Employers may shed many of the changes the pandemic pushed on them, but it's likely that remote work is not on the list of things to go, at least not entirely. Hybrid work — a working arrangement that combines remote and in-person work in one way or another — is gaining popularity as employers announce return-to-work plans. But as employers gain their footing in "the new normal," they'll want to ensure their employee handbook includes the policies necessary to set them up for success.
In the conversation below, edited for brevity and clarity, attorney John Viola, a partner at Thompson Coburn, discusses which policies are most important as employers pursue hybrid arrangements.
HR DIVE: What's the most important policy hybrid employers need to include in their handbooks?
VIOLA: The most important thing is if employers don't have a remote work policy already, they need to have one in their handbook. And to get one implemented and to make sure that the remote work policy covers a variety of topics. I think that's the number one thing, that if an employer doesn't have a remote work policy in the handbook already, or even as a standalone policy, they need to add that immediately.
What are the most important elements of a remote work policy?
VIOLA: Well, you know, there are several things that should be in there. And, as an aside, we've seen claims and cases regarding eligibility to work remotely well before the pandemic. So I think that if employers allow a mix of working in the office and working at home, the policy should set forth clearly which positions are going to be eligible for full or partial remote work.
The policy should say what types of work can be performed remotely and when employees must be in the office as opposed to working remotely. And of course, the policy should include how the employee should go back without requesting permission to work remotely. Those, I think, are the first things you need because you need to make sure that you're not discriminating against people with respect to who may be allowed to work remotely and under what circumstances.
Another thing these remote work policies have got to make clear is that employees are required to be available and expected to work during whatever the company's normal business hours are. And those need to be in the policy because not every employee is working from home during the pandemic and going forward. Some employees have moved out of state — we read reports of Hawaii luring remote workers. So you want to make sure that you set forth hours during which the employee is going to be available to sit with you, to take emails and to do the work.
What strategies can hybrid employers use in rolling out any changes to their handbooks?
VIOLA: I think they should make clear when they're doing this, what decisions are being made — for instance, what positions will be allowed to work remotely and when — and why the decision has been made. If you just give an edict, employees are not going to be happy because they don't understand why it doesn't apply to them if they're chosen to work in the office.
There should be announcements and meetings that cover changes so that people feel they're a part of the process because let's face it, many of us like working at home. Right? So you're going to deal with the morale issue when people who have to commute, get dressed up and are used to enjoying more free time than they would have when working in the office environment.