Because of Covid-19, nearly half of all U.S. workers are now working from home, and a majority of those want to continue working from home after the outbreak ends. Have we reached the point when some employees will have a legally enforceable right to work from home?
Asked another way: If workers can do their jobs remotely, should employers still have the right to require them to work from a company office?
About 90 percent of Goldman Sachs’ 34,000 employees worked from home in 2020. But last week, Goldman’s CEO David Solomon called WFH “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
Similarly, the heads of JPMorgan and Barclays said they want their people back in the office.
In the face of such opposition, is a legal right to work from home possible?
New rights for workers emerge more often than you’d think. Recent examples are family leaves, minimum wages, defined work hours and holidays, access for employees with disabilities, workplace safety standards, and more.
Like those examples, there are good reasons for work-from-home to become a legal right.
It’s safer. Even in perfect weather in daylight, traffic accidents happen. Why risk commuting any distance if it’s not necessary?
It’s more efficient. Should employers stipulate work times? Assuming I meet my company obligations (Zoom meetings, Slack responses), why shouldn’t I work when I can work best, even if it’s dark outside?
It’s healthier. If I don’t need to rub elbows with others at the office, why should I? Even post-pandemic, there will be a lot of dangerous germs around. My healthiest workplace is home.
Life is more balanced. From home, I can work for my employer and serve my loved ones and neighbors. I’m more valuable as a human being when I stay plugged in where I live. Unless my location impacts job productivity and performance, why should an employer care where I live or have any say in it?
Employees save money. According to one job site, people who work from home half time say they already save around $4,000 per year. They spend less on gas, car repairs, parking, office clothes, and meals out. Who gets paid for commute times? Does anyone collect bonuses for sitting in traffic jams? So WFH is a double win for employees. They spend less money and make more on a per-hour basis.
What are some arguments against WFH?
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said last year remote work was hitting productivity and reducing “spontaneous creativity.” He and other executives also voiced concerns about losing their firms’ unique cultures.
Fact check: Nearly two-thirds of WFH workers in the same job now as before Covid-19 report no change in their productivity.
Less creative? If corporate innovation depends on collaboration, as some argue, won’t tele-collaborating work just as well?
What about threats to company culture? Here, Jamie Dimon has a point. WFH does threaten the cultural status quo.
But that might be a good thing.
We shouldn’t assume different corporate cultures will be worse. Maybe WFH will produce better, less toxic cultures — more diverse and authentic, with richer community perspectives.
Back to our initial question: After Covid-19 is no longer a daily threat, will WFH become a recognized legal right for workers who can meet their responsibilities remotely?
Why not? Today’s workplace may be due for a legal earthquake — like child labor laws a hundred years ago or OSHA 50 years ago.
The next big change in the workplace? How about the legal definition of “workplace” itself.