Foreign Policy Blogs

Telecommuting as a Human Rights Approach

Image: DDFic, Flickr

Image: DDFic, Flickr

The modern workplace and the requirements of jobs in the high-technology era have brought what was an outlying issue in the past to the forefront of the debate on employment arrangements. Some major technologically inclined corporations have come to different conclusions. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting arrangements via a memo and Google CFO Patrick Pichette stated that “as few [Google employees] as possible” telecommute. Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, who has never worked out of an office, finds these positions to be “backwards,” especially when the tools to make such arrangements productive, fulfilling and secure are available.

There is something to be said for either side of the argument, but the best answer is likely “it depends.” Whether a telecommuting arrangement will work or not depends on many factors, including the type and demands of a particular job and the desires of the employer and employee.

The pros and cons as well as the costs and benefits of telecommuting are numerous, and read to point towards favoring telecommuting as reducing costs and stressors of the employee, employer and society at large. Many employees see a telecommuting arrangement as job perks, appreciating the greater ability to manage personal and family life in relation to job requirements.

The response of the anti-telecommuting camp is to create, in a sense, the modern company town. Major corporations provide many on-sight services and benefits that have the effect of obviating many of the concerns of those employees who would prefer telecommuted working arrangements. Corporate facilities provide on-site dining, health care, automotive maintenance, and many other mundane but necessary and recurring tasks that employees may otherwise have to take time off of work to complete.

The potential for positive effects on the social goals falling under the purview of corporate social responsibility created by telecommuting arrangements are vast. Greatly reducing the pollution and injuries created by daily commutes, ensuring job security through the continuity of business in the event of a disaster, and reduces the opportunities for discrimination to pervade the workplace. In other words, the successful balancing of the work life and personal life of many employees through feasible telecommuting arrangements will, in the aggregate, significantly advance the goals and agendas of human and labor rights.

The normative content of the human right to work cannot approach a level of specificity or conviction that would recommend either the physical presence of employees in a workplace or a telecommuting arrangement. Certain jobs such as those in the service industry clearly require the presence of employees in a precise location, but many desk jobs could be carried out under a telecommuting arrangement.

The work of the International Labor Organization recognizes the necessity of achieving a harmonious work-life balance that satisfies the needs and interests of both employee and employer. Telecommuting could be a positive advancement in the work place for all.



Marc Gorrie

Marc C. Gorrie holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington, and an LLM in international human rights law with a specialization in international labor rights law from Lund University (Sweden). He is a port welfare worker and ship visitor for the Seamen's Church Institute in Ports Newark and Elizabeth, NJ, where he also collaborates on an educational program on the Maritime Labour Convention directed at port chaplains and welfare workers. He recently contributed to an EU project on legal education and law school curricula in the Gambia, and has held a research fellowship in legal ethics, lectured on federal Indian law and American legal ethics, and worked as a disability advocate.