perform equipment installation, maintenance, or upgrade, then perhaps that employee would not be able to have university equipment on site.
In any case, the ultimate right of refusal of any visit must rest with the employee if the alternate work site is the home. But at the same time, if the employer deems such visits crucial to the telecommuting arrangement, then it would seem that this would be grounds for terminating the telecommuting arrangement.
(6) “University-provided equipment at home is not an entitlement of telecommuting employees. Depending on the job, equipment needs for telecommuters will vary and are determined by the supervisor”; “I understand that costs related to remodeling and/or furnishing the work space shall be non-reimbursable/non-payable by the UW.”
The risk with these provisions as currently stated is that only those employees who supply their own telecommuting equipment (whether that is a computer, a printer, or a high-speed internet connection) will be allowed to enter into telecommuting agreements.
I would suggest that the language change to indicate that if the university decides a telecommuting arragement is warranted, and if the employee does not possess or does not wish to use personal equipment in support of the arrangement, then the university should pay to install all necessary equipment for the arrangement at the employee’s site (including any site modifications which might be necessary).
(7) “The employee will be responsible for bringing the equipment to the employer-designated repair location. Necessary maintenance and repairs on University-owned equipment will be performed at the University's expense.”
I think the transport of equipment to and from the alternate work site should be the responsibility of the employer, but at the very least, this should be something that is negotiated and specified within each individual telecommuting contract, and not assumed to be the employee’s responsibility.
(8) Finally, I would suggest some added language to protect the telecommuting employee:
Make sure that telecommuting employees receive adequate information about what is going on in the “physical” office, adequate information about job opportunities which might otherwise be relayed through physical bulletin board postings, casual conversation, and the like, and reasonable accomodations to be present in the decision-making processes of the unit in which they are employed. This might mean making sure that information gets communicated by email as well as by an announcement in a physical meeting, or by email as well as by printed memo. But from what I’ve seen in the research on telecommuting, the social and occupational disconnect from office life and further career opportunities is a great risk to telecommuters themselves.
Make sure that performance reviews of telecommuting employees take into account the difficult nature of working under conditions of self-supervision and “out of sight, out of mind” of fellow employees, which may be a negative effect on, say, employee peer reviews of performance.
Talk about telecommuting -- or, as I prefer, “teleworking” -- as part of a general strategy to not only provide flexibilty in the location of work, but in the time of work. In other words, combine with programs for time-shifting work, starting early or leaving late to avoid commuting bottlenecks, flexible work hours and work schedules for both employer and employee efficiency, and job sharing.
For people interested in some background reading on research pertaining to home-based-work, telecommuting, and the more general category of “telework,” I’d suggest the following references:
Sheila Allen and Carol Wolkowitz, Homeworking: Myths and Realities (London: Macmillan, 1987).
Eileen Boris and Cynthia R. Daniels, eds., Homework: historical and contemporary perspectives on paid labor at home (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989).
Andrew Gillespie and Ronald Richardson, “Teleworking and the city: Myths of workplace transcendence and travel reduction,” in James O. Wheeler, Yuko Aoyama and Barney Warf, eds., Cities in the telecommunications age: The fracturing of geographies (New York: Routledge, 2000), 228-248.
Ursula Huws, Werner B. Korte and Simon Robinson, Telework: Towards the elusive office (Chichester ; New York: Wiley, 1990).
Patricia L Mokhtarian, Gustavo O Collantes, and Carsten Gertz, “Telecommuting, residential location, and commute-distance traveled: Evidence from State of California employees,” Environment and Planning A 36:10 (2004), 1877 - 1897.