Georgian Court University will become the first college or university in the state – and one of the few around the country – to offer employees a four-day compressed workweek option year-round, instead of just during the summer.
The university announced the change July 11.
“We are pleased to take another step forward in our ongoing efforts to proactively address and meet the changing needs of our incredible staff to provide them with the flexibility to both excel at their jobs and to create a more realistic work-life balance,” said Georgian Court University President Joseph Marbach.
The four-day option will be available to some full- and part-time staffers and must be approved by supervisors. Georgian Court will continue to be operational five days a week and run at the same level to meet the needs students and faculty.
“Our core values are about taking care of the individual, and for years we have encouraged and successfully accommodated flexible hours. It is a system that works for us and our employees,” said GCU Director of Human Resources Dianna Sofo. “This program is voluntary and employees who choose to work a four-day workweek schedule will be expected to work their normal number of hours, just in a compressed workweek that better meets their needs.”
The option is intended to help employees avoid having to use paid time off or vacation days for appointments and family commitments that occur during the workweek.
Sofo noted that 50% of university operations now occur remote.
“A lot of positions that aren’t public or student-facing are still fully remote, while others only require staff to be on campus one day a week. This started out of necessity during COVID, but our staff appreciates the flexibility, and it has become a permanent flexible work option,” she said.
For those employees who can’t work remote, GCU will offer 45 free meal credits each semester that can be used in the Raymond Dining Hall.
Both the ideas for the compressed workweek and the free meal program stemmed from a Staff Roundtable Committee. The pilot programs launched at the start of the fall semester on Aug. 22.
“Universities in Europe have been offering these kinds of work-life balance programs to their employees for years,” said Marbach. “GCU is proud to be leading the effort in New Jersey to make this kind of commitment to attract and keep the best and brightest employees, and to find ways to improve the university experience for our entire community.”
Earlier this month, Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway announced a pilot program for employees to work part-time at home and part-time on campus. Rutgers launched the flexible work program in response to lessons learned during the COVID pandemic and from its 25-member Future of Work Task Force’s short- and long-term recommendations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required employers to make significant adjustments regarding their day-to-day business operations. One of the more significant adjustments is permitting employees to work remotely or rotate between working from a location out of the office and in the workplace. For employers that opt to implement such arrangements, it is imperative to have a written policy in place that sets forth the parameters of the terms and conditions for the remote work. The following items should be included in a written remote work policy.
Anti-discrimination, harassment and retaliation: All employers are required to prohibit discrimination, retaliation and harassment against employees based on classifications protected by applicable law, including but not limited to, race, gender, national origin, age, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and disability. When formulating and administering a remote work policy, employers need to be cognizant of treating their employees in protected categories in a disparate manner. For example, if an employer decreases compensation for a remote employee who is in a protected category recognized under the law, then the pay decrease may be construed as an adverse employment action depending on the facts.
In addition, employers have a duty to engage in dialogue with their employees to explore potential accommodations due to disabilities or religious affiliation that may help the employee perform the essential functions of the job. Accordingly, employers need to be flexible with remote employees who make any religious or disability-based accommodation requests.
Therefore, a remote work policy should include express language that the employer prohibits discrimination, retaliation or harassment against any employees working remotely. Further, the policy should direct employees to whom within the company any religious or disability-based accommodation requests should be made.
Eligibility: Depending on the nature of the employer’s business as well as the employee’s job functions, an employer may not be able to make all of its employees eligible for remote work. Therefore, a remote work policy should include objective eligibility criteria such as job duties or years of service with the employer.
Compliance with existing company policies: Employers need to advise remote work employees that they still must adhere to all existing company policies, such as any anti-discrimination and harassment, and protection of confidential and propriety information policies. Therefore, the remote work policy should make clear that all existing company policies still apply to employees who are working remotely.
Set work expectations: A legitimate concern for employers about instituting a remote work policy is the potential for lack of employee productivity. Employees need to understand that they are held to the same work expectations as if they were in-person at the workplace. Accordingly, the remote work policy should make clear that employees need to be accessible during regular work hours and that employees must follow their normal work schedules.
Communication: Generally speaking, an employee’s lack of responsiveness may lead to dissatisfaction from management and clients. Remote work employees must understand that they are expected to have the same level of responsiveness as if they were in the workplace. Thus, it is important for the policy to make clear that remote work employees must be responsive to communications from management, co-workers and clients.
Equipment: Depending on the nature of the employee’s job duties, necessary equipment, such as laptops, routers or modems, and phones must be provided. The policy should stipulate what equipment, if any, will be supplied by the employer, as well as clarify that this equipment is only to be used for business purposes. Conversely, the policy should also state what equipment, if any, must be provided by the employee and should make clear that the employer is not liable for any damage to equipment maintained by the employee.
Protection of confidential and proprietary information: Given the increased opportunities for job mobility in today’s COVID-19 pandemic economy, it has become even more important for employers to protect their confidential and propriety information that is shared with their employees. To that end, the policy should state that remote employees are expected to protect confidential and proprietary information belonging to the employer and take safety measures to protect such information, including the use of locked file cabinets and desks, and regular password maintenance.
Workplace safety: Workplace safety requirements still apply to remote work employees. Injuries sustained while working remotely may be covered by the employer’s workers’ compensation policy. Accordingly, the policy should state that employees are expected to maintain their remote workplace in a safe manner that is free from hazards.
Compensation: To avoid potential liability, employers should not set salary based solely on whether an employee works remotely. Therefore, the policy should state that there will be no changes to employee salaries for working remotely. Any salary adjustments should be made in accord with the employer’s regular course of business.
The pandemic changed the way employers do business. Part of that change is having the flexibility to offer remote or hybrid work arrangements. To limit potential employer liability, it is important for employers to have a comprehensive written remote work policy in place that expressly states the terms and conditions of the remote workplace.
The pandemic has changed the state of the workplace, with many companies offering the option to work from home. In fact, about 20% of all professional jobs were remote as of the beginning of 2022, according to personal finance publication WalletHub.
And even though many workers are starting to return to the office, the number of employees looking for remote work has skyrocketed in the past two years. An August 2021 report from Glassdoor found that the share of job searches for remote positions grew 360% between June 2019 and June 2021. So with the option to work from anywhere, what is the best state to set up the home office? Turns out, it’s right here.
WalletHub compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 12 key metrics in two key dimensions (work environment and living environment) and found that the Garden State tops the list of best states to work from home. The factors creating the best work-from-home conditions include low costs, reasonable comfort and a high level of security, the report stated. Other factors included how large and how crowded homes are in each state.
New Jersey received the highest of all scores at 66.75, ranking fifth for work environment and 11th for living environment. Rounding out the top five were the District of Columbia, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“New Jersey is the best state for working from home due in part to the fact that the state provides a comfortable and affordable environment for working remotely, with nearly 97% of households having internet speeds above 25Mbps. In addition, New Jersey has the second best access to low-priced internet plans in the country,” Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst, wrote in an email. “Plus, New Jersey has one of the highest percentages of people who could potentially work from home, so many workers can take advantage of these good remote work conditions.”
The states that are the least favorable for remote work are Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana, Mississippi and Alaska.
Diana Polk, WalletHub’s communications manager, broke down how the Garden State ranked among the survey’s metrics:
Working from home in New Jersey (1=Best, 25=Average):
21st – Share of population working from home
11th – Share of potential telecommuters
4th – Households’ internet access
21st – Average home square footage
12th – Cybersecurity
29th – Internet cost
WalletHub asked a panel of experts to weigh in on the future of the work-from-home option as part of its research.
“The genie is not going back into the bottle and we will not be returning to a world of almost exclusive work away from home,” said Robert Gitter, the Joseph A. Meek professor emeritus of economics at Ohio Wesleyan University. “I can easily see a hybrid system where workers work on-site several days a week and from home several days a week. Frankly, the culture has changed and sometimes workers will Zoom into a meeting from their desk at the office if they have to be there.”
With the current labor shortage, Gitter also said companies should look for ways to attract remote workers and invest in methods for remote onboarding and team building.
As noted, New Jersey ranked No. 4 for the number of households with internet access. When asked what the most important indicator of a successful work-from-home environment is, the panelists’ top answer was technology.
With most businesses operating remotely for well over a year, more than two-thirds of employers in the state say they have plans to continue the practice after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, or are at least considering a significant shift in that direction coming out of it.
The poll – titled “Back to Work in a Post-Pandemic World” – found that 65% of businesses will allow some form of remote work following the pandemic, or are currently considering such a move.
The report relied on 711 respondents to an online survey between April 1 and 26 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Forty-five percent of respondents said some portion of their workforce is still telecommuting, while 55% said that their entire staff was back in the office, according to the report.
“The pandemic has accelerated the evolution of the workplace by forcing businesses to confront and embrace our increasingly mobile, decentralized world,” said Dan Waldinger, who heads B2B marketing at Brother International.
According to the poll, 32% of businesses said they plan to spend at least $20,000 on new technology for a post-COVID workplace, followed by 26% who said they would spend between $1,001 and $5,000, and then 22% who said they would spend between $5,01 and $10,000.
“Businesses are realizing they must embrace tools needed to enhance collaboration, and subsequently, productivity, amid the so-called ‘hybrid workforce,’ with some employees working remotely, and some returning to the office,” Waldinger continued.
As part of the state’s latest reopenings, the indoor mask mandate and 6-foot social distancing rule will be lifted on May 28, with exceptions for child care centers, hospitals and public transit. Then on June 4, the indoor gathering limit will be lifted. The 250-person indoor gathering limit for political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services, performances, and catered and commercial events will be lifted. And the 30% capacity for large indoor venues will be scrapped.
It’s not clear whether face coverings will be required for private indoor workplaces.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, said in a May 25 statement that the language of the governor’s executive order means that “[o]ffice workers and anyone who works in an indoor setting that’s not open to the public will have to continue wearing masks” regardless of vaccination status.
“Where’s the science that says it’s safe for a vaccinated person to work unmasked in a supermarket where they might interact with hundreds of people, but it’s unsafe for them to work without a mask around a handful of people in a private office?” he continued.
Murphy’s office did not return requests for comment on the senator’s statement.
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