Ask HR: My Company Won't Let Me Work from Home

 

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP April 24, 2020
LIKE SAVE
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I have Type I Diabetes and am at-risk for the coronavirus. My job could easily be done from home, but my company won't consider it. Today, I closed my office door to practice social distancing and my boss made me open it. People in the office are sick but are not staying home. Is there anything I can do about this? – Anonymous 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I'm sorry to hear you feel at-risk while at work. But the good news is you can—and should—do something about this.   

Type I Diabetes can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, depending on the nature of your condition, working from home may be a reasonable accommodation your employer could be required to consider.  

That said, let's clarify something you said: Your "company won't consider it." What makes you say this? Did leadership, HR, or your boss say so? I ask because fewer assumptions now will make for a smoother process—and better outcome—later. 

While your boss did make you open your door, that doesn't mean he's closed to your concerns. That's why you should meet with him and explain why you shut it. You're especially at-risk for this virus—and that's why you would like to work from home. (If you asked him already, skip this step and talk to HR.) 

Make his decision simple by being prepared. Bring an outline of how working from home won't impact productivity. Describe what your set up will be, how it allows you to work without being in the workplace—and take notes.

If your boss remains unwilling to let you work remotely, you should go right to HR, share your notes, and make the same request. You should also highlight how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends employers allow remote work during this time, especially for those who are at-risk, such as yourself.

I'll add this. While the CDC advises against requesting notes from healthcare providers during this pandemic, your condition might warrant one to underscore your unique needs.

Perhaps your company has changed course since you submitted your question. But if it hasn't, hopefully this approach helps relieve your concerns and keep you healthy.

Stay well!

 

Question: After returning from a cruise to Nassau, my employer said I can't return to work for two weeks because of the coronavirus. I have no symptoms and feel great. Can my employer do this?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Simply put, yes. Amidst this unprecedented pandemic, employers can ask employees to stay home.

I know it may have been an inconvenience. But since there were outbreaks on cruise ships, it's easy to understand your employer's precaution. After all, even if you are asymptomatic, you could still have the virus or be contagious, according to the CDC.

As with any crisis—be it natural or man-made—employers want to keep employees safe and operations protected. In this case, the coronavirus is like nothing we've seen in a century, so companies are adjusting business practices out of an abundance of caution.

Since I don't have details on what staying home means for you (i.e. working remotely, being furloughed, taking leave, etc.) I can't say much more. However, I thought it was a great, general question worth answering since I'm sure many readers have wondered the same or something similar.  

Here's the bottom line: Even if you're feeling well, it's important to protect yourself and those around you. Practice social distancing, good hygiene, and stay home.

After all, at-will employment is still the law of the land. If you push too hard, your employer could simply terminate your employment. Given the fact that roughly 22 million people have filed for unemployment during the last month, you should consider yourself fortunate to have a job and an employer that is trying to keep the workplace safe.

LIKE SAVE

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs

SPONSOR OFFERS

Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect

HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.
temp_image