Considered an "employment law hot topic" for 2018 by New Jersey-based Mandelbaum Salsburg, working from home received special attention during a lineup of presentations offered this month by the law firm.

New Jersey 101.5 caught up with Dennis Alessi, co-chair of the firm's employment law group, to gather advice for New Jersey employees who call their home "the office."

While most of the risks involved fall on the employer, at-home workers can follow some tips to stay out of trouble and ensure they get what they deserve.

In a Gallup survey released in February 2017, 43 percent of American workers said they spent at least some time working out of the office, representing a 4 percent jump from 2012.

A 2017 report compiled by job-hunt platform FlexJobs found that between 2005 and 2015, the number of U.S. workers who do at least half of their work at home (or somewhere else outside the office) increased by 115 percent.

"What the employee has to keep in mind is that even though they're at home ... their obligations are the same as if they were at the office," Alessi said.

On the clock

Does your company keep you informed of the number of work hours you've clocked at home? Most employers don't do this, but they are required to on a regular basis, Alessi said. And the employee is supposed to sign off on the tabulation, assuming it appears correct.

"It's a really good thought for the employee to also maintain their own time records so that they're sure that they're not getting shortchanged on time when their paychecks come in," Alessi said.

Employees want to make sure they receive approval before working overtime, Alessi added.

Breaks

"Short breaks of 20 minutes or less are work time and the employer has to pay you," Alessi said.

So don't feel guilty if you want to throw a load of clothes in the washer, or say hello to the kids when they walk in from school.

But these short breaks must be consistent with an employer's policy. You're likely not entitled to 10- or 15-minute breaks every hour.

Workers' comp

This piece of information may come as the most surprising.

Even though you're working at home, certain injuries may be compensable under Workers' Compensation.

The injury, though, must occur "in the course of working for your employer," Alessi said.

So if you're chopping carrots in the kitchen on work time, and slice off a piece of your finger, that's your problem. But if you're sprinting from the kitchen to the office because the phone is ringing, and you trip and fall in the process, that incident could be in line for compensation.

Privacy

It's on the employer first to make sure that while an employee is working at home, and information is transferred over the Web, sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands, Alessi said.

Examples of proper steps would include providing an employee with a work-only computer and setting up a secure network that can only be accessed by a password.

"But on the other hand, the employee also has an obligation to make sure to follow the employer's directions on what they have to do to maintain that confidentiality," Alessi said.

According to Alessi, many "major breaches" don't target a company's system at work, but another party, such as someone working at home, where the same level of network security may not exist.

An employee may want to push for an employer-provided device to guarantee the security of their own information as well, Alessi added.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.