Hopefully by now you’ve got a remote accountant policy firmly in place. If not, check out some of our older blogs for legal steps you need to take before making your first remote accountant hire and six things your remote accountant policy should include.
But before you start deploying a full-scale cloud accountant army, there’s another issue to consider: What happens when an accountant violates your remote work policy? Or perhaps a better question for the purposes of this blog: What should the consequences of those violations be?
The short answer is: “It depends.” (You didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?) The long answer is: “It depends on what aspect of the policy the accountant violated, the grievousness of the error in terms of both ethics and financial loss, and the degree to which factors outside the accountant’s control led to the violation.”
So while every case will be different, we’ve put together some basic recommendations here for you to think about. Read on to discover tips on what to do when an accountant violates your remote work policy.
Determine if the violation is grounds for termination
The first thing you need to do in the event of a violation is evaluate the severity of the infraction. Is this a minor mistake that requires little action, a moderate error where some form of punishment short of termination is appropriate (more on that later), or a major gaffe that requires you to fire the remote accountant?
“If something like a data breach happens and it’s the employee’s fault, you gotta do what you gotta do,” Dave Betz, chief success officer, Gineris & Associates, said. “Sometimes it’s a small thing that’s coachable, but more serious offenses require disciplinary action or termination.”
Fireable offenses for a remote accountant include:
- Stealing clients (i.e., the accountant converting your clients into his or her personal clients or selling/giving your clients to another firm)
- Taking on additional clients outside of your firm (if the accountant has an exclusivity clause in his or her contract)
- Tangible asset theft, like stealing a firm-provided phone or laptop
- Virtual asset theft, including firm data, client data, and intellectual property
- Sharing confidential firm or client information via social media or other public platforms
- Gross or repeated IT security negligence, such as letting others log into the network, logging in from locations identified as unsafe, failure to protect passwords, etc.
- Use of illegal drugs or alcohol while working
- Any form of sexual harassment toward a coworker or client
- Any form of gross intolerance directed at a coworker or client pertaining to protected classes (such as age, race, religion)
- Frequent access of prohibited websites through firm-provided hardware or a firm’s virtual desktop/portal
- Failure to meet clearly identified performance expectations
- Falsified credentials, such as the accountant lying on his or her resume
Warn the accountant in writing while giving him a path to improvement
Now let’s talk about those moderate violations–where some form of disciplinary action needs to be taken, but termination isn’t necessary.
“We need our team to deliver client work with excellence, on time, and with the responsiveness and proactiveness that exceeds client expectations,” Ryan Watson, founder and principal, Upsourced Accounting, said. “If employees fall short, regardless of whether the issue is with the work itself or with availability or connectivity as a result of working remotely, we address and remediate the issue swiftly.”
Melissa Diaz, CFO and shareholder, High Rock Accounting, cautions firms to remember that no one is perfect, including remote accountants.
“If a remote employee accidentally leaves their laptop in their car, and the car gets stolen, this is not necessarily grounds for termination. Accidents happen to all of us,” Diaz said. “However, if the employee is violating performance, employment, or accountability policies, it is time to put the employee on notice.”
Here are some actions you can take to rebuke delinquent remote accountants, improve remote worker performance, protect firm liability, and prevent future problems:
- Create an “out of compliance” report/official warning and have it signed by both the offending employee and a supervisor.
- Develop a performance improvement plan with a set deadline to show improvement (such as 30 days).
- During this probationary/improvement period, assign a supervisor to regularly evaluate the employee’s actions and determine if he or she is back in accordance with company policy.
“Documentation is everything,” Diaz said. “If you have these conversations with a remote employee but nothing was documented, they never happened from a legal perspective.”
Consider restricting or revoking remote privileges
If you’re dealing with an employee who is local or spends some time working on-premise, you may want to limit the accountant’s ability to work remotely in the event of a violation. Obviously this won’t work for full-time remote accountants, but it can be a useful tool and appropriate punishment for hybrid employees.
For example, if the employee is currently allowed to work 20 hours a week remotely, you might cut that to 10 hours, either on a probationary or permanent basis. Depending on the nature of the violation, you may also consider restricting the locations from which the employee can work–no more coffee shops or other places providing free public Wi-Fi.
And if restrictions don’t work, it might be time to revoke the accountant’s remote privileges entirely.
“If accountants can’t follow the rules or don’t take IT security seriously enough, they shouldn’t be allowed to continue to work remotely,” Bill Thompson, president, CPA Mutual, said.
Evaluate your own policies and make changes if necessary
When a remote policy violation occurs, it’s just as important to look inward at your own procedures as it is to look outward at the wrongdoer.
While requiring the employee to take responsibility and face the consequences of malfeasance is important, sometimes your own policies share blame for the error. Correcting those areas in your policies can help prevent future problems.
“You need to proactively manage and mitigate risk,” Betz said. “People are people, so there’s some wild cards there. But the important thing is to learn from the mistake. You can’t teach an employee a lesson and then neglect to embed that in your future approaches.”
Special considerations also need to be made for remote accountant termination policies.
“As soon as someone is fired, there’s software that will wipe their hard drives clean and destroy all the client data that may be on their hardware. This protects your firm from a potentially vindictive ex-employee,” Thompson said.
Worry less about violations by recruiting the best remote accountants
While we encourage you to carefully consider the recommendations we’ve outlined in this blog, there’s one tip we’d place above all others: hire productive, honest accountants you can trust. When you do that, you won’t need to worry about policy violations nearly as often.
That’s where a partner like Accountingfly comes in. Browse our database of the best remote accountants in the world, and start building your ultimate cloud accounting team today.