For the growing community of van-dwellers and digital nomads, working while traveling across the country is an alluring ideal. The van life movement has taken off in recent years, with over 3 million embracing this nomadic lifestyle in the US alone. But hitting the open road doesn’t mean you have to leave your workplace rights behind. It’s important for location-independent workers to understand the essential employment laws that still protect them, even far from the office.
Whether you’re a van-lifer setting off on a new adventure or considering taking your job on the go, get to know the key rights and protections you’re entitled to. Being informed on the basics of employment law can ensure you stay empowered in your work no matter where the road takes you.
The Rise of Van-Dwellers in the Digital Age
Remote work and online communities have fueled #vanlife’s staggering 312% growth on Instagram since 2017. For many workers, vans present an affordable and liberating lifestyle compared to skyrocketing rents in cities.
Here’s a visual representation that shows the reasons why workers are choosing Vanlife:
Source: Outbound Living survey
But this freedom comes with legal intricacies around contractual rights, health and safety, equality, and data protection. While van-dwelling is a valid personal choice, it’s essential to navigate the complex legal landscape as a worker.
10 Essential Employment Laws for Van-Dwelling Workers
1. Health and Safety Requirements
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have a duty of care to provide safe working conditions, even for remote workers based out of vans. You have a right to request a risk assessment focused on your unique workspace.
An ergonomic driver’s seat, secure mounting for your laptop and accessories, and glare screens for visual comfort are recommended. If your employer fails to address legitimate health and safety concerns, you can legally report them as a whistleblower.
However, first consult with an employment lawyer experienced in such cases, as retaliation protections can be limited. Unions also often provide support and guidance around whistleblowing. For instance, if you are based in Los Angeles, consider contacting an employment lawyer Los Angeles for specialized advice and representation related to California employment laws.
2. Company Contract
Your employee rights and responsibilities will likely be outlined in an employment contract, so it’s essential to thoroughly review this document even if you’ll be working remotely. Check that the contract doesn’t require you to work in a certain location or state, which could impact your travel plans.
Ensure your manager is aware of your mobile lifestyle and get any remote work agreement added to your contract. Be mindful of non-compete clauses, which could restrict you from taking on side gigs or supplemental remote work. Don’t assume your employer will allow full-time van life – clarify expectations upfront to avoid issues.
3. Discrimination Protection
Federal laws prohibiting discrimination apply regardless of where you work. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits treating van-dwelling staff less favorably than other employees. If you feel disadvantaged, document any concerning incidents and consider tribunal claims.
However, discrimination can also be indirect through company policies. If a workplace banned overnight parking, it could detrimentally impact van-dwellers while not overtly singling them out. Seek legal advice if such issues arise.
4. Tax Implications and Expenses
Taxes can get complicated when working across state lines. While you may need to pay state income taxes based on where you reside and work, there are often reciprocity agreements between states that would exempt you from double taxation. Be sure to track work locations and research tax obligations in each state.
As an employee, taxes will be withheld, but ensuring accurate tax payments remains your responsibility. Keep detailed mileage logs and receipts for potential work-related expenses like mobile hotspots and laptops, which may be deductible from your taxes. Consider consulting a tax professional experienced with digital nomads to ensure you get optimal deductions.
5. Confidentiality and Privacy
As a remote worker entrusted with company data, ensure your devices and van networks have enterprise-grade security. Use strong passwords, two-factor authentication, VPN connections, and disk encryption. Never use public WiFi for work without a VPN.
Have clear bring-your-own-device policies and cybersecurity training for home networks. Caution housemates against accessing work devices. Lost or stolen devices are a huge risk for remote workers – enable tracking apps and remote wipe functions.
Avoid discussing confidential information within earshot of others when working in public spaces like cafes. Noise-canceling headphones can help. Be very cautious before taking sensitive data across borders, as laws vary.
Securing client, employee, and company data protects all parties and ensures compliance with privacy laws like GDPR. Negligence could have serious repercussions. When in doubt, consult your IT security team on best practices.
6. Wage and Hour Protections
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guarantees basic wage and hour protections for employees regardless of where they live or work. Under the FLSA, van-dwellers are entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and other standards aimed at ensuring fair compensation. Employers cannot cite an employee’s transient lifestyle to avoid compliance.
7. Preparing for Legal Disputes
As a van-dwelling worker, you may face unique legal issues related to your remote, mobile lifestyle. If you encounter disputes with your employer, it’s important to be prepared with detailed records and knowledgeable legal help. Consulting with an employment lawyer can help review your case and understand your rights and options.
Having an expert advisor in your corner from the very beginning can make a huge difference in protecting yourself as a van-dwelling worker. They can guide you in gathering the necessary evidence, filing claims, and advocating for yourself every step of the way. Don’t wait until issues escalate – be proactive.
8. Harassment Protections
Van-dwelling employees are protected against workplace harassment under federal and state laws. Employers must take prompt, appropriate action if aware of harassing conduct from managers, co-workers, or third parties. Anti-harassment policies must include remote workers.
9. Right to Organize
Van lifers retain their right to organize and join labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act. Employers cannot interrogate, threaten, or punish remote workers for their organizing activities.
Van-dwelling employees are entitled to the same core protections as traditional workers when it comes to compensation, benefits, leave, safety, privacy, and fair treatment. Knowing these essential employment laws is the first step toward securing your rights as a van lifer.
10. Leave and Benefits Access
Van lifers qualify for employer-based benefits like health insurance and retirement plans on the same terms as other workers. They are also entitled to job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for major events like surgery, childbirth, or caring for a sick parent.
As the van life movement continues growing, a new generation of remote workers is changing the very definition of the workplace. Although they lead an unconventional lifestyle, van-dwelling employees remain entitled to the same fundamental protections that other staff enjoy under federal, state, and local employment laws.
By understanding these essential rights from fair compensation and benefits access to privacy safeguards and anti-discrimination protections van lifers can thrive in their unique remote roles while also securing recourse if employers fail to meet legal obligations. With a strong grasp of the employment law fundamentals, van-dwelling workers can cruise confidently into this new frontier of remote work.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can my employer force me to stop van-dwelling and return to the office?
Probably not without fundamentally changing your mutually agreed employment terms, which could make them vulnerable to potential constructive dismissal claims. Always seek legal advice in such scenarios.
- What insurance policies should I consider as a van-dwelling worker?
Explore options like employer’s liability insurance in case a colleague is injured while visiting your van workspace during work hours. Professional indemnity insurance may also be worthwhile.
- How do I ensure my van is a safe and healthy work environment?
Conduct a risk assessment on issues like ventilation, lighting, electrical safety, ergonomics, and emergency exits. Be transparent with your employer and request a professional inspection if needed.