A Quick Hands-On Lesson in Teleworking Laws in the Age of COVID-19

by Warren Brown

When Dr. Warren Brown took a job starting in March leading a small private foundation, he suddenly found himself needing to get current on remote workplaces. Here, he shares his research and draft plan in detail to help inform others.

College Spark Washington is a six-employee, private nonprofit foundation that provides grants for education reform. I became the new executive director for College Spark Washington on March 23, 2020, and since my first day, all the staff were teleworking due to the pandemic. During my orientation from the retiring executive director, she noted that due to the pandemic and Washington State’s “stay at home” order, she reluctantly allowed employees to telework through the organization’s inclement weather policy. Since she was against teleworking, the organization did not have a telework policy nor a broader policy on alternative work schedules. With this reluctance, she felt evoking the inclement weather policy, which allows employees to work from home only if their child’s school was closed, met the urgent pandemic response.

As the retiring executive director was walking out the door, she handed me a file of her notes on alternative work schedules and teleworking. In that file was an article critiquing all forms of alternative work schedules. Bird (2010) claims that employers believe in an unscientific generalization on the benefits of alternative work schedules. More specifically, Bird (2010) states that prior teleworking research had “passing consideration to its costs, implications, and the substantial and decidedly missed prior research on the subject” (p. 1079). Since literature in this field often frames teleworking and telecommuting within the broader context of flexible work environments, the paper will integrate the terminology.

Just last week, the State of Washington’s “stay at home” order expired, allowing employees to gradually return to work over the next two months. At the same time, I have heard from my staff that they wish to continue teleworking into the future.

The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the literature to determine if my thesis, that telework is a positive benefit for both employees and the nonprofit, is correct. I will do this by comparing human resources literature versus legal literature, and then noting research based best practices for developing a telework policy.

Flexible work arrangements from a human resource perspective

Based on the Bird (2010) article, it is evident that there are conflicting thoughts about the efficacy and advocacy in having employees telework. However, a closer examination from the human resources literature note significantly more advocacy for an organizational telework policy. The Gallup Organization (2017) has the most complete research methodology on this topic, as they periodically conduct interviews with over 100,000 respondents regarding the work environment. Their most recent report indicates strong empirical support for a majority of worktime being telework as “optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60 to 80 percent of their time…working remotely most of the time but still getting face time with managers and coworkers” (The Gallup Organization, 2017, p. 153).

In regard to telework’s efficacy, research indicates that because there is a higher degree of autonomy and control for an employee while they are teleworking, there is a corresponding higher level of quality and fewer errors in their work (Hsu, Chen, & Shaffer, 2019).

Although teleworking provides support for employees to balance their work-life commitments, it creates greater permeability between the two, which can increase…READ MORE