The last two years of pandemic life have brought huge swathes of the country’s workforce into the office and into the relative sterility of their homes. It was by no means a smooth or fair transition. But after months of adjusting to this new reality of employment for those privileged enough to make it count, the question has largely shifted from “Will working from home really work?” To “Why shouldn’t this be the new normal from now on?” The burden of proof has therefore largely shifted from workers having to justify their pointing from their sofas, beds and perhaps even their home offices, to employers having to justify why they shouldn’t.
It is this precarious dance that has obviously caused a new wrinkle in the hiring practices of many companies wishing to capitalize on a workforce now accustomed to working from home, while wanting to maintain the level of picayune control over their work. day-to-day. -day activities that they had within the confines of an office space. The solution, it seems, is to insert deeply questionable language into job postings – like, for example, reserving the right to drop by an employee, out of the blue, just to check and make sure. that everything’s OK.
Here’s an example (since retired) from toy maker Mattel:
In addition to requiring the potential remote employee to have a “closed work area free of distractions or background noise (ie. never no background noise, music, conversation or ambient machine noise when working in a formal office, right? – the list warned: “There may be periodic unscheduled visits from a supervisor during scheduled shifts.”
Tell me if I understood correctly. You mean if I was hired for this job I could be sitting here in my home office (I’m extremely lucky to actually have a small room with a door I can work from), only for my boss – someone I may have never met in person before! – to ring my bell, enter directly and start to assess the place. And God forbid speaking Where music occurring during this surprise visit of the company’s panopticon, as it would likely be grounds for termination – whether or not it affects the actual work I produce.
In a statement to New York PostMattel went back to the hugely intrusive prerequisite for the job, saying that “while security is a critical part of this role, the job description no longer includes language about unscheduled visits, which were never put into practice “.
Yet the inclusion of the language “we can appear at any time, even if this is literally your home” is clearly sufficiently prevalent in recent job postings that journalist Anne Helen Petersen has called it. “Big red flag badly camouflaged” in a recent article in Substack. , writing that this is “a request that I hear more and more from workers, especially those who work in workplaces most at risk (large insurance companies, some financial institutions) or municipal / state / federal workers ”.
The point is, according to lawyers who spoke to Petersen about this particular trend, while we may be reluctant to transparent intrusion (my boss, my HOUSE?), The real legal reasoning is even more insidious. : indeed, it is about making sure that if you injure yourself at work, the company is as isolated as possible. By Petersen:
In most cases, this is boilerplate legal language that is part of a general effort to avoid messy OSHA workplace complaints, or to build a defense to deal with them. after their deposit. There is a general concern that if you let workers work from home on a regular basis and they somehow injure themselves in that home, the company will be held liable through worker’s compensation – and that includes liability for health problems (costly, ongoing) related to improper ergonomic setups. Putting such language in a remote agreement (or, conversely, asking workers to waive their right to sue if something happens) is one way to avoid this situation.
In other words, companies probably don’t want to surprise you in your home as much as they just don’t want to be responsible for hurting you under their watch. It’s not about extending authority to your private property – at least, not entirely on this subject – because it is a question of shirking the responsibility of those who are ostensibly under their responsibility.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t many other ways businesses have adapted to find their way into your work from home setups. Corporate surveillance always finds a way. Just be aware that if you are ever able to take on a job that includes a surprise visit clause, there’s a good chance you won’t be getting an unannounced pop-in anytime soon. But never say never.