Kathryn McNeil: Working from Home

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McNeil’s Options

Kathryn McNeil’s situation, while difficult, offers several options. Quitting or seeking a position with a new company is not ideal, especially since finding a new job in the computer industry “…would not be as easy as it had been in 1984” (Harvard Business School, hereafter “HBS”, 1994, p.10). Therefore, this discussion shall focus on three choices: working from home, changing the workplace, and filing a lawsuit.

Working from home.

Because Sayer needs all product managers to stay until “9 or 10 every night” (HBS, 1994, p.8), and McNeil finds it “…absolutely impossible to stay until 9 or 10” (Ibid), a compromise is necessary. While Lisa Walters indicates that working from home is not an option due to the need to “…access large bodies of information, such as company files and computer databases, which could only be used in the office” (HBS, 1994, p.9), it may be possible that technology has advanced to the point that off-site access is available. Since many companies including American Airlines, Sprint, and Xerox allow their employees to complete work from home and engage in workshifting via secure technology (Erwin, 2007), perhaps Sayer may be open to changing its policies. McNeil should explore potential options for working from home with both Lisa Walters and Charles Foley.

Changing the workplace.

If she is unable to gain permission to work from home, McNeil might attempt to convince Sayer MicroWorld to change its work environment. Since President John Edmonds finds it difficult to “…pull together as a team…if some key players have to run home every time their kid has a cold” (HBS, 1994, p.2), maybe the company could open a daycare onsite. Although in the short term the cost of the daycare may prove prohibitive, over time it could increase productivity. Certainly, McNeil is neither the first nor the last single parent with the qualifications necessary to contribute to Sayer, and having an onsite daycare would not only boost morale, but also productivity.

File a lawsuit.

As a last resort, McNeil might consider filing a lawsuit against Sayer. While at-will employment allows Sayer to fire McNeil for any reason absent a violation of public policy (HBS, 1994, p.9), terminating McNeil arguably violates public policy. Because Pfeffer vs. Superintendent of the Walter E. Fernald State School held that “redress is available for employees who are terminated…for doing what the law requires” (HBS, 1994, p.14), McNeil should argue that as guardian of her son, she has a legal obligation to provide appropriate care and supervision. Although Lisa Walters expected McNeil to be present at the meeting with the President when her son had a high temperature and asthma, McNeil’s legal obligation superseded her obligation to Sayer. As such, McNeil cannot be legally terminated for doing as the law requires.

However, McNeil may have trouble winning such a lawsuit, as courts have been “reluctant to widen the scope” of the exception to at-will employment (HBS, 1994, p.9). Additionally, Sayer MicroWorld could argue that Anita Wright vs. Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children held that unless an employee can prove a termination occurs absent a “legitimate corporate interest” (HBS, 1994, p.14), at-will employment is legally binding. Since Sayer’s recent merger places the corporation at “…some risk…requiring every employee to pitch in and tackle it…” (HBS, 1994, p.7) the corporation could argue that it had a legitimate interest in only employing managers able to work the long hours the job demands.

What McNeil Should Do

Considering all her options, McNeil should push hardest for getting her supervisors to allow her to work from home. Not only is this the least confrontational avenue, but it also allows Sayer to maintain its productivity and McNeil to care for Scott. Further, working from home is a low-cost solution for Sayer compared to opening a daycare onsite, and is certainly preferable to settling (or fighting) a lawsuit. McNeil might consider posing both options—an onsite daycare and working from home—to her supervisors in order to allow Sayer to determine a solution that works best for all stakeholders. Finally, McNeil should pursue a lawsuit only as a last result not just because it is time-consuming and expensive, but also because her chances of winning the suit are low.

References

Erwin, P. (2007). “Companies that will hire you to work at home”, CNN.com/living, Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/worklife/12/01/cb.home.based.workers/index.html?iref=newssearh

Harvard Business School. (1994). Kathryn McNeil (A). Retrieved from [insert website or place where case was obtained].