Thursday, September 21, 2023

Is management putting your business at risk?

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Shreya Christina
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Dana Kravetz, Firm Managing Partner, Michelman & Robinson, LLP.

It has been more than two years since the Covid-19 pandemic unceremoniously invaded the world of remote work. Fast forward to today and many areas of life have returned to normal, although a new normal has emerged in workplaces across the country: a shift towards more flexible work arrangements.

In coast-to-coast offices, the traditional nine to five seems to be a distant memory. The numbers confirm this. A relatively recent Gallup Research among employees who can work remotely shows that 53% expect to work in a hybrid arrangement from 2022, while 24% expect to work completely remotely. This indicates that in many cases the future of office work is – at the very least – a hybrid future. And while there may be a temptation to fight this evolution and cling to our office-oriented past, clinging to old structures could serve to weaken team cohesion and effectiveness.

That’s not all. The insistence of managers to be on-site despite recognized hybrid work schedules can also pose a real risk of discrimination disputes.

From broken policy comes risk

As companies continue to implement hybrid work policies, an interesting dynamic has emerged among management holding on to the old status quo: their election to go to the office every day. While this practice is clearly acceptable – and expected – in organizations that have not implemented flexible workplaces, the impact can be problematic when a certain hybrid policy is in place.

Managers who continue to report remotely to the office on scheduled workdays can create pressure and expectation that their employees will do the same, no matter what lip service is paid to the adoption of hybrid schedules. For certain employees, the ability to spend more time interacting with the boss and potentially unlocking new opportunities by being in the office is worth the sacrifice of flexibility. Nevertheless, this can lead to misalignment and withdrawal of the team and lead to claims of discrimination.

Take, for example, an employee who adheres to her company’s three-two hybrid model (three days in the office and two at home). Despite the policy, her manager is usually in the office on a daily basis and as a result, many of her teammates also commute on their remote days. She no doubt feels pressure to be with the team, but due to her childcare responsibilities, she continues to adhere to the hybrid work arrangement. Over time, however, she begins to miss new assignments and projects given to colleagues who are regularly in the office, leading her to believe that her career development is being unfairly thwarted.

In this scenario, the employee, who simply adheres to her employer’s three-two hybrid model, may have good grounds for a discrimination case. By setting a conflicting standard around hybrid work, intentionally or unintentionally, her manager has created a culture of unfairness, inequality and potentially discrimination. This is something that should be avoided.

Leaders are the key

Risk management and success of the hybrid model start at the top. Managers themselves must follow office policies, including those related to remote work, and find ways to help teams succeed, whether on-site or off. Of course, challenges to productivity and connectivity arising from the flexible workplace should not be overlooked. However, that should not justify abandoning accepted policies, which in turn can create a landscape of favoritism and the potential for a toxic work environment.

Remember this: in this new hybrid world, preference cannot outweigh policy. If and when that is the case, legal risks could be just around the corner.

The information provided here is not legal advice and is not intended to be a substitute for counsel on any particular matter. For legal advice, you should consult a lawyer related to your specific situation. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?

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