Why should you be paid less to do the same job?

Should you be paid less to do the same job just because you are not in an office? Surely you should be paid according to what you deliver.

Woman working at home

 

It may have been a bank holiday, but it was a busy weekend when it comes to flexible working and maternity discrimination. First, there was news that the Queen’s Speech is yet again unlikely to feature the much-awaited Employment Bill with its legislation for carers, maternity rights extension, flexible working and more followed by reports that the charity Maternity Action had been dropped from an advisory group on maternity rights, reportedly for daring to suggest that the group’s scope is too narrow and has failed to make progress.

Then there was the news of two very contrasting approaches to remote working. One is Stephenson Harwood, a law firm, which is offering remote working on a 20% pay cut and says it doesn’t anticipate a big take-up of the policy. The firm has defended the decision, saying its remote workers currently live outside of London and the South East so it made sense to base the remote working rate on regional pay. Also remote workers have their travel and accommodation covered if they visit the head office which hybrid workers don’t get and there are sometimes different role expectations.

Research shows that many employers are thinking of or are reducing the wages of remote workers. It’s a kind of half-hearted acknowledgement that some people might prefer to work mainly from home, but it can seem more like a bribe to get people back into the office which has the effect of creating or further entrenching a two-tier system whereby remote workers are second class, even if they do the same amount of work as those in the office or more.

Having worked mainly from home for many years, I am probably not unbiased about this – but neither, I would argue, are those who have worked in the office full time and climbed the greasy pole. The straightforward question is why should you be paid less simply for working in a different place? Where is the evidence that those in the office deserve more pay?

I remember calling a previous boss out on this when the company decided to end one of my two days working from home without any consultation. I said I had been doing two days at home successfully for months. My manager, put on the spot, said that ‘actually your work has been suffering’ despite previous positive appraisals. I knew this was bogus so I asked for a list of how it was suffering. Top of the list was ‘you say you are tired’. I had once mentioned to him that I had been up at night with a teething baby. Somewhere else on the list was you cannot answer the office phone when you are at work. True. I am not able to duplicate myself yet, but I could have taken calls at home. The other reasons were similarly short on evidence.

I can understand being paid less if you DO less or your work is not as complex or whatever, but for the same job? That is surely bordering on discrimination.  If it is solely about travel costs, then spell it out rather than making it seem like remote workers are somehow less valued or second rate.

In a kind of Tale of Two Cities framework, we also heard in the last few days about another employer’s approach to remote working. Airbnb announced that their staff can work from anywhere for up to 90 days a year and get the same pay. By this they are not saying anything goes. There is a strategy, regular get-togethers and an emphasis on collaborative working. I’m speaking this week to another employer with a similar policy.

These employers have sensed the prevailing wind in terms of what workers want and what they have delivered during the pandemic and they are not pulling their head back into their shells, but venturing out into the new landscape. Yes, they will make mistakes and there will be lessons learnt, but at least they will be trying to move forwards rather than scrambling back to old ways that have been broken for many years now.



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