Working From Home and discrimination – are you ahead of the curve?

Hybrid working is here to stay. But for all its many perks, could Working From Home and discrimination soon feature together in more headlines?

It’s a definite possibility. Over half of hybrid workers in a recent survey said they were worried about discrimination. Some said remote work exacerbated existing issues. Others that they didn’t get the same deal as their office-based counterparts.

This is potentially a lawsuit waiting to happen for many companies. Not to mention a huge risk to staff diversity, proven to be immensely beneficial for any organisation.

So, are you ahead of the curve when it comes to Working From Home and discrimination issues? Let’s find out:

Working From Home and discrimination – the key concerns

1) Providing IT equipment vs Bring Your Own Device

In the UK, employers are not obliged to provide IT equipment for their team members to Work From Home (WFH). That said, most companies provide at least basic equipment such as a laptop.

From a business perspective, it’s often foolish not to. At the very least, the critical nature of cybersecurity means you should never let team members use their own devices without them first being assessed by your Managed Service Provider or in-house IT department.

Every team member who works from home at least some of the time needs to know the importance of:

  • Data security protection and GDPR
  • Device security, including remote device management software
  • Password security and cybersecurity

This is not just a matter of business efficiency and security. There are related legal and discrimination issues that can require costly remedies in future.

There is also the fact that obliging employees to use equipment they’ve purchased themselves risks stratification by income level. Discrimination concerns aside, incompatible or poor-quality systems are certain to impact your workplace productivity and workflows.

2) Office furniture and health and safety

Again, there is little current legal requirement to provide office furniture for remote working employees. The only exception is that employers make reasonable adjustments if an employee has a disability.

Companies are at risk though from the health and safety concerns of essentially extending their workplace into their team’s homes. That’s why so many organisations are conducting health and safety risk assessments of their employees’ remote working stations.

There is also the potential for discrimination in terms of availability of facilities. If everyone is in the office, the quality of stable internet (for example) is equal. At home, everyone’s situation is different. For many people, WFH increases their quality of life. But some people do not have a home that lends itself to a healthy or productive work environment.

However, one of the benefits of remote working is that some companies can reduce their office costs. They may have lower bills or pay less rent if they can relocate to a smaller office space. Many companies use those savings to offer remote workers:

  1. Cash payments – these payments to build a home office seem to average around £120 to £600 per person.
  2. Co-working memberships – for those team members whose homes are not conducive to home-based work, some employers offer membership at co-working spaces.
  3. Pay rises – with a pay rise, employees can upgrade their entire set-up (or, indeed, move to a different home).

3) Opportunities, development, and training

There is a serious but growing danger (and data to support it) that employees working from home will naturally miss out on opportunities available to their office-based colleagues.

One study showed that WFH employees are routinely passed over for promotions (with career growth as much as 50% slower). This ties in poorly with the different demographics who may prefer to work remotely and those who may not.

For example, a single young man may be able to commute to work every day without issue and see their career advance. Conversely, a woman with young children may prefer to work from home part of the time (if only to mitigate the huge cost of childcare in the UK) and be passed over as a result.

This is likely to result in a loss of diversity (shown to negatively affect overall company performance) as well as be a potential legal issue in years to come. In order to combat it, business leaders need to offer balanced:

  • Training and learning opportunities, both mandatory and optional
  • Career development opportunities
  • Promotion and workplace responsibilities
  • Internal recruitment possibilities
  • Consideration of associative personal needs, such as care responsibilities

4) Perks, benefits and leave time

Many companies like to promote the creature comforts they offer in their office – we’re talking bean bags, drinks fridges, and table football tables here.

For fully remote employees, those onsite perks – like gym membership or free coffee – need to be provided or replaced, even if you don’t think an employee will use them much. Without this, there’s a point of view (and possibly a legal case) that would suggest at least some level of discrimination.

The same is true of sick leave. Much as you might think it’s obvious, it isn’t unheard of for unscrupulous employers to offer less sick leave to remote workers (or to suggest they should work while ill because they are at home).

5) Rights and requests

Unless their home is specified as their place of work in their contract, an employee doesn’t have a “right” to work at home. However, they do have a right to ask you to consider letting them after they’ve worked for you for more than 26 weeks.

Most employers will at least consider saying yes at this point. The benefits of talent attraction, staff retention, potential productivity and employee satisfaction benefits – not to mention job market competition – alone are usually encouragement enough.

Plus, as an employer, you can’t say no to a remote working request just because you don’t like the idea. You have to show that your business will be negatively impacted by someone working from home.

Do be aware of the potential for discrimination against home-working employees relating to this decision too:

  1. Direct discrimination – do you allow a female employee to work from home because they have children? If you don’t allow a male colleague to do the same, that could be direct discrimination.
  2. Indirect discrimination – if your general refusal to allow working from home has an uneven impact on different employees, that could be indirect discrimination.
  3. Privacy vulnerability – if one of your managers were to see (for instance) a rainbow flag on the wall of a home-working employee and treat them differently to others because of it, this can lead to all kinds of claims of discrimination and bullying.

Planning and assessing your remote working set-up

Like all discrimination, working from home represents a potentially thorny issue. So, just like the IT and cybersecurity set-up you institute for your remote working team, don’t be tempted to get by without giving yours some proper thought and planning.

We can’t tell you how to protect your people against discrimination (though we do know some consultants who could help.)

What we can do is help set up your team to Work From Home while maximising productivity and cybersecurity.

Set up a cost and commitment-free chat with Chief Geek Gildas Jones today to join the nearly 1000 Bristol businesses that Dial A Geek has already helped.