The remote work conundrum

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

But, despite the city’s reawakening, remote work is not a thing of the past. Many employers have allowed employees to continue to work remotely, or adopt a hybrid working arrangement where in-person work is required on occasion or part time. Many of us have experienced the benefits of remote work, but seldom have we discussed its shortcomings.

As I write this article from my office on a Friday morning, I see the city slowly coming back to life.

 

Food courts, once empty, now buzz with the excitement of co-workers reuniting. Coffee shops are once again bustling with lines of people dressed and ready to start their day in the office.

 

Remote work no longer has a stranglehold on our work culture, in spite of its overwhelming prevalence over the last two years.

 

But, despite the city’s reawakening, remote work is not a thing of the past. Many employers have allowed employees to continue to work remotely, or adopt a hybrid working arrangement where in-person work is required on occasion or part time. Many of us have experienced the benefits of remote work, but seldom have we discussed its shortcomings.

 

For example, in an all-hands meeting at Google earlier this week, according to a CNBC report, Google employees peppered executives with questions about their collective unhappiness regarding compensation. Following the results of an internal employee survey, a number of Google workers “don’t view their pay packages as fair or competitive with what they could make elsewhere.”

 

Responding to these criticisms, Google’s Vice-President of “Total Rewards” Bret Hill said “people are dealing with location changes and the effects there.” In that comment, he was referring to the company’s announcement last year that it would reduce salaries of employees who moved out of working in expensive cities, like San Francisco, during the pandemic.

 

Last year, Google said “with our new hybrid workplace, more employees are considering where they live and how they work.” Essentially, workers that moved away, intending never to return to the office, took a financial hit.

 

Google is not the first employer to adjust compensation models for remote workers, nor will it be the last. Even if remote workers maintain their salaries the way they earn incentive compensation, promotions and raises will change.

 

In fact, employers that maintain a remote workforce must revisit how employee performance is evaluated too, a key takeaway from Google’s all hands meeting last week.

 

Hybrid workplaces will create multiple classes of employees. Employers may unconsciously treat remote workers differently, which could give rise to claims of unfair treatment with respect to pay, job satisfaction and opportunities.

 

Another notable issue may be how remote work affects different demographics. For example, if more women remote work than men, issues affecting these workers, like lower pay, could be amplified through remote work programs unless employers are careful to create processes to keep employees on a level playing field.

 

Remote work is here to stay. Prudent employers must work now to ensure remote workers are not unfairly left behind.

 

On to your questions for this week:

 

Q. I am scheduled to return from my parental leave in a few months. My employer just told me that I have been restructured out of my role and will not be returning unless a new job opens up for me. I can’t look for a job now as I don’t have daycare and was not planning to work until at least my proposed return date. What are my options?

 

A. A termination while on parental leave may be a violation of your right to be free from discrimination on the basis of family status, pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code. If you were discriminated against you may be entitled to wrongful dismissal damages and human rights damages, but there is also a possibility to seek reinstatement to your role if discrimination is found. Get legal advice now to determine whether or not you can pursue this avenue.

 

Q. I employ approximately 40 employees that have all been working remotely for the last two years. I have asked employees to start coming in to work two to three days a week, however, I’ve noticed that many only come in one day a week and some don’t come at all. What do I do to mandate the return to work?

 

A. If you are operating under a hybrid model, I suggest you create a schedule that dictates when employees must physically be in the workplace (i.e. Tuesdays and Thursdays). You may alternate days for staff members depending on the needs of your business. Allowing employees the flexibility to choose which days they come in could be the reason for the slow return. It is important that you implement a mandatory schedule and follow up and often with employees early who are not complying with the return. Condoning a continued work from home regimen will reduce your legal options down the road. It is important to communicate your expectations clearly and explain why it is important for employees to return to in office work.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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