Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022
There seems to be no end in sight to the various concerns associated with COVID-19, and experts are hesitant to say when and if life as we knew it will ever return to “normal.” As the pandemic persisted, companies large and small quickly realized that jobs we all assumed had to be done in an office, can in fact be done from the comfort of one’s home. #WFH is a trending social media hashtag standing for “work from home,” and posts using this hashtag range anywhere from how to dress comfortably while remaining professional when working from home to setting up the perfect home office. #WFH, however, is not just a social media trend, but a new normal for many Americans as employers were forced to allow their employees to work from home due to health concerns related to COVID-19. This gives rise to questions such as, what about safety and security concerns related to employer data? And, where do employees draw the line between work and home when working from home? While this may be uncharted territory, top researchers say that #WFH may be the next big thing for companies worldwide.
#WFH and compliance concerns
While working from home may seem to be convenient for both the employer and the employee, many concerns arise when it comes to managing the risks associated with remote workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for example, sets federal requirements for minimum wage and overtime for non-exempt employees. FLSA requires an employer to pay its employees the federally set minimum wage plus overtime if an employee works over forty hours in a workweek. With many employers now adapting to the realities of remote work, remote employees can log hours with minimal employer oversight, and employers may perceive their employees as being accessible outside the standard workday. Another complicated compliance concern is workers’ compensation. Working from home allows for flexibility with regard to work hours and one’s location, but the lines begin to blur when considering what may constitute a workplace injury or an at-home accident.
Benefits of #WFH
Forbes compiled data from Gallup, Harvard, Global Workplace Analytics, and Stanford to come to their conclusion that #WFH is in fact economically justifiable as opposed to a mere societal desire for modern convenience. According to top researchers, remote employees can improve a company in five concrete ways: productivity, performance, engagement, retention, and profitability. While some may find distractions when working from home such as children, roommates, pets, or Netflix, remote workers are allegedly 25-40 percent more productive than their office counterparts. Remote workers are also less likely to miss work while working from the convenience of their own home and less likely to switch jobs if given the flexibility to work from a remote location. Location is also important for a company to factor into hiring decisions, given the fact that they are now entitled to a much richer talent pool when considering employees from across the globe. Further, companies can now reduce costs such as rent, utilities, Wi-Fi, etc., if their employees no longer need formal office spaces. Companies can save an average of $11,000 per year per remote employee from minimizing said expenses.
Is #WFH the future?
When the February 25, 2020 CDC telebriefing warned schools and businesses to prep for remote learning and work, many thought this may be short-lived. As students and employees nationwide adjusted to staying at home, some companies declared their intent to allow their employees to work from home indefinitely. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that as many as half of its employees could be working remotely for the next five to ten years. Though they did not indicate which employees specifically, Twitter also stated that some of its workforce may continue to work from home forever. Other companies that have declared #WFH forever are Slack, Shopify, and Square. #WFH, therefore, seems to be leaning more towards the future of employment than just a social media fad.