Companies are Reining in Telecommuting: Who Wins, Who Loses?

The timing may not have been perfect, but electronics retailer Best Buy has announced that it is curtailing its telecommuting program.  The announcement, according to a story that quotes a Best Buy e-mail, comes just one week after Internet giant Yahoo banned telecommuting, reigniting the debate over the pros and cons of letting employees work from home.

Best Buy’s telecommuting program began in 2005 and received praise from workplace advocates. However, the company’s turnaround plans are being undercut by price competition from online rivals such as Amazon and others, and Best Buy has apparently determined that employee “face time” is essential to turning around its business.

The number of people who work at home has been increasing steadily, according to the U.S. Census:

  • Advances in technology make it possible for many employees to perform the same tasks at home as they would in the office.
  • In 2010, 9.5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home at least one day a week.
  • About 25% of those workers were in management, business or finance.
  • People who work at home usually work the same hours as those in an office.
  • Boulder, Colo., has the highest percentage of people working from home most of the week: 10.9%.

But prohibiting telecommuting might put Best Buy and Yahoo into hot water.  Both federal and Massachusetts law have recognized that telecommuting can be a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee whose physical or mental impairment interferes with his/her ability to come to the workplace.  As a result, an outright ban on telecommuting may run afoul of requirements under state and federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination.  Attorney Susan G. Fentin of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., discusses the pros and cons of telecommuting and the steps that an employer should consider when deciding whether or not telecommuting is an appropriate work solution for the company’s business operations.