Workplace Culture

Work-home boundaries are blurring as people log more hours on the job

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 25, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Leon Neal/Getty Images
Workplace Culture

Work-home boundaries are blurring as people log more hours on the job

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 25, 2020
Leon Neal/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

For the millions of workers who suddenly went remote during the pandemic, the boundary between work and life has become more muddled than ever. A lot of folks are juggling jobs and kids at home. Without commutes, workers are actually logging more hours, multiple surveys show.

Now the Department of Labor has issued guidance, reminding workers and their employers to accurately track those hours so that workers get paid for their time.

Omar Zaki has been working from home as a sales engineer in Atlanta for years, but with the pandemic, his 6- and 4-year-old are home, too, and he’s worried about potential job cuts at his company.

“You’re just on duty all the time,” Zaki said.

He finds himself working longer, later hours, though some of them aren’t as productive as he’d like since he and his wife tend to the kids during the day.

“What is a work hour has become muddied for me and everybody that I work with,” he said.

Zaki is on salary so he doesn’t punch in on a timecard. But for those who do get paid by the hour, how do they keep track?

“When working remotely, you don’t necessarily have the same checks and balances and the same protocols in place,” said Jeffrey Ruzal, an employment law attorney in New York.

Because people aren’t clocking in at the office or working a traditional eight-hour day, Ruzal says that could expose employers to lawsuits for unpaid work. That makes it all the more important to encourage employees to accurately report their hours, odd as they may be.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

Are we going to see another wave of grocery store shortages?

Well, public health officials are warning that we could see a second wave of the virus before the end of the year. And this time retailers want to be prepared if there’s high demand for certain products. But they can’t rely totally on predictive modeling. People’s shopping habits have ebbed and flowed depending on the state of COVID-19 cases or lockdowns. So, grocers are going to have to trust their guts.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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