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As mask mandates have been lifted and COVID-19 infection rates go down, many businesses are using this as an opportunity to welcome employees back to their workplaces. It is expected, and we have already seen, that there will be pushback from employees who would like to continue a hybrid or entirely remote work environment. In anticipation of these requests, there are three main points for employers to consider when handling increased employee requests to telework.

An Automatic Yes/No Decision to Telework Requests No Longer Works

The path of “back to normal” no longer is viable. As so often we have had to do in the past, this is a moment of change and adapting to a new normal. Implementing a policy that automatically says either “yes” or “no” to all remote work is not recommended.

Employees may be expecting to continue to work from home to some extent for a variety of reasons:

  • Child care
  • Commuting distances
  • Efficiency
  • Mental and/or physical health

What to Consider When Evaluating Telework Requests

What happens if you do get a request to work from home or resistance to returning to the workplace? How do you begin to evaluate this new normal? There are a number of factors to consider in order for you to decide internally where you want to draw the line and where you want to be flexible as it will have both short‑term and long‑term implications for your company.

  • Review the employee’s actual duties. Depending on the physical and/or operational duties of an employee, the decision to allow an employee to work from home can vary. A line worker (e.g. an employee that works in a warehouse or on an assembly line or in a kitchen) will look very different from an employee that is in a call center. Of course, there are gray areas. If you’re in a regulated industry, one of the considerations for employees working from home is the need for cybersecurity and additional security protocols for people who are working outside of your physical presence. Let’s say your company supports a government entity or audits financial institutions. They have extremely robust layers of cybersecurity that are required for employees to access the information on a computer. Thus, it is very challenging to orchestrate that from an employee’s home. One option we saw put into practice was to select only a handful of employees for whom to install full virtual private network (VPN) access and then conduct regular periodic cyber audits.
  • Review the basis for the request. Consider why the employee would like to keep working from home and not return to the office. If the reason is based on a medical issue or a mental health issue, that is categorized on one analytical track, which is a disability accommodation conversation. If it’s for a logistical reason (e.g. when the employee no longer has care for an elderly parent or a toddler, sold their car, or a variety of personal reasons), that’s a different analytical framework that doesn’t fall into the disability accommodation conversation.

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