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These Workplace Trends Might be Driving You Nuts – But are they Illegal?

Trends in the workplace, like anywhere else, tend to come and go. Anyone who has been a part of the workforce long enough knows there is a tendency to jump on the latest and greatest workplace innovation, no matter how silly or inefficient it might seem to employees. Workplace trends are normally harmless, no matter how frustrating, but there are instances in which a trend steps over the line. For instance, what was once “trendy” in a 1960s office could nowadays be considered sexual harassment.

How can you tell if a trend is just something to improve the workplace or if it is really causing a problem that could lead to and employment law legal action?

It’s simple. If a trendy change or upgrade infringes on someone’s rights in the workplace, the company is putting itself at risk for legal action. If it singles one person or a protected class of people out from their co-workers, it could be called into question. And if a trend downright breaks a law, it needs to be ended immediately.

Current Trends

Few things bring employees together like a change in the workplace. How many times have you gathered around the water cooler, complaining about the latest change to the dress code or the new policy against personal phone calls? Even change that is in the best interest of a company tends to ruffle feathers because it upsets the status quo.

Three of the most popular workplace trends today have people buzzing, but could they trigger legal action?

Budget Cuts = Cuts to Perks and Amenities

Many employers are cutting amenities. Gone are the days when companies provided free coffee and plastic utensils in the lunchroom. Many have even cut back on travel expenses and compensation for business meals. Cutting workplace perks has forced employees to spend more out of pocket and some have needed to get creative when it comes to entertaining clients.

Budget-driven cuts are rarely illegal and many are reversed once things get rolling again. As long as what a company cuts is not necessary for doing your job and the cuts do not target a particular individual or group of people, companies can give and take as they choose. An example of a cut that could be called into question would be eliminating access to a restroom for employees to save water and electricity. As for the freebies you’ve come to enjoy but aren’t necessary? You just need to make do.

Shared Workspaces

Another trend that is growing in popularity is something called hot-desking. This means employees do not have an assigned workspace, and instead choose a different workspace each morning when they arrive. They are unable to leave personal belongings in a space from day to day or personalize their space in any way.

As an employee, you likely see a number of negatives to this practice and chances are it won’t have any sustainable success. However, it is unlikely to be called into question legally, as long as employees have access to everything needed to do their jobs.

Constant Contact

Finally, many employees are reporting increased pressure from supervisors to be constantly accessible. Many people feel they must always be within arm’s reach of phone or email access, even when they are not officially on the clock.

Whether or not an employee can take action over this depends on several things. First, do you simply feel the pressure to stay connected, or are you being asked to do so? Has your job been threatened if you are not reachable during non-work hours?

Second, are you a salaried or hourly employee? There are different standards for employees paid per hour than there are for those who are salaried and/or exempt.

Finally, are you being contacted for business reasons? There is a big difference between a supervisor checking in with an off-hours business question and a late-night phone call regarding your personal life.

The bottom line is every situation is different. There are plenty of things in the workplace that are going to be frustrating but perfectly legal. And in other cases, a policy change or adopting the latest trend might seem innocent enough but actually cross a line.

If something occurring within your workplace seems inappropriate, you have options. To learn more or to discuss a particular issue, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

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