There are several ways that life will change for us after the coronavirus expires. From finally being able to go back to the movie theater to eating at your favorite restaurant. Yes, we are dreaming of returning to normal life. But what’s normal will be no more for many of us especially our bank accounts. Economic changes create winners and losers but as a capitalist society, it might be even more lopsided than it is now. One issue will remain on the rise, at-home workers. State and local laws could be the trickle-up legal effect Americans could use as protection in sharing office cost burdens.
According to studies over 3% or nearly 4 million Americans work from home. During the first stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, entire buildings began to shut down in the downtown area of cities. Chicago saw many of its largest buildings, dubbed little cities due to the high population of people within business hours, empty overnight. Employees were transferred to 21st Century online intranet systems to keep business afloat. Many of these workers may remain online to save businesses millions of dollars in rent and office costs.
The average business spends nearly one million dollars a year for office space especially in downtown areas and big business districts. New York businesses pay $6.16 a square foot while Atlanta only pays $1.74. It’s a huge difference for businesses but if you stay home that cost is eliminated. Office equipment can be very costly from the office design to each printer and phone line. The average monthly cost per employee just for office equipment and supplies is between $77 and $92 a month. That doesn’t sound like much until you multiply that by employee numbers. Why would a business pay for a printer, computer or new desk chair when it can be transferred to an online employee? Workers could be burdened instead.
Currently, federal laws only protect the very basic of employment laws including safety precautions, hourly wages, and contracting rights which are based on employer premises which have now changed. San Francisco has a progressive law that creates the process for employees to apply to work at home for their current employer called the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance. But that’s where it ends. If at-home workers have grown over 150% in the last 15 years then our laws need to change fast.
It’s always easier to start on the local level for a change. People could collectively present issues to their local politicians regarding at-home employment burdens and costs. Possibly beginning with a petition to have all phone bills, internet bills and office equipment completely paid for by employers. Currently, at-home employees receive a simple tax deduction but that’s not enough. Just think of the immense savings a business has when they send us home to work. Employees could request stipends for several items available in offices-water, electricity, gas, cleaning services and even babysitting. The babysitters are provided at some major companies so it’s just a continuance of a bill business already paid.
Now that the conference rooms are gone don’t forget to add the bill for business meetings and lunches around town. Plus the time it takes to get there, back and fuel for the trip. All of these expenses were on the businesses at one time and should remain that way.
Americans know flex work is the future. It’s a convenient contract for employees and employers but the burden should be shared. If not by the employer’s willingness than by law.