How A Company Built On Attorney Autonomy Navigates Workplace Law

March 12, 2021

CGL was founded to overcome the barriers talented attorneys face balancing life with the practise of law. Our attorneys are given an unprecedented level of freedom and autonomy. Our employees choose where they work and, as far as it’s legally possible, the hours they want to work. But autonomy isn’t contemplated by workplace law, protection of workers is (and rightfully so). CGL has been navigating workplace laws for years to balance our autonomous culture with regulations that demand reporting. Here’s how we do it:

The Law: Tracking Employee Hours

Under federal law, non-exempt employees must track their hours precisely, including reporting their mandatory breaks. In California, non-exempt employees are entitled to premium pay for certain split shifts, overtime pay for workdays in excess of eight hours, and a ten minute rest period for every four hours work, amongst other things. They are not entitled to work through their rest periods to leave early. 

The protections these laws offer workers are incredibly valuable. They create better working conditions and protect employees from unfair work schedules. But, they also complicate matters for employers who are genuinely hoping to create a flexible workplace for all employees. 

CGL’s workplace is entirely distributed. We don’t have an office and (generally) offer industry-leading autonomy to our lawyers and team members. We encourage our employees to work when they are most productive. To the extent permitted by the law, we want our team to choose when they work – and for how long. It’s what we’ve built our brand and our reputation on. But, that isn’t a defence to claims for unpaid wages under California labor law. 

Maintaining Flexibility & Complying with Workplace Laws

Our solution? We communicate regularly with our nonexempt employees, outlining what the law requires of us in their home state and how we can legally accommodate their schedule. 

Sometimes this is difficult. We want nonexempt employees who are also parents to be able to drop off their children at school at 9am – and pick them up when school finishes at 3pm. 

These employees can work a complete, uninterrupted hour before the 9am drop off then pick up their child(ren) on their unpaid lunch break in the second part of a split shift. They can work reduced hours so they start at 9:30 and finish at 2:45. But, they will be required to take an unpaid 30-minute break before the end of the fifth hour of that shift. They are not allowed to work through and receive that extra 30 minutes of pay for working when they’re available. 

We offer solutions wherever possible to allow for flexible working schedules, including alternative work schedules, contractor classification (where appropriate), and make-up time. But we need to implement these solutions on a case-by-case basis to ensure  they are compliant with federal and local laws. This requires vigilance, regular check ins to ensure compliance, and conversations with our nonexempt employees about their desired schedules. It also requires a deep understanding of federal laws and the laws of the states in which our employees work.   

Father picking up daughter from school - his employer navigates workplace law

Guns, Cannabis and Workplace Safety

We want our entire workforce to be able to work from wherever they want to work. A beach in Costa Rica? Sounds beautiful! Your mother-in-law’s place in Canada? Enjoy it! The local coworking space? We hope it’s productive. 

The issue is, workplace safety laws don’t change just because your worker isn’t in their office. Employers must provide their employees with a workplace that’s free from recognized hazards and that complies with all OSHA standards. It is expected that employers will inspect workplaces to ensure they are compliant. 

This is problematic when the workplace is our employees’ homes. They’re also entitled to have a gun (or guns) in their home – if they’re licensed. In some states, medicinal and/or recreational marijuana is legal and, in Oregon, magic mushrooms will become available for medicinal use in the future. But having guns and these types of substances is contrary to most workplace safety standards. 

We’ve written about what needs to be done to align these laws with the reality of flexible work arrangements here. As for how we manage our obligations now – here’s what we do: 

1. Robust Workplace Policies.

We don’t (and can’t) ask our employees to get rid of their guns or remove their cannabis from their homes, assuming it’s legally there in the first place. Instead, our policies require them to be sober while at work and store their cannabis and firearms outside of the area designated for work. 

2. Workplace Health and Safety Training.

We provide thorough training to our employees about developing and maintaining a safe workspace. They’re in the best position to understand whether their individual workplace is safe, so we empower them to recognize risks and to act before an injury or workplace incident occurs.  

 3. Communication is Key.

We promote a culture of communication. We discuss remote-work issues while travelling so our employees are always aware of their obligations. And, if our employees are uncertain, we prefer that they ask us about any potential safety issues. 

4. A Culture of Safety.

We also work to make safety a part of our workplace culture. In our weekly team email, we provide tips for creating a safe and productive work area at home. We also regularly share information about workplace training and workplace obligations in those emails. 

Navigating Workplace Law and Our Autonomous Culture

As you can see, compliance with workplace laws isn’t optional and isn’t about skirting the law or finding loopholes. Instead, it requires constant communication, thoughtful evaluation of policies and individual employee situations, a thorough understanding of state and federal laws, and requires a level of trust between employers and employees.  When you consider the immense benefits of distributed work, the effort to balance employee autonomy with legal compliance is absolutely worth it. 


The materials available at this website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this website or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between CGL and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

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