Don’t Let America Go Back to Work Without Telecommuting Rights
Not everyone can work from home, but the ones who can should be allowed to
A growing wave of legislators is aiming to revive the comatose economy by sending their constituents back into what is effectively an active war zone — and justifying the argument with a predictable pile of parroted sound bites, leaving many Americans with a tough question to ponder as they wade through the murky waters of an astoundingly partisan pandemic.
This question is especially tough because the “pondering” isn’t up to the labor force at large. That is to say, if your employer gets the green light to pull everyone back into work, you’re going back in — or else. That impending lack of control over your own environment is a frightening proposition, in contrast to the level of control you’re likely exerting now to avoid exposing yourself and others to the coronavirus. Is there anything you can do to retain some semblance of control once the United States is deemed open for business again? For many of us, the answer is “yes, with an if.”
Conventional wisdom pre-Covid19 was that 29% of the nation’s workers could fully perform their jobs remotely. This estimate might be on the low side. To be fair, millions of people in the United States cannot perform their jobs remotely and every day we hear of more non-essential workers who can’t telecommute and are now being laid off or furloughed. Still, a large segment of the population can do their jobs just fine without commuting to an office, but their bosses might still require them to return, and maybe too soon.
The economic and environmental costs of commuting levy a tremendous burden on individuals and their region’s tax base.
Before we all began sheltering in place, I had been pursuing an initiative to protect telecommuting as a civil right under Title VII employment discrimination law. You can read all about it here, but its relevance to pandemic mitigation efforts is both timely and powerful. One of the major arguments for the right to telecommute is that your employer doesn’t know what’s best for your household (imminent virus or otherwise). So as long as you can do…