The Legal Intelligencer Failure to Launch – Why Is Your Firm Failing to Be a 21st Century Employer? By Jessica Mazzeo
Failure to Launch: Why Is Your Firm Failing To Be A 21st Century Employer?
By Jessica L. Mazzeo
Back in November 2017, I wrote the article, “Why Law Firms Should Already Be Embracing the Mobile Workforce”. That piece mainly focused on firms having work from home policies for attorneys and only slightly touched on similar policies for staff. Six months later, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. Generally, law firms are still slower and less amenable to allowing non-exempt support staff, such as paralegals and secretaries, to work from home. While the most common reason is that managing attorneys are not open to this flexibility for staff, others argue that even if there was no resistance from top management, compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act for a non-exempt worker appears unrealistic. However, I strongly disagree. It is 2018 – not 1978 or even 2008 – and employers who are failing (and yes, it’s a failure, not an opposition) to meet employee demands and allow for some type of work from home policy are going to be in for a rude awakening. Maybe not tomorrow, or in five years, but with an estimated 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, and for which the majority will be fully retired by 2029, the time to act is now as all employees are demanding change.
Proceeding as we have done for decades is not only a failure to launch but a potential crash course in your firm’s future demise. Employees of all ages – and yes, all ages as millennials are not the only generation that seeks work-life balance – need to be able to better manage both their personal and professional lives. Lisa Sterritt, a legal management professional in the Seattle area with over 30 years of experience, agrees that firms are long overdue for a shift: “It’s time for a new perspective. I have worked both in-house and at law firms, and I have always advocated for anyone to work from home as needed, or on a set schedule, to accommodate challenges such as long commutes, elderly parents, newborns or illness. While it can create some compliance challenges in terms of tracking for hours worked or FMLA leave, great employees are worth that effort. The argument that only attorneys should have job flexibility is tired and reeks of privilege. If you can’t trust your people, nonexempt or not, to record their time accurately, why are they there at all?”
As employers, we have the ability to do this regardless of any actual and/or perceived challenges. In today’s world, technology not only allows for greater proficiency in the workplace but also grants us the ability to work from wherever we may be. For those employers concerned with tracking employee time and exact hours worked have a variety of options. There are several standalone programs, as well as add-on features to existing platforms, that can allow staff to remotely clock in and out as work is performed. Working remotely should not be an additional cause for concern when it comes to employees taking advantage or not actually working while on the clock. Imagine how many times you’ve walked down your office hallway and noticed attorneys and staff alike chatting away about weekend plans or the scores from last night’s football game. In addition, think about how often your workflow is interrupted while in the office, due to back to back meetings or coworkers frequently stopping by your desk. In some work environments, the distractions in the office can actually be greater than those at home. As Sterritt stated above, the employees who earn the privilege of having the ability to work a day or two at home are already trusted and valued to do the work they were hired to do, regardless if it’s at their desk in your office or from their kitchen table at home. Suzette Welling, Firm Administrator at Taylor & Associates in Central Florida, has found one way to tackle the issue of accounting for time worked outside the office: “We allow staff to work from home for such circumstances as a sick child, needing to be present for home repairs, and the like. It allows them to meet the needs of their family and the needs of the firm at the same time. We address FLSA issues by having them post detailed time descriptions to a firm account in our billing system for tracking what they are doing when they are not in the office,” stated Welling. Nikki Korson, Firm Administrator at Edell, Shapiro & Finnan LLC in Gaithersburg, Maryland added that her firm “historically has not given non-exempt staff the opportunity to work from home, because we did not have the necessary infrastructure in place to control hours worked and avoid FLSA concerns. However, we have found that creating the necessary portal to allow our non-exempt staff to work from home on limited occasions has provided a greater flexibility for the firm in times of inclement weather, illness, and even extended vacations. It is also particularly helpful to certain staff who desire the ability to keep on top of things in the circumstance of extended absence, as returning to work after a few days off without contact can often be debilitating. We are happy to have found a happy medium that works for all parties.”
However, instituting a work from home policy for all staff is not as simple as setting up the guidelines for who is eligible and when. A few firms that I spoke with allow any employee to work from home one day a month as long as they had a good performance review the last two consecutive terms. Having a clearly defined policy – and metrics for achieving the benefit – is key. Not all employees are good employees and not all employees deserve this benefit (because like many things, working from home is a privilege not a right).
You also have to perform your due diligence to ensure that you have enough remote terminal licenses so that your networks can be accessed remotely, ensure any hardware that leaves the office is properly protected with encryption and other anti-virus software and for firms with workers that live in other states, you will also need to make sure that you have the appropriate workers compensation insurance in place. You also need to take a close look at your employee handbook and policies and review if any changes need to be made, or new policies added, regarding maintaining confidentiality of information and precautions and policies you have in place for work from home staff to remain compliant with HIPAA and other data privacy laws.
While I agree that not all positions should have the flexibility to work from home all the time, I also believe that more positions should have at least some sort of flexibility. For example, having a virtual receptionist routing calls one day a week – or even having calls forwarded to your receptionist who needs to work from home is an absolute feasible task to accomplish. There will always be circumstances where you might need to ask other staff to pitch in, but employees understand that it’s a small price to pay when your employer affords you opportunities to work from home. Amy Bigaj, Office Manager at Personius Melber LLP in upstate New York, reinforces this: “We are fortunate that our partners appreciate the importance of a work-life balance for everyone in the firm and the need for flexibility in achieving that balance. They understand that this balance will help retain valued employees.”
Even though it’s been a year since the Forbes, “9 Millennials Share What Work-Life Balance Means To Them”, was published, and it’s how I closed my article six months ago, it’s important enough that I mention it again. The article shared the perspectives of nine millennials and emphasized what they considered “work-life integration.” If you didn’t read the article the last time I encouraged you to, you should read it now. Achieving a work life balance and the opportunity of working from home is not about a lack of loyalty or an attempt to watch TV at home all day, it’s about life balance. Think about your first job — or even your current job — and the stresses that are associated with trying to dedicate yourself to your career while also attempting to have a fulfilling home life. Having the option to work from home isn’t going to solve all of life’s problems but it is a start to showing your employees that you value their wellbeing and needs as much as you value your own.
Reprinted with permission from the May 24, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
Pamela Harper Breaks Down the EU’s General Data Protection Rule (GDRP) in the Philadelphia Business Journal
Pamela Harper, Member and Chair of the Firm’s Corporate Transactions & Compliance and Government & Regulatory Affairs practice groups, published an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal entitled, “Navigating the new world of data privacy”. In the article, Pam explains the scope of the GDPR, how it applies to companies doing business in Europe and why companies need to be prepared before the May 25, 2018 deadline.
The Legal Intelligencer – On-Campus Controversy Prompts Careful Crafting of Free Speech Policies By Fara A. Cohen
Fara A. Cohen Discusses Free Speech Policies at Colleges & Universities in The Legal Intelligencer
Fara A Cohen, Associate in the Firm’s Commercial Litigation published an article in The Legal Intelligencer, entitled “On-Campus Controversy Prompts Careful Crafting of Free Speech Policies”. In the article, Fara shares the do’s and don’ts of drafting free speech policies in the wake of first amendment debates on campuses nationwide.
Click here to read the full article in The Legal Intelligencer (subscription required).
The Legal Intelligencer – Millennial Attorneys: How to Make Your First Year Work for You By Fara A. Cohen
Fara A. Cohen Shares Law Firm Tips for Millennial Attorneys in The Legal Intelligencer
Fara A Cohen, Associate in the Firm’s Commercial Litigation practice group, led and moderated the Young Lawyers Roundtable discussion at our Philadelphia office on March 22, 2018. In the roundtable, our senior leadership offered advice to law students and first years associates on how to succeed at law firms as a junior attorney. Managing Member Francine Griesing, Member Edward Fisher, Member Pamela Harper and Of Counsel Cheryl Borland all participated in the discussion.
Takeaways from the Young Lawyers Roundtable were included in Fara’s article published in The Legal Intelligencer, entitled “Millennial Attorneys: How to Make Your First Year Work for You”. In her article, Fara shares four tips for first year associates:
1. Communication Is Key
2. Pay Attention to the Balance of Power
3. Attract a Sponsor
4. Build Your Brand
Click here to read the full article in The Legal Intelligencer (subscription required).
Pamela Harper Discusses the Impact of Corporate Culture on Talent Management
Pamela M. Harper, Member and Chair of the Firm’s Corporate Transactions & Compliance and Government & Regulatory Affairs practice groups, was featured in the article, “19 Business Insiders on Why Company Culture is Key to Managing Talent”. Pam discusses how maintaining a positive corporate culture is a business imperative:
“Corporate culture is a reflection of an organization’s DNA, and the values and norms embedded in that culture permeate the institution. They drive not only the recruitment but the management and retention of human talent. In effect, it is a brand marker and can be a differentiator in attracting and managing talent.”
Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association – HBA West Chester Advances the HBA’s Mission of Gender Parity: Francine Griesing
Francine Griesing Featured in HBA West Chester Newsletter for Keynote on Gender-Pay Parity
Francine Griesing, Founder and Managing Member of the Firm, presented, “You’re Worth It: Negotiating Employment Contracts, Asking for Promotions and Quantifying Your Value”, to the West Chester Chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association on May 22, 2018. Coverage of the event was featured in HBA West Chester’s newsletter which included key takeaways for combating gender disparity in pay.
The Philadelphia Inquirer – Hey, Philly’s business women: New networking groups spring up just for you: Francine Griesing
Francine Griesing Shares Input on Achieving Gender-Pay Parity in The Philadelphia Inquirer
Francine Griesing, Founder and Managing Member of the Firm, presented, “You’re Worth It: Negotiating Employment Contracts, Asking for Promotions and Quantifying Your Value”, to the West Chester Chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association on May 22, 2018. Fran discussed how to ask for what you deserve financially and stressed the value of joining professional networks to stay informed about salaries in your industry. Coverage of the event was included in the article, “Hey, Philly’s business women: New networking groups spring up just for you” in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Contact Us | P 215.618.3720 | F 215.814.9049
1880 John F. Kennedy Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19103
195 Montague Street, 14th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
11 Garfield Place Cincinnati, OH 45202
Contact Us P 215.618.3720 F 215.814.9049
Philadelphia 1880 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Suite 1800 | Philadelphia, PA 19103
New York 195 Montague St, 14th Floor | Brooklyn, NY 11201
Cincinnati 11 Garfield Place | Cincinnati, OH 45202