What to do about “Global COVID Nomads” and Other Wandering Workers Who Telecommute from Abroad for Personal Reasons

 An Article by Donald C. Dowling Jr –  Shareholder, Littler

Technology facilitates remote work in ways that, years ago, just were not possible. Take telecommuting. These days, all kinds of jobs that had to be performed at an employer site are now performed remotely. Some call center workers, for example, now work from home using home telephones — no brick-and-mortar call center needed. Some secretaries now telecommute using laptops and the internet. Some teachers now teach remotely using laptops and video links. There are architects, doctors, lawyers and judges who, these days, use the internet and video to transmit blueprints, diagnose patients, and try lawsuits from home.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and immediately set off enormous disruptions across workforces worldwide, like hours cuts, furloughs and layoffs. At that point, the work-from-home trend that had been growing steadily for years just exploded. Millions of on-site workers around the world shifted, overnight, to telecommuting.

The instant worldwide transformation to ubiquitous work-from-home inevitably sparked novel logistical problems and sticky legal challenges. Among the more complex is the singular phenomenon that came to be called “global covid nomads,” the small percentage — but enormous worldwide number — of employees that COVID-19 transformed into telecommuters who then slipped away to work from new homes in foreign countries.

Of course, even “domestic covid nomads” cause compliance issues when they get away and start working in some new state, province or municipality. But a global covid nomad, by definition, triggers international legal challenges. These challenges can be particularly tough to rectify, even hard to spot. Indeed, often the very first challenge with a global covid nomad (or other international “wandering worker”) is the immediate supervisor who sees nothing amiss and simply figures: Why not just let this valued employee move overseas, if he wants to? He’s working remotely anyway — where he lives is none of our business.

Our discussion here unpacks the legal issues around global covid nomads and international wandering workers, with the goal of devising strategies for structuring these relationships legally. Our discussion breaks into four parts: (A) a taxonomy of international telecommuters; (B) legal issues and risk assessment; (C) five compliant structures for long-term or indefinite-term international telecommuting, and (D) strategies for keeping short-term international telecommuting short.

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