By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to force up to half of all American workers to work remotely, in large part to address concerns regarding workplace safety. This has offered employees who work from home with the ability to accommodate other demands, such as remote learning for children and home care for elderly family members. The pandemic introduced a presumption of employer flexibility in how employees accomplish their work and as a result, has blurred the intent of two very different workplace benefits: ‘telework’ and ‘flextime.’
- Telework is codified in the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 and is a “work arrangement that allows [an] employee to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an approved alternative worksite (e.g., home, telework center).” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on September 10, 2020, here)
- Flextime is a benefit provided to employees to accommodate their work and personal responsibilities around a work schedule that differs from published workplace core hours. The total work hours for employees on flextime schedules equals that required under established work schedules.
While these are different benefits, the reality is that some remote employees now infer a sense of plasticity when it comes to meeting personal tasks like doing a load of laundry, stepping out for an appointment, running an errand, and other potential distractions while still trying to meet professional commitments and complete work requirements. In doing so, they do their best to conserve their paid time off (PTO) hours. Having more implied autonomy for individuals to redefine work/life balance means that in practice, telework by its nature begets flextime during this pandemic.
Employers may want to continue offering telework and flextime benefits; however, in this increasingly connected world, some employees are working harder and longer remotely while others are less productive. This dichotomy may create resentment and conflict between co-workers while adversely impacting collaboration, communication and corporate unity. Hence, there needs to be a shared understanding about these two benefits with established guidelines to balance employee needs with protecting the company’s ability to meet its mission.
As pandemic threat conditions subside, many employers may return to pre-pandemic on-site operations by reducing or revoking these privileges. There is potential for some aversion amongst employees who may look past the fact that telework and flextime were implemented out of necessity, and the request to return to the office will be internalized as ‘taking something away.’ To minimize this risk, a transition plan, reasonable accommodation under ADA and FMLA rules, and review of current benefits will be needed to ensure operational continuity and perceived employee equity.