Employers are increasingly allowing employers to work remotely or telecommute. (Photo: AleksandarNakic, Getty Images)
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: I like my job, but my co-workers and I wish they’d allow us to work remotely once a week, or at least occasionally. Who should we talk to about this benefit? What’s the best way to ask? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Telework is on the rise, in both the United States and abroad, so it’s not surprising that you and your co-workers have this flexibility benefit top of mind.
The good news for you is that employers are increasingly allowing employers to work remotely. Research tells us 69% of organizations now allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time – up 13% from 2015 – while 27%offer full-time telecommuting.
This uptick in teleworking is explained, in part, by growing employee demand and that it simply makes good business sense, especially in retaining top performers. Research also suggests teleworkers are more productive than on-site employees – even when they’re sick.
That said, telework doesn’t work for every workplace. Businesses that rely on face-to-face client meetings, for example, are less suited for remote work. And there are some inherent drawbacks to telework. Since you’re not interacting with people in person, building relationships with your co-workers, clients, customers, vendors, etc., can be more difficult. Similarly, without the ability to connect in person, there’s often more room for error in communications.
Other factors considered by employers include an employee’s status, both in terms of performance and tenure. If an employee isn’t performing well or is new to the organization (say less than 90 days), an employer may be less inclined to approve a request to work remotely.
With that in mind, talk to your immediate supervisor or HR representative about the possibility of teleworking. Make your request clear: Is this occasional? Once a week? Full time? In any case, develop a teleworking program that demonstrates how you will retain or even enhance your productivity remotely, so your employer sees benefits and not just costs.
Employers will consider the bottom line – as they should. So, if teleworking is important to you, put this benefit in terms of your company’s financials. For example, telecommuting programs often provide employers with increased financial flexibility by reducing overhead costs. Perhaps your company could save money on office space or equipment.
Similarly, if you’ll enjoy your job more by teleworking, your employer might be wise to take employee experience into account. Remote work can be a small benefit that improves employee experience in a big way.
It shows employees they’re valued and trusted, which can improve motivation, well-being, and productivity in more ways than may be evident on the surface. After all, life is unpredictable. Whether it’s a sick child, the loss of a loved one, or simply being at home for a maintenance appointment or important delivery, the flexibility of remote work helps employees adapt to the unforeseeable.
Just remember: Don’t make demands. Make a strong case – and see where it takes you. Best of luck!
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Q: My employer terminated me during the fifth week of my maternity leave, stating they were switching from a labor-intensive business plan to a warehousing plan. However, they are still hiring as many, if not more, people as before. They also said they were eliminating my position, which they did not. Is this allowed? I feel like this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been pregnant or taken leave. – Anonymous
Taylor: I’m sorry to hear you lost your job, though I’m happy to congratulate you on the birth of your little one.
While I appreciate the details in your question, I would need further specifics to provide a narrowly tailored recommendation. That said, I do have some general guidance that should help you – and those in similar straits – determine the proper way to proceed.
The short answer to your question is that it depends on the workplace – namely, the size of your company. If your company employs 15 or more workers, then it falls under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Implemented in the late 1970s, the PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it illegal for employers with 15 or more workers to discriminate against pregnant employees or job applicants.
This amendment does not provide absolute employment protections for pregnant workers, but it does mandate covered employers treat such workers as favorably as other temporarily disabled employees, as it relates to employment actions. For instance, if an employer is going through a restructuring, that employer must use nondiscriminatory selection criteria when conducting layoffs or making other employment decisions. This means using objective criteria, such as seniority (e.g. last one in, first one out) or a poor performance record.
An employer cannot use the fact that an employee is out on a protected leave of absence as a deciding factor in the decision to eliminate certain positions.
To see if and how this applies to you, I would request a meeting with your former HR representative to better understand the criteria behind your termination. Ask the HR department to provide specific reasons, ideally, in writing.
If, after this conversation, you feel that you’ve been discriminated against, you may wish to reach out to the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state Fair Employment Office.
However, I wouldn’t take legal action until you know exactly why you were let go. Situations such as these can be complicated. While it’s possible your perception matches reality, there could be other factors beyond your awareness. I wish you the best.
Society for Human Resource Management CEO Johnny C. Taylor (Photo: Delane Rouse)
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