Over the weekend, most of us would have seen the viral interview with Professor Robert Kelly. Professor Kelly appeared on the BBC to discuss the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, but found himself interrupted by the appearance of his two children. His wife tumbled in shortly after to retrieve the children, but by then the interview was already unsalvageable.
Professor Kelly’s interview went viral partly because many related to the real difficulties of “working” from home with young children. It has also sparked discussions about gender roles, parenting, racial stereotypes, and flexible working arrangements.
As the modern working environment has become more evolved to allow for things like “flexi hours” and “results only work environments”, working from home is no longer considered an oddity. Some surveys have shown that in certain cases, working from home improves productivity and employee retention. However, working from home may not be suitable for all employees as it requires a high level of discipline and self-motivation.
In a world where technology and the internet have made it easy to work remotely, more employees are seeking to work in more comfortable arrangements beyond the usual “9 to 5” desk job. These requests aren’t just coming from Gen Y and millennials, as more senior work force (especially parents) are also looking for alternatives arrangements to help them juggle their busy family schedule.
Regardless of the source of these requests, employers should think about these issues before offering a work from home arrangement to their employees:
- What is the policy? Employers who seek to offer flexible working arrangements should ensure that there is a written policy which clearly sets out the limits and expectations for employees. Such a policy may have to cover the following issues:
- Which categories of employees are affected
- Whether specific approvals are required before an employee can opt to work from home
- Limitations to the policy (eg: are employees still required to physically come to the office a certain number of times a week?)
- Preservation of confidential information when working outside of the office
- Expectations of the employee while they are working from home (eg: they need to be contactable; whether they can be required to return to the office with minimal notice)
- Fairness. A written policy is useful because it will make it clear whether the flexible working arrangements are applicable to all employees or just certain employees. This would mitigate any arguments that an employee “believed” they were entitled to work from home because other employees were doing the same thing, or that physical attendance in the office was “not important”.
- Misconduct. As with any employee benefit, flexible working arrangements can be abused by ill-intentioned employees. Employers should ensure that they have in place the appropriate systems and procedures to ensure that employees are still meeting their goals and objectives, from wherever they are working. Employers should also be prepared to pull back any flexible working arrangements if they find that it is just not working out.
The Malaysian Industrial Court has held that “it is expected of a workman to adhere to the working schedule stipulated in the contract of employment or as instructed by the employer” and working from home without approval is a terminable misconduct. From a legal perspective, this means that if working from home is a perk offered to employees, the limits and conditions should be set out clearly.
This of course won’t prevent your children from making you the involuntary viral star of the year… but there’s only so much an employer can do.