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Employers Lean Toward Hybrid, In-Person Work Plans

By Amanda Ottaway · May 12, 2021, 12:02 AM EDT

More than half of businesses whose employees are able to work remotely expect to go forward with a hybrid plan in which workers spend some time in the office and some time working from home, according to a new survey from Littler Mendelson PC.

Over half of employers in the survey — 55% — said they're going to offer a hybrid arrangement. Only 4% thought their employees wanted to work in person full-time, though 28% said they'd require it for most workers who could work remotely. The 1,160 survey respondents included in-house lawyers, human resources representatives, and executives who answered questions online in the latter half of March, according to the firm.

Devjani H. Mishra, a Littler shareholder and a leader of the firm's COVID-19 task force, return-to-work team and vaccination working group, said that while some industries like tech have been remote-capable all along, in others, in-office work was the "default mode" before the pandemic.

"So people are learning new ways of working and new ways of managing. But there are definitely industries where managers may not be as comfortable or experienced at supervising people that they can't see every day," she said.

Referring to the employers who said they think just 4% of their workers wanted to come back in person full-time — though it's not clear how survey respondents gathered that data about their employees — Mishra noted that the question of returning in person depends on myriad unique and unanswered questions.

Those include child care options, vaccination and mask requirements, COVID-19 community transmission, the actual office setup and safety, and a person's living situation — for example, whether they had slow internet at home because their children were in remote school — she said.

"There's probably a lot more to unpack there in terms of what's keeping that number that low," she said.

Employer Expectations for the Coming Year

by the numbers

According to a Littler Mendelson survey of 1,160 executives released Wednesday:

55%

of employers say they will offer a hybrid working arrangement for employees who can work remotely

28%

of employers say they will require in-person work for most employees even if they can work remotely

81%

of employers say they are steeling for changes to paid leave requirements

64%

of employers expect some changes addressing income equality

Source: "The Littler Annual Employer Survey Report"

The survey results also showed that employers, who were already navigating a complex web of state and local paid leave laws before the pandemic, are bracing for more changes in those areas.

Eighty-one percent of employers said they're anticipating changes to paid leave requirements that will affect them in the coming year, a number that Littler shareholder Michelle Barrett Falconer, who co-chairs the firm's leaves of absence and disability accommodation practice group, said "really stuck out."

Barrett Falconer noted that the survey was conducted before President Joe Biden introduced his American Families Plan last month, part of which calls for broad paid leave for workers.

"Certainly, I think that it's noteworthy that everybody expects that will be happening. I think employers are hoping that it'll happen at a federal level to try to stave off some of the state and local," Barrett Falconer said.

Multijurisdictional employers are currently in a tough spot when it comes to the ever-shifting patchwork of paid leave laws across the country, Barrett Falconer said, because they "don't have something across the board that works everywhere."

The swift 2020 passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which included paid leave requirements, also showed employers how quickly Congress could make changes to paid leave laws, she added.

Putting herself in an employer's shoes, Barrett Falconer said that if paid leave passes on the federal level, she'd hope for two things.

"One, I would hope for federal preemption over state and local laws. And the second [thing] I would hope for would be a continuing tax break, whether payroll tax credit or something else, that would help to take what some employers feel is a burden on their operation," she said.

Among other requirements, Biden's American Families Plan calls for most Americans to receive at least two-thirds of their weekly paycheck — up to $4,000 per month — while they take time off to address a serious illness or "bond with a new child," among other circumstances, according to the White House.

Biden also supports the Healthy Families Act, which would set federal paid sick leave requirements.

Also according to the survey, 64% of employers expect some changes addressing income equality, such as a higher minimum wage, while 55% are eyeing possible changes to required diversity measures. Seventy percent think the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will have "at least a moderate impact" on them over the next year.

"I think there is a recognition that with a new federal administration, there's going to be different enforcement priorities," Mishra said of the EEOC.

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

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