December 29, 2010

When the weather is frightful and work’s not delightful: the case for telework

Posted in Employee Handbooks, Telework / Telecommuting tagged , , , at 11:17 am by Tom Jacobson

When the weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful, employers are rarely heard singing “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”  Instead, their human resources directors comb through company policies to figure out how to handle the workers who are stuck at home until the plows can clear the way back to the office.  At the same time, business owners are calculating the revenue lost because of stranded workers who cannot do their jobs.

Blizzards and other severe weather events are not the only situations that prevent workers from being physically present on the job.  Other emergencies, injuries, illnesses and family commitments can have the same impact.  To weather such storms, employers may want to consider telework arrangements.

Granted, telework is  not feasible when a person must be physically present at the job-site.  However, with advances in technology, the decreasing cost of that technology, and the increasing number of jobs that are heavily reliant on the processing of information, telework (or “telecommuting”) is a viable option in many workplaces.

Moreover, it is likely that telework options will in the not to distant future be required in more places of employment.  The federal government is already moving in that direction, for on December 9, 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law the federal Telework Enhancement Act (“TEA”).  Among other mandates, this law requires federal agencies to identify workers who are eligible for telework,  appoint telework managing officers, develop training programs and enter into written agreements with employees who work remotely.

TEA was introduced in early 2009, but it was stranded for months until the Washington, D.C. blizzards of 2009-10 forced the federal government to shut down, costing it tens of millions of dollars per day in lost productivity (B. Leonard, President Signs Federal Employment Telework Legislation, SHRM Dec. 10, 2010).  After that, the law cruised through Congress when it was seen as a means to limit lost productivity.  As large metropolitan areas once again dig out from the massive snowstorms of late 2010, it would not be surprising to see similar legislation passed at the state and local levels.

Even if it’s not because of the weather or mandated by law, telework is an increasingly viable option to increase productivity, so employers should consider adopting policies that allow it.  Such policies must, however, be carefully drafted to account for the myriad of laws that will still apply whether an employee is working at the office or at home  — in his PJ’s  — where the fire is so delightful.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact me at

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

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