As Canadians return to the office, women still working from home may find that their careers are beginning to stall.
It’s called the zoom ceiling, a phenomenon where remote workers are more likely to be passed over for promotions, pay raises and leadership roles.
Peter McSherry, an employment lawyer in Guelph said, “If working from home policies are poorly implemented, they can be the new “glass ceiling” for women.
Leaders should avoid creating a two-tier workforce where in-person employees get better access to special projects, raises and promotions. McSherry said, “If management does nothing, it could be a disaster. The reality is a lot of people want to work from home, at least some of the time.”
Employers who do not accommodate employees who want to work remotely risk losing educated, experienced, and talented workers.
Employers need to recognize that remote work is an opportunity to create strong businesses and improve employees’ quality of life and that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Out of sight, out of mind
Despite remote work being more common over the past two years, outdated polices, and approaches threaten to leave remote workers behind.
For managers that want to see “hustle”, there may be the perception that those who work from home are less motivated than their colleagues in the office. McSherry said, “It may be very career limiting for people who are in jobs where measuring performance is difficult.”
The ability to work from home has been a lifeline for many women trying to balance family and work responsibilities. Recent studies show that college educated women with young children are 50% more likely to apply for remote work.
McSherry warns employers that women shouldn’t have to compromise their career trajectory if they want to work remotely. At the executive level women shouldn’t have to give up opportunities for partnerships, choice assignments, and stature simply because they want to work from home.
Employers should also be reminded that their equity obligations still apply when employees are working outside of the office.
A back-to-the-office order could be “constructive dismissal”
For longer term employees and many recent hires, it was made clear by managers throughout the pandemic that they could work from home, but now the terms are changing.
McSherry said, “I think you’re going to see that employers who require people to come back to work may find their employees arguing that they’ve been constructively dismissed.” Given the number of people who are working in a hybrid or fully remote capacity, this is becoming a pressing issue.
A back-to-the-office order could be a “human rights violation”
Being passed over for pay raises and promotions could be a human rights issue.
McSherry said, “If it is predominately female employees who are working from home, for family-related reasons, and the only people promoted are those are physically in the office, there is a strong case that gender discrimination is present.” If a protected group is being excluded from promotions, salary increases and bonus opportunities, even if this is unintentional, it is still “adverse effect” discrimination.
Peter McSherry is anticipating receiving calls from workers who say their boss is pressuring them to come back to the office while they want to work remotely. “People’s reasons for wanting to work from home are often related to protected grounds of discrimination. Employers should be aware that women who perform most of the household labour and would rather save travel time by working remotely. These facts shouldn’t limit women’s employment opportunities.
Investments in work-from-home strategies that maximize everyone’s potential will help employers attract and retain the best people and the best teams.
COVID-19 has not disappeared and one trend that is likely to remain permanent is the remote and hybrid workplace.