Quiet revolution to work from home leaves employees with unintended consequences

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Employers have no choice but to hold their collective breath and pray employees return

A popular narrative being espoused by the masses is the need to work from home.

Remote work is perhaps the most popular global phenomenon, rivaled only by the likes of Lebron James and Leylah Fernandez.

Rather expectedly, employers that have rung the bell for employees to return to work this fall have faced intense rebuke.

In August, Google notified its employees that if they chose to work from home permanently they could see pay cuts, according to a company pay calculator seen by Reuters.

For example, an employee living an hour or more outside of the city may see a 5-25% pay cut if transitioning to work from home permanently.

Pay cuts undoubtedly will result in resignations and perhaps lawsuits for those employees claiming breach of contract or discrimination.

Taking a different approach, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a company-wide memo in June telling staff they would be required back in the office this fall three days a week — Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays — with two days of remote work.

In his note to employees, Cook said, “The truth is that there has been something essential missing from this past year: each other.”

According to theverge.com, Apple employees pushed back with their own letter saying in part: “Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit. Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple.”

It is unequivocal that employees pushing back on traditional work culture is a quiet revolution that is gaining momentum worldwide. Employees have options.

Anecdotally I have spoken with employees who say their inboxes are teeming with remote work job opportunities and would be quick to consider them if forced back to conventional work settings. Employees resisting the great recall, en masse, have placed their employers in a vice. Adapt or perish.

But the story really isn’t that simple.

While everyday employees can be thanked for breaking the mold on traditional workplaces, there are unintended consequences to a work-from-home regime.

Google may have received backlash for its pay cut policy but employers paying top dollar for top talent are entitled to expect, what I call, the intangibles.

A top developer from Vancouver or banker from Toronto is expected to bring to a role their blue-chip resume, top-notch people skills, rolodex, and influence to the role. These people help attract and recruit other top talent to these organizations. They wow clients. They breed retention.

If, however, despite brandishing swanky credentials you decide to work remotely from your ranch in the sticks, a lot of your assets as an employee simply aren’t usable. In a way, by working from home, employees are putting out to pasture their charisma, great management skills or the certain “je ne sais quoi” part of their personality that can’t be conveyed over Zoom. And losing those elements could change your career trajectory.

The fact is, labour has forever changed and employees hold all the cards. Employers have no choice but to hold their collective breath and pray you return. But, if you have worked hard to establish yourself as a leader in your organization, and possess intangibles that cannot be valued when working remotely, think twice about joining the quiet revolution.

On to this week’s questions:

Q. I was hired remotely for a nine-month contract and my employer shipped a laptop to my home to work. Just heading into my third month now and the employer is sending memos letting employees know a three-day a week return to office is expected in September. Would this apply to me? I wouldn’t be returning to the office technically as I have never been there as I was hired remotely. The office is too far for me to get to. I’ve sent my boss and HR emails three weeks ago with my concerns without a response. Can they fire me and I get no EI help? Feeling tricked and stuck.

A. Take a close look at your offer letter. If the role offered was structured as a remote position with no requirement to attend the workplace, the call to return to the workplace should not apply to you as that would be a fundamental change to your working conditions. If your employer pushes you to attend at the workplace to continue working in your role, contact legal counsel for help.

Q. I worked for a technology company for a year and was sexually harassed by the owner and the vice president. Sometimes it was comments about my appearance, sexual jokes and a few times there were physical advances that I had to stop and pretend to laugh off. I couldn’t take it anymore and quit a few months ago. Can I do anything now even though I quit? I read that if you resign from your job you’re entitled to nothing.

A. Yes, you can sue for breach of your employment agreement and for damages as a result of you being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. You may be entitled to wrongful dismissal damages, human rights damages and potentially other heads of damage as well. In a circumstance like this, I would recommend you seek counsel to help you to collect evidence and to gather the critical details of the harassment. From there you can discuss the best forum for your legal case.

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

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

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