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Working from home with a poorly baby/child - is there a difference?

Hi All,

We have introduced a work from home policy that clearly states that parents should have no responsibility for children when working from home (which is also applicable when a child is sick).  We will always cover a "reasonable" amount of time off, but we have had to ask some Employees to use their holiday or take unpaid leave to cover these days on occasion.  

A couple of our Employees have older children and are permanently based at home.  Through word of mouth, we've heard that they have worked from home when their children have been sick. which wasn't notified to us.  My concern is that those Employees who have had to take holiday or unpaid leave would get to hear about this.  As it's within our company policy, I feel the Employee should receive a warning about this, but one of my Directors feels that as the Employees children are older and they are meeting their targets it's OK - is this discrimination?  Has anyone else heard of a policy where Employees with older children can be treated differently to those with babies?

I'd appreciate your thoughts!

Many thanks

Lorraine

  • David

    | 20697 Posts

    Chartered Member

    29 Jul, 2017 19:02

    Hallo and welcome Lorraine

    Would suggest that your employer revisits the reason(s) why they put that kind of restriction into their rules. Some employers consider that an employee can't properly multitask between (typically) early years at-home childcare and working from home. With a 12 or 13 year old usually at school that's very different though, even on the odd occasion when they're off school ill - and anyhow, what about school holidays?

    I'd be inclined just to reserve the right of the employer at their sole discretion to withdraw or modify working from home arrangements if there is any reasonable doubt that the employee may not be able to give their undivided attention to their work when reasonably required and leave it at something like that and thus ensure that the employer at least applies some common sense to the matter rather than getting needlessly entangled with occasional and relatively trivial / hypothetical events
  • David Perry

    | 5014 Posts

    Chartered Member

    29 Jul, 2017 19:55

    Apart from what the other David says, are you really suggesting that the employee in question receives a warning (formal?) Can't they simply be reminded?
  • Elizabeth

    | 1940 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    29 Jul, 2017 21:55

    Hi Lorraine, and welcome

    You ask, "is it discrimination"? I think it would be a real stretch to construct some kind of claim for age discrimination based on the relative age of different employees' children. As you have identified, you are more likely to get the parent of a baby or toddler complaining that it isn't fair that they can't work at home when their child is sick but someone else can.

    I would think that older children who are not in school because they are not well don't need to be actively supervised for most of the day, just to have an adult in the house with them, so perhaps it is more practical for those employees to work from home than parents of very young children who might need a lot more attention when they are not well. The children of the staff who have not been allowed to work at home are going to get older and more independent, so if those staff stick around, they will presumably get the same treatment as those staff whose children are already that bit older.

    It strikes me that your organisation has run up against a cultural transition of our times: now we have the technology to be connected from virtually anywhere, work has become something you do rather than a place where you go. On one hand, if the employees are meeting all their targets, what do you care about what else they are doing? But on the other hand, your organisation is probably paying a salary based on a certain number of hours worked at pre-set times. So you have a culture clash. The parents of older children working at home are getting their work done, but they are perhaps doing it in chunks through the day and into the evening rather than solidly from 9-5. Perhaps it might be possible for the parents of younger children to fit their work around their babies sleeping pattern. If you get a parent who feels aggrieved at not being allowed to work at home, perhaps you could allow it on a trial basis. If they get everything done to a good standard then there would seem to be no reason to stop it, but if they struggle to manage work and childcare, then you are entirely within your rights to turn down the homeworking request.
  • In reply to David:

    Thanks David, I think that sounds like a good idea to add a clause into the policy to allow the employer to withdraw or modify at their sole discretion! It was more of a concern that we have other Employees feeling they are being treated differently - but that clause will tackle that issue! Thanks again!
  • In reply to David Perry:

    Sorry David, I think my wording was a little harsh, in terms of warning, I meant a conversation to remind the Employee to keep the policy in mind and to update us when these situations arise, so we are notified.
  • Teresa

    | 353 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    31 Jul, 2017 10:49

    I must admit that I tend to be with your Director on this one - I'm not a great fan of having policies, unless they actually help to improve the business and i'm not too sure what having such a policy actualy achieves. Surely if people are still delivering the outcomes that the business wants them to do, it doesn't matter if they have a poorly child in the house?

    I could see a potentially discriminatory element to it - why only poorly children? It is likely to affect proportionately more women than men as we are still in a situation where it tends to be women who are more likely to look after children.

    So if the organisation is committed to such a policy, it really should extend the exclusion to having a poorly partner, pet, parent etc as they can all be equally distracting.

    I'm not recommending that though - with homeworking, there are benefits to the organisation in terms of savings of overheads etc, but also to the employees in terms of being able to have greater flexibility in how and when they do their work. The key to success is having much greater focus on what the employee is expected to deliver, rather than trying to replicate the office environment and practices at home (and trying to police that)
  • In reply to Teresa:

    Thanks Teresa, I think my concern is that I want all employees to be treated equally and I know that others would be treated differently by their Line Manager following from the policy introduced. I think perhaps we need to think it through a little more to ensure fairness is applied across the board!
  • Elizabeth

    | 1940 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    31 Jul, 2017 15:57

    In reply to Lorraine Naylor:

    Treating everyone the same under the banner of equal treatment is not the same as treating everyone fairly. If you have a delve on this site you will find there have been some interesting threads on this point.

    Image result for cartoon of equal treatment and fair treatment

  • Steve Bridger

    | 7358 Posts

    Community Manager

    1 Aug, 2017 09:00

    In reply to Elizabeth:

    Elizabeth

    "It strikes me that your organisation has run up against a cultural transition of our times: now we have the technology to be connected from virtually anywhere, work has become something you do rather than a place where you go. On one hand, if the employees are meeting all their targets, what do you care about what else they are doing? But on the other hand, your organisation is probably paying a salary based on a certain number of hours worked at pre-set times. So you have a culture clash. The parents of older children working at home are getting their work done, but they are perhaps doing it in chunks through the day and into the evening rather than solidly from 9-5. Perhaps it might be possible for the parents of younger children to fit their work around their babies sleeping pattern. If you get a parent who feels aggrieved at not being allowed to work at home, perhaps you could allow it on a trial basis. If they get everything done to a good standard then there would seem to be no reason to stop it, but if they struggle to manage work and childcare, then you are entirely within your rights to turn down the homeworking request."

    Epically good paragraph, . Thank you.

  • Hi,

    I've just graduated from my MBA, and my dissertation was on working from home from the employer's viewpoint. I think you may have fallen into the trap so many other employers have of not recognising that working from home is a very different way of working.

    The research shows that people working from home invariably work harder, longer, and more successfully than those in the office - yes, I know, everyone has tales of that person who doesn't, but they are in a minority. Employees value this method of working and don't want to risk losing it. But in return the employer has to recognise that it's a different way of working and trust the employee.

    Taking your example of people with a sick child, yes they may well take time away to do whatever's needed, but the research shows that they will then more than make up that 'lost' time. They will also tend to take fewer sick days themselves, as working from home allows them to work when otherwise they might not be able to get into work. If they are doing their work to the expected level then I wouldn't pay any attention to these whispers - remember, whilst they might be true they are also an opportunity for malicious gossip.

    Finally, the research again shows that the employee's loyalty moves from the company to the homeworking method of working, and if there are problems with it they will look for other homeworking opportunities - which may mean the employer losing valuable human capital.
  • David

    | 20697 Posts

    Chartered Member

    11 Aug, 2017 13:01

    In reply to Teresa:

    Thank you for your valuable / most apt first contribution Teresa !
  • In reply to Teresa:

    This absolutely sums up my attitude towards working from home. I am so much more productive without the constant distractions of an open plan office environment and invariably work longer hours. My children are both over 10 now and I can't imagine either of them being at home sick would cause me not to be able to carry out normal work duties. Being home with a baby or toddler is a different matter.
  • Elizabeth

    | 1940 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    30 Sep, 2017 11:31

    In reply to Steve Bridger:

    :)
  • Christine

    | 26 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    2 Oct, 2017 11:19

    In reply to Elizabeth:

    I agree, Elizabeth. Surely this is a practical positive performance management issue rather than needing to get tangled up in redefining policy more stringently? Better the light-touch approach and enable colleagues to take responsibility.
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