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Remote Work, Parental Leave and More: Understanding Workplace Flexibility

During my recent trip to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2018 Conference and Exposition, I had the pleasure of speaking with many guests for Paycom’s HR Break Room, including returning guest, employment attorney Jim Reidy from the law firm Sheehan Phinney. Reidy sat down for a talk with Paycom’s HR Manager Chanse Moucka and me about his SHRM presentation on a topic of growing interest‒ workplace flexibility. Below are my main takeaways.

What is workplace flexibility?

Workplace flexibility is a loose term used to cover a broad number of subjects. It encompasses:

  • compliance with federal and state laws with regards to flexibility
  • the hours and days employees work
  • and state and federal leave laws and accommodations.

Whether the subject is telecommuting, job sharing, leave time, or worker’s compensation, employers around the country are taking a closer look at their policies in order to remain in compliance and attractive to top talent.

Determining the laws that apply to your organization

Most employment laws are based on the number of employees you have. Whether your organization is looking at one employee’s wages per hour, worker’s compensation or unemployment, you will likely encounter numerous state and federal discrimination laws to consider. Certain areas of workplace flexibility, like the Family and Medical Care Leave Act (FMLA), require a threshold of 50 employees to qualify. In order to consider how workplace flexibility relates to or benefits your organization, it’s critical to understand exactly which laws apply to you.

A common challenge for many employers is how to handle the laws applicable in multiple states of operation. The state laws always apply to the location in which the employees work and reside.

 Working remotely

When it comes to workplace flexibility, another hotly discussed topic is how to manage employees who work remotely. Reidy points out that it is legal and acceptable to apply all workplace policies to remote workers or telecommuters. However, there are a number of important questions to consider.

First and foremost, how do you enforce your attendance policy? Do you become the parent of a teenager and ask, “Are you up yet? Did you make your bed? Are you at the table and working?” That’s not going to be a popular approach to talent who work from home. Learn the habits of your remote working talent and find a way to monitor their time without micro-managing.

Second, how do you record employees’ hours? For non-exempt employees, any time spent for the benefit of the employer is compensable. If an employee is not in a traditional office environment, it’s possible they might do a little bit of work, walk the dog, run an errand, come back and work more. They may even work beyond normal office hours. Ensuring those hours are recorded and reported is important.

When it comes to having remote employees, there are other aspects to consider such as determining employee eligibility, how to manage equipment access, policies related to smartphones and laptops and how they can securely access your system. Anticipating these potential issues and educating employees on these policies during onboarding is key.

Parental Leave

Parental leave is another area of workplace flexibility under FMLA that organizations of 50 people or more are eligible for. This area of workplace flexibility is becoming more complex as millennial minded employees who do not plan to have children are asking for similar benefits for personal leave, or as Reidy called it, “me-ternity leave.” This leave would provide the same options couples receive after the birth of a child and requires flexibility that is not based on the existing laws for normal parental leave, but the demand from top talent.

Organizations are adopting policies that comply with both federal and state laws and are also communicating the purpose of each policy to their workforce in order to educate employees on the advantages of these policies and what is required of them. It is important to ensure employees know their responsibilities by communicating “this is the law that applies to you, this is what you need to do to request the time, this is what we expect of you once you’ve taken the leave, and this is what is expected of you for notification to return to work.”

Paid Sick Leave

Sick leave has been around and growing in popularity for many years, but not all employers have it as an option. The demand from talent for organizations to be more flexible with their paid time off options points to a trend that’s likely to change. Both federal and state level governments are looking at new laws for minimum paid sick leave as an economic safety net. If an employee doesn’t have paid leave (because FMLA largely is unpaid) and they don’t have other forms of economic relief, they could be perceived as a burden to the state. In the last five years, there has been an explosion in states and municipalities that have adopted these laws. In order to remain attractive and compliant, organizations should consider being more flexible with these changes today.

 Making your workplace more flexible

When considering which workplace flexibility practices to incorporate into your workforce, it’s essential to understand the workplace needs and abilities of your organization. Today’s workplaces have adopted various workplace flexibilities because they recognize the benefits and impact on their business, but there’s always an important balance.

What works for one employer may not work for the next, depending on the industry and each workplace’s culture. The flexibility options that apply to a ski resort likely won’t apply to a manufacturing facility or a small not-for-profit business. Before making a decision about if or how your workplace should be more flexible, start by learning the needs of the business and surveying the interests of your employees to understand what best suits your people and organization.