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I was bypassed for a promotion because I'm telecommuting. Is this standard?

This question came from a visitor to this site; here is the original question so you can see the background:

"After a dozen years with my company as Director of Marketing, including five as a successful 2-3 day/week telecommuter, I have been passed over for a promotion to vice president solely because I am telecommuting and am not in the office every day -this was stated to me by our company president. The only reason another director was chosen is that he is in the office every day. We are a small company, and this VP position is a new one. Is this just an unfortunate by-product of telecommuting, or is there some legal implication here? Before I go off and get really really mad, I would appreciate your opinion."

The classic answer to the question of whether telecommuting hurts one's career is that it generally doesn't, and in fact if anything can help it. But, there are always exceptions.

Based on what this person said, I'm not surprised with what the president did. That doesn't mean I support it. But in his eyes, if he has to choose someone for a higher-level job that will probably involve more contact with him, especially soon after the promotion, he may have opted for the person who will be closer at hand.

It sounds like this is done deal, so I don't think there's any value in going back to him to try to get him to rethink the decision. As for possible legal action, there are two issues to consider: do you have a case, and if you do, do you want to pursue it? I'll give you my opinion below, but you may want to check with an attorney for a more qualified opinion.

On the first point, I'd say you might have a case but it would be a very weak one. I don't think you can't make the case based on sex discrimination, and that leaves you with "place discrimination" if there is such a thing. Unless the president had made strong hints to you that the job was yours, or in other ways led you to believe you'd be promoted, I think it would be hard to find cause for legal action.

On the second point, which I think is the more important one, you have to carefully assess how much you like working there, what it will be like working there with the other person promoted, and whether you will be able to continue with your telecommuting and in your present job. IF you like the work and IF you don't think you can find a similar job elsewhere that will allow you to telecommute and IF you feel you can continue working productively with the president and new VP, you may be better off staying there. But of course, that's your call.

One suggestion: since the president was so open about having made the decision based on your telecommuting, you might consider approaching him (in a week or two when the dust settles) to express your dissatisfaction with his decision AND your willingness to carry on in your current position. Then, you can ask him something like, "Is there anything about my telecommuting that concerns you, even in my present job?" He might be harboring some displeasure about your absence from the office, and this might be a time to do some overdue fine-tuning. That doesn't mean you have to give up telecommuting - it may just mean that you have to stay in contact more often or in different ways.

Similarly, you might (gently) explore with him whether or not he would consider you in the future for any other promotion or reassignment as long as you are telecommuting. You might also mention - if you want to - that you would be willing to suspend the telecommuting for, say, two or three months if you were put in a new position to give you time to settle into the new job full-time in the office.

Keep in mind that in a small organization, there just isn't a lot of wiggle room for alternative solutions, and there isn't a lot of procedure and policy to fall back on - this is both a plus and a minus of small organizations. On balance, I'd say that before you pursue any kind of response or action about not getting the job, carefully weigh your overall satisfaction with the job and the situation and then decide what to do.

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