asking for a temporary work accommodation after the hurricane

A reader writes:

I know you answered a few questions about the hurricane earlier this week, but my question is about the aftermath.

I live a few blocks from the water in lower Manhattan and my apartment has basically become a 36-story walk-up with no power or water, and the building has been declared unlivable for the time being while damages are assessed and fixed. Since I have no idea how long it will be before I go home, I’m not sure yet what my next step will be, but if it takes more than a few weeks I will likely go home to my parents. My commute to work from there is possible, yet incredibly long, draining and inconvenient. Particularly compared to what I’m used to.

My question is, what is reasonable for me to ask of my employer? If I do end up leaving the city, I would like to ask if working from home is a possibility, even if it’s just a few days of the week. However, we don’t have a work from home policy, and I don’t want to seem like I am making excuses or milking the situation. I will say, though, that throughout this whole thing, both my employer and my manager have been understanding and wonderful and the last thing I want to do is appear to be taking advantage of that.

Thank you for any insight.

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this.

You should absolutely explain the situation to your manager and ask if you can work from home for at least a few days a week while this is going on.  It’s a completely reasonable request, and if it’s at all feasible for the type of work you do and if your boss is at all a reasonable person, she’ll probably be glad to have the opportunity to make this horrible situation easier on you.

And this request isn’t even close to milking the situation. Milking the situation would be asking to have the next two months off with pay, or asking your company to put you up a luxury hotel until your apartment is restored. What you’re asking is normal and reasonable.

In situations like this, most people are looking for ways they can make people’s lives easier, but they don’t always know how they can help. You have a very concrete request for something that would help. Ask!

And good luck. I hope things get back to normal as quickly as possible for you.

{ 56 comments… read them below }

  1. Anlyn

    Do you have insurance? Some insurances will put you up in a hotel while repairs are made, though there’s probably a time limit (like, two weeks or a month).

    1. Nancypie

      I think you can put in a FEMA claim for housing. People I know who put in FEMA claims due to damage earlier in the week have had them come out to their homes already.

    2. Anonymous

      I’ve been meaning to get renters insurance for a year now and now I’m kicking myself about it.

      Unfortunately, though, being put up in a hotel isn’t an option. I looked into it and nothing that I could feasibly get to is available.

  2. AP

    Thats good! Can we talk a little more about what else as managers/employers we should be helping out our staff with right now, or what might be unreasonable? I ask this because my office power just came back on (an hour ago! yay!) I’ve had some very mia employees this week, which I completely understand, but is it unreasonable to expect everyone back on Monday? Or at least to have heard from them with specific plans for moving forward? I hate too push too hard at a time of personal crisis but people should at least be making requests like this by now, right?

      1. AP

        I’m in Brooklyn, but our staff is scattered throughout lower Manhattan, Queens, etc. Office is in downtown Manhattan.

        I feel terrible because I’ve been sitting comfy all week with power/internet/heat/water/a bike, but I know at least some of our staff have had no power, staying with friends or in hotels, etc. So I’m afraid of sounding really insensitive and too “business as usual” too soon since I don’t really have a concept of what they are going through!

          1. AP

            I’ve gotten at least brief texts from everyone so far, mostly earlier in the week. Some of us have been working from home all week (big projects due tomorrow and Monday, no way to avoid the deadlines). I just sent out an email to everyone letting them know that the power is back on, so I guess I’ll see what the response to that is like, and if anyone seems to still be missing after that…

            1. Not So NewReader

              If anyone is missing, you could ask if they are okay or if they need help. Or you could ask the people who respond if they know if “Janice or Ed” are okay.

              I would tend think that someone who does not respond to “the power is back on at work” message is probably having serious difficulties.

            2. anon

              You’re the manager, you should just tell them if you want them back in the office or not. It’s a cop out to just send an email and see what the response is like – you’re the leader!

              I live somewhere where winter weather occasionally shuts down the city for a day or two every few years, and it drives me nuts when managers do this. Just say what the company policy/office situation is, and let people deal with it. You can offer options, like working from home, for those who can’t make it in. The sending of an ambiguous email just makes everyone rush to out-martyr each other by killing themselves to get to work.

              1. -X-

                One person where I work has no power at home, and comes to the office much more than normal because it’s nicer there than at home.

                Other people who have great difficulty coming in are working from home. It’s understandable.

            3. Ask a Manager Post author

              I tend to agree with anon that you shouldn’t leave it too open-ended or people won’t really know if they’re really expected to come in but you’re just not saying it directly. I would (a) express compassion/concern for the difficulties many people are dealing with, and (b) let people know that the office is open and that work is resuming, but that it’s understandable that some people won’t be able to easily come in without hardship, and if that’s the case, people should contact you to work out different arrangements.

              You could also offer to let people use any of the electrically-powered facilities that you have (whether it’s the kitchen, showers, etc.).

            4. Ask a Manager Post author

              Oh, also: If the company is in a position to do anything to help employees (and I realize that it may not be), doing so would be a really nice thing that will probably earn you people’s loyalty too.

              1. AP

                Okay, thanks for the pep talk everyone! I work at a really small place with no policies for anything, so we have to figure out what they should be every time something new pops up.

                My initial email from this afternoon basically said “power is on, we are back on, see you all on Monday” and everyone responded positively except one person. I will call her tomorrow and check in and see if she needs some sort of temporary arrangement, but also let her know that we are all back to work one way or another Monday morning.

  3. Liz in the City

    My Midtown Manhattan office doesn’t have an “official” work from home policy either, but with Hurricane Sandy, suddenly the CEO was asking anyone who was able to work to do so, even if it meant doing so from home, because there was literally no way to reach the office on Wednesday. And if we didn’t have power or had other things to deal with, to deal with those things first. I think most employers are understanding how devastating this storm has been to the region and by you offering a workable solution to the problem, they will be amenable to it (heck, your managers/fellow coworkers may be in the same boat).

    I’m so sorry your apartment building is flooded. Make sure you take all of your valuables with you (especially since looting has been reported), and be sure you tell people what you need, since so many want to help, but just don’t know what to do.

    1. Elizabeth

      You mentioning “your managers/fellow coworkers may be in the same boat” made me envision some creative locations for meetings in a flooded office.

  4. Purps

    Another suggestion: You could also try for a 10-hour, 4-day week, if they say no to working from home

  5. Steve G (from NYC)

    I am from NYC and don’t like what I see from some companies, putting people in positions like the OP. I took all my ***t out of Manhattan Friday just in case and thank god because I am set to work for weeks from home if I have to. Here is what is NOT GOOD that I am seeing:

    1) a mad RUSH To get back to work. Usually great but NOT if you are in a non-urgent position and there are people around you without electricity, phone, internet, food, water that need help. Unless you work in healthcare, for a utility, etc., why would you spend 3-4 hours one way to get to work? Can’t employers give leniency for a week or so? Not like we have hurricanes every year. If you are not absolutely needed at work in Manhattan, you should really give the spot on public transport to someone who has a more essential job.
    2) Lack of understanding from HQ in other places – just because you didnt see damage with your own eyes doesnt mean it is not there.
    3) One gun-ho employee causing the rest to lose face. I live the closest to Midtown (in Brooklyn though) but no way am I walking 4 miles to work especially with our new cold weather. But 2 of my coworkers who live 30-40 miles out show up! So I get “if they can’t get here why can’t you” type inquiries.
    4) Stupid demands from the “haves”: OK, why did our Dept of Education send out an email to parents saying kids cant get behind with school? That really puts salt in the wounds of someone whose home is damaged.
    5) Non-Affected employees lack of concern to get their info correct: Don’t tell me the subway is running so I am playing hookie. My 2 subway lines from from east of Manhattan to further east of Manhattan. Get your info correct!

    1. Elizabeth West

      Ugh, those are so annoying, especially the gung-ho coworker and the bosses that don’t realize not everyone is in the same situation. And after what I saw on CNN this morning, I can’t even imagine how they’ll ever get the subways running again.

      I still wonder what happened to the mole people down there, the ones that live way under the subways, down in the tunnels. Are there still any of them in there? Did they get out? :(

  6. JT

    This week the weather in NYC has been nice since Wednesday. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for employees in good health to walk 4 miles to work. That’s an hour and twenty minutes or less – a long commute but not brutal. If you can work from home at near full productivity, a good manager should allow that. But if you can’t work from home, and your home/apt is fine, that amount of time commuting isn’t that bad.

    Now of course a manager may not know that someone has bad feet or other health problems that might prevent that commute, and shouldn’t judge someone who doesn’t walk that far. But if you care about getting work done and it’s not raining or something and your place is in good shape (lot of ifs, I know), I think walking to 4 miles to work is not unreasonable. Try to do it.

    And if the “gung ho” employee isn’t doing anything dangerous or extremely expensive or taking more than maybe 90 minutes each way to get to work, too bad. They’re trying hard. That’s a good thing.

    Also, I know someone who has a two-hour commute each way when due to the subway problems, which is over-the-top. It’s not sustainable to spend four hours commuting with a full day at work.. So this person’s boss said “Leave at your normal time to come in, so you’ll be a little late but at least you’ll be here. And leave a little early so you don’t get home too late. Try to get home at your normal time. A slightly short day, but I’m paying for your extra-long commute, so do it.” I think that’s reasonable.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      If subways to lower Manhattan are not back by the time I return to work next week (I was supposed to run the marathon, so I had days off afterward planned already, and I’m going to take them), I do plan to walk the 4 miles each way. Better that than the horrid bus bridge! However, I wouldn’t automatically expect others to do it. An 80-minute commute on a nice warm train or in your car is very different from an 80-minute commute on your own manpower, in the cold. I walked to work once during the 2005 transit strike and I was frostbitten as all get-out by the time I finally arrived at the office, despite wearing multiple layers!

    2. Nancypie

      Wow. It has been really, really difficult to communicate. Cell phones have only been working intermittently, including texts and email. Schools have been closed. It’s unreasonable to expect people to walk that far, possibly with children in tow. And if you live in the suburbs, it’s practically a full time job looking for ice, open stores with food, or gas to keep a generator going. Not to mention the trees and wires that are down almost everywhere. I agree that its best to try to communicate what’s going on, but this is a crazy time.

    3. Anonymous

      Spending 2 hours and 40 minutes minimum commuting on foot each day might not seem ridiculous to you time-wise, but is a woman who has to pass through dangerous areas supposed to put herself at risk because of what you think (because you’re not actually doing it, just armchair theorizing about it)? It’s getting dark much earlier now and it’s practically guaranteed she’ll be walking in the dark either in the morning, the evening, or both. Hell, even a man could be mugged.

      1. Steve G (from NYC)

        Mugging is very possible especially now that ATMs in many areas and many places are not taking food stamps.

          1. LJL

            When we were out of power for many days last summer, some small businesses with no electricity were open on a cash-only basis selling whatever was still good. Debit and food-stamp purchases were not possible since there was no electricity to run the machines.

  7. JT

    One other thing – if people, esp your manager, doesn’t know of the problems in your place or that you have getting to work, tell them. Managers should be asking but employees should also be telling.

  8. Amy

    I’m in the same situation – temporarily displaced to my parents’ house and the commute is long/draining/inconvenient/etc. compared to what I’m used to. I do have colleagues who do that commute every day by choice – then again, they chose to live where they live and I chose where I lived before the flood forced me out!

  9. A Teacher

    It is unreasonable to expect someone that usually doesn’t commute that far or walk that far to walk 4 miles or so especially during this time of year when nice is relative. It may be nice during the middle of the day but it can be 35 degrees in the morning (or cooler in my part of the country) hit 50 at noon and then be back into the 40s or 30s with wind. If you’re someone that has a pet or a kid (pets here–one a senior pet with health issues) that extra 2 1/2 hours in my day would be pretty difficult. Good managers will have flexibility for a reasonable amount of time. Good luck to all of you that are going through this difficult time!

    1. Anna

      True. I looked up how far I’d walk if I were to go to lower Manhattan, and it came out to 4 and a half miles. And not 4 and a half miles for the round trip, but 4 and a half miles each way. I’m reasonably sturdy, but doing that more than two or three times a week would be too much. And if I lived above the first few floors and didn’t have a working elevator — forget it!

      That said, once the subways are running without that East River donut hole, I’d go in. I wouldn’t have nearly enough space to knit or read (which I like to do on the subway), at least until the gas shortage works itself out, but I can live with getting a little squished for a week or two.

      1. JT

        ” but doing that more than two or three times a week would be too much. ”

        Then do it two or three times in a week.

    2. JT

      It seems to me that if the problem is the commute it too long, and you’re being paid anyway, then talk to your manager about arriving later and leaving earlier so your home life isn’t disrupted but you get some work done. Five or six hours of work instead of zero.

      This is of course assuming you can’t work well from home and there aren’t other issues that prevent the long commute being safe or disruptive (like kids at home not in school).

      And I have to say that a 15- degree temperature variation, or more specifically the weather in NYC last week Weds-Friday (which never was predicted to be in the 30 and did not go into the 30s) being obstacles to walking outside for a long-time is a pretty sad statement on our ability to deal with the world…. .

      1. Anonymous

        People can deal with what they have to, but if you work in an offica and are expected to dress a certain way, you could get cold or uncomfortable walking in your normal commuter clothes. You could carry an extra pair of shoes or something. My thinking is that most office work can wait a few days until people get their lives back to normal. A situation like this is very stressful and out of the ordinary. Asking someone to leave their cold, unlit home or a faraway friend’s house at 5 am so they can walk to work and then back home and deal with all else they have going on is hard. It would be just as hard to ask someone who’s used to walking out in the cold to tend animals to suddenly navigate the NYC subway system each day. Maybe we should work on getting healthier and able to do this, but now is not the time. If you have’t lived thru something like this you have no idea how draining it can be and everyone is different.

        1. JT

          So it’s better not to come in at all than to come in looking a little ruffled? Dang.

          I’m not suggesting leaving a dark, half-destroyed house to walk through snow drifts on unlit roads towing your children while you wear high heel and a tuxedo because that’s what’s required for work.

          I’m saying if you’re in good health, can’t work from home, your home is fine but the subways are out, the weather is seasonable (40F with a decent coat which presumably we own for winter….) and are you being paid to work, then you should try to get to work. If that means walking for an hour, do it. Try it.

          If you really can’t handle it due to health or home situation or the sidewalks being to dangerous, or lack of child care for kids, don’t.

          But if the only obstacle is 4 miles each way and your worry about seasonable early November weather, try it. For many people in upper Manhattan, once the storm was over, the walk and lack of child care were the obstacles. That’s it.

          Also, the sun came up at 720ish and sets a little before 6. For a four-mile walk and a 9-5 job you could leave your home in daylight, on sidewalks, and leave for work a half hour early and get home in daylight. Heck, leave an hour early to be safe.

          1. Anonymous

            Thank you for commenting further. We are in agreement, actually. I was the person who volunteered to come in on snow days at a job I had where snow was rare and those who could walk in, did. After about ten years I got off the list because I had gotten older and was in worse shape. I must have misread some of your earlier comments which suggested to me that you thought people should be more able or willing to just ‘tough it out.’ I apologize.

        2. Rosemarine

          @Anonymous : “People can deal with what they have to, but if you work in an offica and are expected to dress a certain way, you could get cold or uncomfortable walking in your normal commuter clothes. You could carry an extra pair of shoes or something.”

          Another alternative is to dress for the weather on the walk, bring the work clothes in a backpack, then do a quick change (probably in the restroom) once one has gotten to work. I would hope that companies in the affected area would be able to accommodate folks using that strategy.

          1. Nancypie

            I will chime in to say that in my on the nicer-side of business casual office, people had on sweatpants friday. No power = no laundry. And it was fine.

    3. Blinx

      I don’t think it’s been particularly nice weather this week. I’m near Philly, and we’ve only had about 1 hour of sunshine after the hurricane, with a little bit of rain also. And the sun doesn’t reach all the way down to street level sometimes, shining in between tall buildings.

      Keep in mind, that when you’re walking in the city, some blocks will be fine, and then you turn a corner and it’s like walking in a wind tunnel! It can be really brutal. It’s fine if you’re scurrying a few blocks a lunch time, but really draining after 4 miles.

      I know that some of the power in Lower Manhattan has returned. Here’s hoping that it continues, and people are back in their apartments. The problems with commuting, though, will continue for quite some time.

      1. JT

        We can’t walk far when it’s overcast or in the shadows of tall buildings? Wow.

        For sure if power is out and it’s dark with lots of cars around, don’t do something dangerous. But if it’s overcast blocking the sun, I don’t think lack of sunlight to walk in is a reasonable obstacle.

        1. LadyTL

          I don’t think you are quite getting it. Your nice 50 turns into a bitter 40 or lower when there is no direct sun and the wind starts getting up. Cold eventually seeps in somewhere and past the first mile it turns into a very nasty walk.

          This is coming from someone who does walk into work a mile each way. Cold and wind play a massive factor into walkability more than you know.

          Add in not being able to wear only warm clothes and it can easily turn into something that is difficult to do without affecting your health and your work.

          1. JT

            You don’t understand temperature.

            1- Temperature in weather reporting is taken in the shade.

            2 – At this time of the year, if the lowest temperature (air temperature which is what is reported, and also temperature of the ground and nearby bodies of water) is 44 overnight but the temperature in general rises over the day, being in shade in the day will at the coldest be 44.

            It’s not possible to be colder.

            You’re right about it not perhaps not going up to “my nice 5o” in places that are in shade most of the day, but no way can it be “40 or lower.” Not possible.

            (It is possible in January for the temperature in the shade to drop through the day if the ground has been very cold for a long time. For example, if the ground is, say, 30 but the air 44 overnight, the ground might cool the air in the shade. )

            3 – Wind cannot lower air temperature. It can increase cooling of exposed skin or skin behind thin clothes (or of other wet objects). Or wind can come from a colder place, but then the temperature in general would be colder, even if the wind suddenly stopped.

        2. Blinx

          Today is a typical raw, windy, damp, fall day. The sun’s only been out for 5 or 10 minutes at a time here. I would not want to walk miles in this. However, when the sun’s out all day and there’s no wind, I’ve hiked for fun across snow-covered fields for hours, and it was only 25 degrees (F) out. The sun makes all the difference.

        3. Kathryn T.

          Weather can CHANGE on you. It’s November.

          Six and a half years ago, my husband was training for a very long bike ride, and he headed out on a 50-mile training ride. It was 55 degrees and light overcast. Just about halfway through that ride, there was a sudden front, and in 20 minutes, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and a 20-mph wind blew up. He was in the middle of nowhere and had to ride back through icing rain, in a 20mph headwind, when it was 35 degrees outside. He was in the early stages of hypothermia and frostbite when he came home. That was in April.

          Maybe you’re willing to risk that kind of change; maybe you are a person who isn’t in any particular danger walking through damaged neighborhoods late at night when power is intermittently present, if at all. But take a moment, have some empathy, and realize that for most people, this isn’t just a 4-mile pleasure stroll. There are externalities you aren’t considering.

          1. JT

            “Maybe you’re willing to risk that kind of change; maybe you are a person who isn’t in any particular danger walking through damaged neighborhoods late at night when power is intermittently present”

            Could you please not straw man me.

            “Late at night”? “Damaged neighborhoods”?

            I’ve repeatedly said that if there is danger where you are walking, don’t do it, but the time/distance should not be an obstacle itself.

            1. Kathryn T.

              Right, but the reality is that for at least half the population, there’s probably more danger than you’re thinking about. So, yeah, a 4 mile walk to work CAN be unreasonable. And I say this as someone who walks 5K a day through all kinds of weather conditions.

            2. Editor

              What about preparedness for walking? To walk in November, people need waterproof, warm footwear and layers that include something to shed rain but breathe on top. Plus, a backpack to put the office clothes in and a supply of skin stuff (sunscreen or moisturizer or both) because all that walking will be rough on the skin, particularly the face.

              So, basically, people need broken-in day-walk hiking gear. How many New Yorkers have that stuff stashed in their closets? How many have larger backpacks?

              If people aren’t accustomed to walking longer distances, they’ll get blisters and will have to treat the blisters, in addition to needing the supplies to treat the blisters.

              Walking sounds so simple and practical, but a person can be pretty fit (think of someone who swims several times a week) and not have tough-skinned feet for an eight-mile round trip walk daily, particularly if they don’t have the proper gear.

            3. Laura L

              “I’ve repeatedly said that if there is danger where you are walking, don’t do it, but the time/distance should not be an obstacle itself”

              The thing is, it clearly is for some people and you’re not going to change their minds. And they aren’t going to change yours. And it’s no one’s place to tell someone else what should or should not be an obstacle in their life.

    4. Steve G (from NYC)

      yes it isnt that nice here it barely hits 50 in early afternoon. Was 42 or 43 and windy at the time I would be leaving work.

  10. Kinrowan

    When we can get back, on top of being more flexible with scheduling (I expect we will have transit issues for a while longer), I am going to let any of the part-time/hourly people the opportunity to work more hours so they can at least make up the hours they lost and won’t be paid for.

  11. kristinyc

    Wow, this makes me feel really lucky about how well my company handled everything last week.

    Everyone who had power/internet was encouraged to work from home. (That’s what I did since I live in Queens). Our managers all called /emailed us to make sure we were all okay/to see if we had power/internet.

    Most of our employees live in Manhattan, and about half of the company is hourly customer service people. We rented out a temp space in Midtown for them (and anyone else who needed a place to go) to go and work so that our company could still function.

    Management sent out daily emails with updates about what was going on, the latest news from the city (since not everyone was sitting around watching the news all day), when we expected to get power in our office, and what to expect. We also organized massive relief efforts to help out others around the city however we could.

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