Companies could invite a ‘minefield’ of lawsuits if they let employees choose how often they work remotely, economist says

Woman and child working from home laptop computer mac
  • Hybrid work could eventually lead to lawsuits, the Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom told Bloomberg.
  • Single men could return to the office full time while working mothers may work from home some days.
  • It could result in different promotion rates and a “legal minefield” for companies, he said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The future of work could bring about new challenges for employers and employees – including legal issues, a leading economist said.

In a new interview with Bloomberg’s Olivia Rockeman, Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist who’s an expert on remote work, shared his findings from a yearlong survey of US companies and their employees.

Bloom found that most workers were planning for a hybrid work model: commuting to the office a few days a week and working from home the rest of the time. The continuation of remote work is already affecting where people live – suburbs versus urban centers – and how productive they can be, he said.

But Bloom said he was worried this new reality could have negative long-term effects.

“Who would choose to work from home more days post-pandemic is not random,” he told Bloomberg. “For people with children under the age of 12, you find almost 50% more women than men choose to work from home five days a week.”

If you let employees decide how much they come into the office, he argued, young single men could come in every day while working mothers could opt to stay home a few days a week. This could be “extremely costly” when it comes to who gets promoted, he said.

“Six to seven years down the road there’s a huge difference in promotion rates and you have a diversity crisis and, honestly, for companies you have a legal minefield of quite justifiable lawsuits,” Bloom said.

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Others have expressed similar concerns about a hybrid model of work. Earlier this year, Zillow CEO Rich Barton said that while Zillow planned to adopt a hybrid model, he worried it could create a “two-class system” where those who come into the office more often are viewed as better employees.

On a smaller scale, a format including “hot desks” for employees to rent each time they come into the office could be an annoyance for workers and IT departments: Workers would need to recalibrate their settings and readjust their desk setup, while IT personnel would need to help workers connect to specific network drives or devices each time.

Still, the hybrid model has been touted as the future of work, particularly in Silicon Valley. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and executives at Salesforce and Microsoft have indicated they’ll adopt some form of a hybrid model.

Andy Jassy, who will take over as Amazon’s CEO in July, told CNBC last December that he predicted most people would adopt a hybrid work model and that he expected the future of work to be “hot offices where you decide which day you’re going to come in and then you reserve a desk.”

The finance and consulting industries appear to be going hybrid as well. HSBC recently scrapped offices for its executives and told them to hot-desk instead, while Bain & Company said its office in Austin, Texas, would allow consultants to reserve a desk on days they’re coming in.