if you have a disability, do employers have to let you keep working from home after they re-open?

A reader writes:

My friend’s office is reopening and bringing everyone back to work. They’re refusing (or at the very least being VERY hesitant) to provide accommodations, even though she’s immunocompromised and has a doctor’s note verifying this. She’s asking to be allowed to continue working from home (which everyone in her organization has been doing for the last two months), and HR has chided her for not being a “team player” and coming into the physical building like everyone else. She lives with a family member who has underlying conditions that make him susceptible to COVID as well, and she’s worried about the increased potential for contact with other people.

She’s scared of losing her job, but she’s also pretty sure that her workplace would be in violation of ADA requirements by not providing reasonable accommodations. What can people in this situation do?

I’m getting a lot of versions of this question and I suspect the legal guidance on it will continue to evolve as more companies reopen, but let’s cover what’s available so far.

First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — the federal agency that enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — says, “Employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications of pandemic influenza may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic.” (See section B, question 10 here.)

So anyone in this situation can ask to continue working from home as a reasonable accommodation.

However, the employer isn’t necessarily obligated to say yes. If you’re covered under the ADA, your employer must enter into a dialogue with you about what accommodations would work for your situation. But they don’t need to agree to the specific one you propose if there are alternatives (like giving you a more isolated workspace or putting up plexiglass barriers), and they don’t need to agree if the accommodation would leave you unable to perform essential functions of your position.

That last part is important. You might think, “Obviously my friend can perform the essential functions of her position from home because she’s been doing it for the last few months!” But take a look at what the EEOC said about this in a recent webinar:

Q. Let’s assume that an employer grants telework to employees for the purpose of slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19. After such public health measures are no longer necessary, does the employer automatically have to grant telework as a reasonable accommodation to every employee with a disability who wishes to continue this arrangement?

A. The answer is of course no.

Any time an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer is entitled to understand the disability-related limitation that necessitates an accommodation . . . If there is no disability-related limitation that requires teleworking, then of course the employer does not have to provide telework as an accommodation. Or if there is a disability-related limitation, but the employer can effectively address the need with another form of reasonable accommodation at the workplace, then the employer can choose that alternative to telework.

To the extent that an employer is permitting telework to employees because of COVID-19 and is choosing to excuse an employee from performing one or more essential functions, then a request — after the COVID-19 crisis has ended — to continue telework as a reasonable accommodation does not have to be granted if it requires continuing to excuse the employee from performing an essential function. This is because the ADA never requires an employer to eliminate an essential function as an accommodation for an individual with a disability.

The fact that an employer temporarily excused performance of one or more essential functions during the COVID-19 crisis to enable employees to telework for the purpose of protecting their safety, or otherwise chose to permit telework, does not mean that the employer has permanently changed a job’s essential functions, or that telework is a feasible accommodation, or that it does not pose an undue hardship. These are fact-specific determinations. The employer has no obligation under the ADA to refrain from restoring all of an employee’s essential duties after the immediate crisis has passed, or at such time as it chooses to restore the prior work arrangement, and then evaluating any requests for continued or new accommodations under the usual ADA rules.

In other words, if your employer changed your job during the pandemic so you could work from home in a crisis, they still have the right once people return to work to say, “No, this stuff that you stopped doing when you were at home is an essential function now that we’re moving back toward normal operations, and we need you to be here to do it.”

To be clear, the stuff they say is essential has to truly be essential to your role. They can’t tell you that it’s an essential function of your job to have an in-person meeting once a week when it’s clearly possible to do that remotely. (Here’s a good discussion of how to determine what’s truly an essential function.)

So, where does that leave people in this situation? I would do the following:

1. Notify your employer that you are making an “official request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Use that wording. Put it in the subject line of your email. In your request, note that the EEOC has specifically said that employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications of COVID-19 may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection. Say that you are formally requesting that.

2. If you don’t already have documentation from your doctor recommending full-time telework, get it. (If you’re pressed for time, you can start the ball rolling with your employer before you have this, but get it as quickly as you can.)

3. Once you’ve formally made your ADA request, your employer must enter into a dialogue with you about what accommodations will work on both sides, without causing them “undue hardship.” If an accommodation would cause undue hardship, they need to work with you to identify alternate accommodations (although they don’t need to accept accommodation that would leave you unable to perform the essential functions of your job).

4. If your sense is that your employer will not deal with you in good faith, consider enlisting an employment lawyer to help you negotiate this. Enlisting the help of a lawyer doesn’t mean you’re suing; there’s lots lawyers do in situations like this before you get to the point of a lawsuit.

Some caveats:

* This assumes you’re covered under the ADA. Not every situation is. It’s also worth noting some states have additional protections.

* The ADA’s accommodation requirements don’t apply if you’re not the one with the disability, but live with someone who’s at-risk.

If you’re not covered by the ADA, I’d still follow the basic steps above, just without reference to the law (or lawyers). A good employer will work with you anyway — not refuse to do anything more than the minimum required by law — but keep that in mind. Your employer may not be good, of course, and the accommodation proposed by even a good employer may not be exactly the one you want, but this is your roadmap for starting the conversation. (Also, if your employer is being awful but not violating the law, group pressure can sometimes help a lot with that.)

{ 199 comments… read them below }

  1. EPLawyer*

    If their only excuse is “you need to be a team player” that is not an essential job function. UGGGH. If “being a team player” is going to get thrown around to force people back to work, your company officially sucks.

    I really hate that people are going to have to choose between their life and their job. Covid is NOT gone its just a reduced risk. That’s REDUCED not No Risk. It is still recommended that the immunocompromised self-isolate.

    1. KHB*

      Agreed – this “team player” social shaming nonsense really grinds my gears, especially coming from HR. Either it’s a requirement of your position to be physically present in the building, or it’s not. And when being a “team player” means risking your physical safety for the sake of the team, that especially sucks.

      1. KHB*

        …although it sounds like they might be resorting to this crap because they don’t want to have to give you an outright “no” (maybe because they know they’d be on shaky legal ground if they did). In a way, that’s good news, because it means that if you do press them for a firm yes-or-no answer, you may get good results.

        Still. They suck.

      2. Llama Face!*

        Plus in any good team you play to support each other’s strengths and protect each other’s weaknesses. So if they are actually team playing they should be supporting the team member who needs wfh and not just leaving them on the field unprotected. If you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense as a term to use it that way (to shove some people under the COVID bus).

        1. KHB*

          That’s a really good point. If you’re truly playing as a team, the obligations cut both ways. But somehow the concept always seems to get corrupted to mean that you, lowly peon, need to sacrifice everything for the whims of your superiors. Which is rather a different thing.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      It’s total crap even without COVID.

      For example, I worked with two teams that were mostly remote—one based on the east coast, and the other based out of our office but who traveled 80% of the time and spent only about 2% of the remaining 10% in the office at all. We had meetings. We communicated perfectly well using email, phone, and IM over multiple time zones, depending on where people were at any given time. Hell, I myself even worked remotely from A WHOLE OTHER COUNTRY with a 6-hour time difference, and had no trouble connecting with my team or hitting my goals.

      Employers who say it can’t be done, or that being remote means you can’t be a team player, are lying, discriminatory, bee-filled sacks of sewage.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        This comment is MY LIFE!!! “lying, discriminatory, bee-filled sacks of sewage” deserves to be immortalized.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’ve seen the same people in the leadership insist that remote working cannot be done, and call for hiring more offshore companies to outsource the work. Anything can all of a sudden be done if there are short-term savings involved.

      3. Apiarist Bill*

        Bees are very useful insects without which we would all be facing severe food shortages. Change it to wasps and you’ve got a deal.
        Would-be hobby apiarist, I live in a built up area with a very small garden so don’t have any where to keep a hive.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Exactly. If you’re high risk and you CAN do your job from home, you shouldn’t be forced to come into the office. This shouldn’t be a legal thing, it should be a human decency thing.

      1. Carlee*

        My entire department (at a tech start-up) has been working from home for 12 weeks – and there’s a LOT missed by not being in the office. The sheer volume of information one passively acquires by popping in to see a colleague, riding in the elevator, overhearing a call from two cubes over, etc. is *enormous*.

        Working from home is NOT the same as working from the office. (Also, I hate working from home. Privileged to be in a position to do so indefinitely, but LOATHE it it beyond all reason).

        No, folks shouldn’t be allowed to work from home forever simply because they had to work from home due to the virus. It’s unreasonable and irrational.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Just because you don’t function well working from home means other people shouldn’t be allowed to?

          That is such a garbage take that I struggle to keep my remarks civil.

          Some people, like myself, PREFER to work from home, because we don’t have to put up with “… popping in to see a colleague, riding in the elevator, overhearing a call from two cubes over, etc.” You call it information, I call it “nosy” and “interruptions”.

          If people are immune compromised, or otherwise at risk, they should be allowed to WFH, if their job can be done remotely, until there is a vaccine. Anything less is saying that they should risk their life so you can get your “volume of information”. Hard no.

          1. allathian*

            Granted, the readership here is probably on average more introverted than the general working population, even if most of us have learned to fake it to some extent, but still, I suspect more people here disagree with Carlee than agree.
            The only thing I really miss from the office is talking to people who I don’t work with regularly, just chats at lunch or during our coffee breaks.

          2. Liz*

            Agreed. If you hate WFH, don’t do it. Don’t stop it for the rest of us. Our health matters more than your personal volume preferences.

            1. Quill*

              At some point we have to realize that not everything about teams and physical presence and team building on AAM is about a false dichotomy between introversion and extroversion, it’s about letting people manage their own damn lives and take care of themselves.

              Like… sure I’m an extrovert with a fear of people. That doesn’t mean that my decision to not go to a company happy hour is a facet of my personality, it’s a facet of only having so much time and energy to do that sort of thing. I like to be sober and well rested when I wake up for work friday morning…

        2. KHB*

          I mean, I kind of get where you’re coming from. I miss the office too. I’m fortunate to have a job that can be done pretty much anywhere in the world with an internet connection, but it’s just not the same without my colleagues all around me.

          But if my colleagues didn’t want to be all around me because they were afraid for their health (or life), how selfish would I have to be to say that they had to be there anyway, just because it made things a little bit more convenient for me?

          Nobody is talking about forever. The pandemic is going end eventually, one way or another. But we’re not there yet, and until we get there, anyone who CAN work from home should be allowed to do so if they choose.

          1. allathian*

            I would argue that if a job can be done from home productively, and the employee would prefer to WFH, there’s no reason to stop doing that once COVID is behind us.

        3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Just because YOU hate working from home, doesn’t make it wrong for everyone. I used to work in an office of 1000 with constant chatter and noise, and people passing by my desk every few minutes. I frequently had to tell the people around me to be quiet so I could hear when I was on a call. I started working 1 day a week from home and I was so much more productive without constant interruption. If someone is still at risk, they shouldn’t have to come into the office to be a “team player”. If it’s been proven that working remotely is sufficient, then it doesn’t have to change until it’s safe for everyone to return.

          1. Carlee*

            Outside of a pandemic, a company requiring folks to come to the office every day (even work can be done well remotely) is perfectly reasonable.

            In non-pandemic times, a worker who wants to work from home ought you seek out an employer who is cool with their preference.

            1. allathian*

              I suspect that more companies will be cool with it following the pandemic than before. Simply because high performers will pick employers who are willing to accommodate WFH. There are even some companies who are planning to do away with their premises permanently and go fully remote. It’ll be a while before that becomes more common than just a few outliers, but such companies exist.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*


                Better for the environment too. Isn’t it great that millions of people aren’t sitting in traffic every morning and evening, for no reason other than that their employers have a strict butt-in-chair policy, that they cannot explain, but insist that it is perfectly reasonable? Think about all the gasoline we haven’t been burning in the last three months.

              2. Perse's Mom*

                My company’s one of them… sort of. They’re shuttering more than one location and only keeping the main building open for people they deem essential to be on-site (as we do have a considerable volume of mail both incoming and outgoing) or who for whatever reason truly cannot work from home. The rest of the company is now permanently WFH, whether we like it or not.

        4. pelohjd*

          As an employer, I’m concerned about productivity, too. In the weeks before COVID, I had an employee work from home due to compromised health. I suspected they weren’t especially productive but didn’t have alot of opportunity to negotiate time/duties. When we returned to work, the duties that employee had performed were done in-office by others in less than half the time. I didn’t get my money’s worth from the work-at-home employee. And in these now lean times, I can’t afford to accommodate an inefficient worker.

          1. pancakes*

            If the person is in poor health they very likely wouldn’t have done the work much faster in the office, no? It sounds like the issue here is that an employee you’re counting on is in poor health, not necessarily that an employee you’re counting on has been out of the workplace.

          2. squidarms*

            The fact that other employees completed the tasks the employee working from home did in less than half the time doesn’t show that working from home is the cause, it shows that those other employees are more efficient than the employee who was working from home.

        5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I loath working from home, absolutely despise it.

          We’re not alone there.

          Alas, this isn’t the point at all. If people can work remotely, they are productive [this is often easy enough to track by how fast their deliverables are received], this isn’t YOUR decision to make for everyone.

          I have seen a lot of “I thought I’d love working from home but I miss the office”, nobody gelled with WFH here, they missed the same stuff you are talking about along with just having a better routine.

          Again, you’re not the boss of anyone but who you’re the actual boss of. If you have a business, go ahead and play it up that way and reduce your workforce if necessary. But again, you don’t make the rules for everyone, in all the offices, everywhere around the world and back again.

        6. fhqwhgads*

          If your tech start up doesn’t work as well when everyone is at home than when they’re in the office (outside of pandemic-specific issues like children are all home all the time and there is no childcare for anyone, or needing to tend to sick household members), your startup is doing it wrong.
          I’m not saying there are not some jobs that really need to be done in office, nor that some people might not prefer that, but to say it can’t be done well really just means it isn’t being done well. Distributed companies exist and plenty are functional and do quite well. It’s not a good fit for everyone but it’s a perfectly valid setup. The company just has to want it to be functional and then they priotize making sure that’s so. I’ve worked for several.

        7. cosmicgorilla*

          You’re right, working from home is not the same as working from the office. It’s SO much better. I’m ten times more productive without all that stuff that I “miss” in the office environment.

          The only information I gather passively from being in the office is useless, personal stuff. Nice to know, but not necessary to do my job. If I overhear work stuff, it’s never relevant to me.

          We really should have a choice whenever possible. My extrovert friends need to people, or they die a little inside. I don’t go in even when we’re not quarantined.

        8. AcademiaNut*

          I agree that there are jobs that are more efficiently and effectively done when there is in person interaction. I find the a lot of commentors here tend to assume that remote working is both superior and possible for all jobs, and that any employer not willing to move to remote workers is automatically a terrible employer. I work with international collaborators, and in normal times, it’s sometimes worth having someone fly 12 time zones for a very productive in person visit, in spite of email and Slack, and Jitsi (we’re not allowed to use Zoom for security reasons).

          But, and this is a big but, right now we’ve got a pandemic situation with a potentially fatal disease that currently has no effective treatment and no vaccination, and open offices in particular are high risk environments for outbreaks. I think it’s entirely reasonable to expect an employer to live with less than optimal results when it’s in the service of slowing the spread of the disease, protecting their employees from contagious, and helping to slow down the whole pile of bodies situation.

          Honestly, I personally dislike fulltime work from home, and the work I do is vastly improved by in person communication, but right now I’ll say that anyone who could work from home should, and that the situation isn’t going to change for a couple of years, not months. In cases where some in person work is needed, there can be rotating schedules, and people who are at high risk, living with people at high risk, and caring for young children should get priority for working at home.

        9. char*

          It really depends on the specifics of your job. I’m actually finding that I have more idea what’s going on than before. Normally, my team is split between two different offices, which can lead to a lot of cases where the two offices aren’t on the same page. Maybe Harry “popped in” to let his colleagues in the Hogwarts office know that they’re changing focus from Charms to Transmutation, but no one remembered to tell that to Viktor in the Durmstrang office, so poor Viktor ends up wasting his time continuing with Charms when it’s not necessary anymore.

          Now that everyone is equally remote from each other, I’m finding that people are more mindful about including everyone when communicating.

        10. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          The sheer volume of information one passively acquires by popping in to see a colleague, riding in the elevator, overhearing a call from two cubes over, etc. is *enormous*.

          So, no one should be allowed to work from home because you cannot eavesdrop on them if they do? Have you tried developing good working relations with your colleagues so you can ask for the information you need, instead of “passively acquiring” it?

          At a tech startup, no less? where full-time remote work was an everyday thing years before covid.

          I have no words.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            At the same time, there’s a lot of information I don’t know I need until I happen to overhear someone mentioning it. They might not know I need it either – perhaps there was a gap somewhere in the chain passing it on to me, or perhaps nobody who knew it knew that it was relevant to me too. I’ve had this happen rather frequently, and it surprises me that you apparently haven’t.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Every place I’ve worked at for the last 20 years, my teammates and people I worked with on the daily basis were spread across multiple states, time zones, and/or countries. My hearing is not nearly sharp enough to overhear them mentioning anything. We survived though, and were even able to exchange the information we needed.

          2. Carlee*

            FWIW, I’m a high-performer at my start-up, as per annual reviews and quarterly bonuses. I have good relationships with colleagues, which I truly believe are enhanced by in-person contact.

            Also, it’s not eavesdropping – it’s finding out that X works better than Y for Client Z, because you run into Jordan in the hallway.


            I think, post-pandemic, a lot of personal preference will be involved — and assume high-performers will be granted loads more flexibility.

            I’ve zero issues with folks who prefer a post-pandemic WFH employer, so I don’t really get the hostility towards folks (me) with a preference for a post-pandemic non-WFH employer.

            Let a thousand flowers bloom!

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I’ve zero issues with folks who prefer a post-pandemic WFH employer, so I don’t really get the hostility towards folks (me) with a preference for a post-pandemic non-WFH employer.

              Ah, my bad, it was hard to deduce that you have no issues with people’s preference for WFH from these lines:

              “No, folks shouldn’t be allowed to work from home forever simply because they had to work from home due to the virus. It’s unreasonable and irrational.”

              “Outside of a pandemic, a company requiring folks to come to the office every day (even work can be done well remotely) is perfectly reasonable.”

              This does not say to me “I have a personal preference for working in the office, but I get it that most people don’t.” It kind of says “I need people to come back into the offices and get their butts in those chairs the minute the safety rules allow, even if their work can be done well remotely. No specific reason.” And you cannot blame the commenters who have experienced this attitude from their management in the past, and aren’t exactly thrilled about it.

              Let a thousand flowers bloom!

              I’m all for it.

      2. Carlee*

        FWIW, HR at my startup has advised everyone who can work from home (99% of staff) that nobody will be *required* to return to the office until there is a vaccine. Folks will be encouraged but not required to return to the office.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Be aware that some people may never be medically able to receive that vaccine. Please don’t resent a transplant recipient, or someone deathly allergic to the medium it’s grown in.

          1. Larry O*

            Once 80% of the population is immunized “herd immunity” practically eliminates transmission. So no need to pressure or resent those who have medical reasons to decline the vaccine.

            1. Evan Þ.*

              This. This’s why we can have legitimate medical exemptions for normal childhood vaccines.

              (And this’s also why epidemiologists get upset at people who’re abusing those medical exemptions – if <80% of people are vaccinated in some community, we can have epidemics of those diseases again. We've had measles outbreaks every few years here in Washington State largely because of antivaxxers.)

              1. Quill*

                Yeah, the human body can be allergic to… literally anything, theoretically, but people freaking out about “but a vaccine will give my child autism!!!” are participating in a form of child abuse.

                Vaccines work to protect the legitimate exceptions because enough of us get them to keep the virus from spreading as much.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      “Team Player” gets used, just like “Professional Attitude”, to emotionally bludgeon people into compliance with practices and attitudes that are not in their best interest. It’s passive-aggressive, with the emphasis on aggressive. It’s a form of bullying, IMO. It’s the workplace equivalent of “school spirit” or other in-crowd crap.

      If being a “team player” means driving your proverbial car over a cliff, or drinking bleach, would they still expect you to do it? If being a “team player” meant doing a Tide Pod Challenge, would they still expect you to do it?

      If being a “Team Player” means risking your life from a virulent pandemic with no reliable cure to come in to a building with a bunch of people who may assume that the threat is “over”, they are bullying you.

      1. hewhosaysfish*

        I’ve heard it said “that tradition is just peer pressure from dead people”.

        Your comment makes me feel like we can put concepts like “team player” and “professional attitude” in the same bucket.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Isn’t it amazing how people have to be team players and risk their lives to come in, but the company can outsource all or part of a job without losing anything?

    5. Businessfish*

      Given that there is a hierarchy to whose jobs can be done remotely vs in person, I worry that we’ll have pressure for leaders to return “in solidarity” with those who need to be on-site to do their jobs. When in fact, even if my presence in the office *might* improve morale for lower level staff (I’m at the AVP level, though my team are all able to work remotely), my being there actually makes people LESS safe, as it makes it harder to social distance if there are more people in a space. Not to mention adding to the population density of the downtown business center, public transportation, etc.

      1. LGC*

        Yeah, that’s…a thing. Like, I see leadership in my office a lot, and while I’m usually a believer in leading by example and being there with your team…like, honestly, this is a time where it’s probably wiser to lead from afar.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I get that, seriously I do. But my job’s customer service based. And if my superiors expect me to start interacting face to face with members of the public who refuse to wear masks, thereby risking my life, I’m allowed to feel a little resentful that they’re risking my life from a safe distance while they work from home.

    6. Arts Akimbo*

      “I really hate that people are going to have to choose between their life and their job.”

      It’s worse than that– choosing between their loved ones’ lives and their job! People with immunocompromised family members are in the worst situation possible, and the fact that workplaces and workforces are being pressured into pretending we’re already back to normal threatens to turn modern life into a dystopia. (More of a dystopia.)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        One of the most infuriating things is that a lot of this “go back to normal” pressure is political – it’s an attempt to patch up the economy and deny the truth to the American public with an eye toward the November election.

        1. Quill*

          Not to mention attempting to de-legitimize efforts to increase absentee / mail ballot voting, which will inevitably make that election more accessable.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Yes, having to risk your life to vote really makes a person love the people involved, especially if *they* get to vote by mail but not you.

  2. WellRed*

    While Ideally HR should have been helpful, in this case, we learn that this is a crappy HR dept (or person). What does your girlfriend’s manager say about this? If they are any good, they will work with you on this. It’s not up to HR in any circumstance to decide what makes a team player. (Ugh!).

    1. Lynn*


      Depending on how big the company is, maybe there is an alternate HR person or manager that can be consulted? Fingers crossed it is just one terrible person and not a whole terrible dept!

  3. LadyButtercup*

    Great article, so informative and full of practical information (always killing it, Alison!) I wonder if anyone is considering requesting an extended work-from-home request due to a pregnancy? It looks like under the ADA, only pregnancy complications (preeclampsia, diabetes…) count as qualified disability. I’m wanting to request permission to continue working from home to limit my exposure to Covid for a normal pregnancy (so far) since it’ll be years before science can conclusively conclude on if it affects a fetus or not, but I was wondering if anyone else is in the same boat/might have some suggestions

    1. sunny-dee*

      With the normal caveats, when I was pregnant, I was told that for almost all common infections (flu, cold, etc) most of the risk isn’t from the baby getting infected, it is from the fever. So, even if you get sick, if you can manage the symptoms (especially fever) effectively, you’re baby would be fine. I had the flu once with my daughter and twice when I was pregnant with my son, and I basically lived on Tylenol for a week with each illness. They were totally fine (and I checked with my OB during and after).

      Coronaviruses as a classification are quite common; they’re about 15% of flu-like infections during a regular flu season. So while there’s always a risk that covid-19 is special in some way that other cornoviruses aren’t, it is a small risk.

      I don’t know if that helps you, but that kind of processing (these are the risks, I can do XYZ to help) helped me keep the fear somewhat under control while I was pregnant. And, as always, your OB’s nurse practitioner is your friend here. Call them often.

        1. LarsTheRealGirl*

          There is NO clear indication on this and this virus is reacting very differently than others so it’s important to get actual medical care to assess your risks. This is not a normal flu. And this is not a normal coronavirus.

          It’s perfectly reasonable to be wary about the risk assessment since doctors are unsure what the risk even is.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            It stopped being “just a flu” before dialysis machines started getting clogged with blood clots. And it really left other Coronavirus variations in the dust when young adults started getting strokes.

      1. Lostnformed*

        I’m also pregnant and my OB said that she would be putting me in a mini quarantine about a month before my due date. Basically she said the most dangerous thing would be to go into labor with active Covid and reduced lung function. She also said that so far news has been positive for moms and babies who had mild infections earlier in their pregnancies and recovered.

        Basically, I’m assuming I’m just going to have to use FMLA for that time.

      2. Observer*

        I’ve been thinking about why your comment bothered me so much. Then I re-read and realized:

        Coronaviruses as a classification are quite common; they’re about 15% of flu-like infections during a regular flu season. So while there’s always a risk that covid-19 is special in some way that other cornoviruses aren’t, it is a small risk.

        That just ignores everything we do and do NOT know about this particular virus. Because we DO already know that this particular strain IS special in ways that other corona viruses are not. And most of the questions we have are directly related to all the crazy ways that this acts that are totally different from other corona viruses.

    2. A Social Worker*

      I am pregnant and have diabetes and my OB refused to give me a letter to work from home. In contrast, a coworker who is pregnant with no complications or underlying conditions was pulled out of on-site work months ago. It seems like it just depends on the provider, I would start there.

      1. Observer*

        Please find yourself a different practitioner. This is a basic lack of competence – one of the earliest risk factors for bad results that was identified was diabetes.

        In the meantime, I hope you have a GP / internist, or (if your diabetes is not just gestational) an endocrinologist managing your diabetes. Ask one of them to give you a note, as the diabetes itself is a risk factor that no one should be ignoring.

      2. Kettricken Farseer*

        What was her justification for why she wouldn’t give you a letter to work from home? Maybe she’s under the mistaken impression that she would have to do a bunch of paperwork? It’s just so surprising to me that an OB would balk at that, especially right now.

  4. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I wish the poster could out the company and the HR rep who said this crap about being a team player.

  5. Employment Lawyer*

    She’s scared of losing her job, but she’s also pretty sure that her workplace would be in violation of ADA requirements by not providing reasonable accommodations. What can people in this situation do?
    Lawyer up.

    Seriously: There are a lot of questions I could ask to be more specific, but this is a public forum. And ADA issues are HEAVILY fact-intensive, revolving about specifics of what was said/done/tried/offered/rejected, not to mention complex specifics about what precisely constitutes a “disability” as that term is used in the ADA. Adding to that complexity is the fact that the ADA is also bolstered by various state laws, which also differ widely.

    The ADA is a “fee shifting” statute, which is to say that the employer (who usually loses if it’s a decent case) ends up paying for the employee’s lawyer. As a result, most employment folks will take an ADA case on contingency.

    You could also try your local fair labor division, workplace rights division, or the equivalent. They will have the advantage of knowing your state laws and may also be able to assist.

    1. Them Boots*

      This!! And if any of this discussion was via email, or even go back to the HR rep with an email to summarize what you said and they said, then print all that! Hopefully someone above the HR rep has compassion and sense and this will all be moot, but just in case, hard copy of conversations can be very helpful. -I used to work at a large global company. Our local HR was adequate to poor over the years but the two *clearly* legitimate things I escalated to Corporate HR? Whoo! That got HANDLED and local HR was too afraid/intimidated to make trouble for me later. (They were the sort to take the easiest, least uncomfortable *for them* route, so had no interest in making waves.)

  6. mf*

    I’m curious if the ADA or other laws provide any protections for the spouses/family members of patients who need accommodations?

    In my case, my husband is immunocompromised. Since we live together in a small condo (and can’t socially distance at home), I need to be careful to not contract the virus as well. My employer is pretty reasonable, and if I asked to extend to my WFH situation due to his condition, I think they would be supportive. But what about employers who aren’t reasonable? Should employees be expected to put their loved ones at risk in order to keep their jobs?

    1. Belle*

      My understanding of the ADA is that it is only for your own disability to be accommodated.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That was one of the two caveats at the end of the post — the law only covers you, not spouses or family members. So that’s when it’s what I wrote at the end — you can still follow this basic approach (explain the situation, explain your proposal) just without citing the law and lean on them to be reasonable.

    3. Anon Anon*

      I believe the ADA, like all of these types of laws apply to the employee only, not to their family members.

      However, I think that in the next few months there are going to be a lot of people who will either be making requests of this nature because of either concern about an immunocompromised person who lives with them, and/or an underlying health condition of their own that doesn’t qualify under ADA, but they are concerned about.

      1. TiffIf*

        This is what drives me up the wall about those saying “if you are at risk just stay home and let everyone else reopen” it completely ignores this type of situation where the only way those who are at high risk of complications can stay isolated is if those who they interact with or live with can also stay isolated as much as possible.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Right, not everyone at high risk can stay home all the time. I have to go in a couple days a week for several hours. One of my coworkers is in a very high-risk category and can’t work from home, so she’s there all the time. We do our best to social distance from each other and I make it a point to be careful not to use my bare hands to touch the printer, things like that. But a few months from now when we are all back at work, that’s going to be harder to accomplish because not everyone will be abiding by that rule.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m in this exact situation. My parents are in the at risk group, and I’ve been very upfront with my manager even before the lockdown was established. Even worse, I rely on public transport, so is even riskier. We can do our jobs 100% remote, and maybe meet once a month, but that has to determined by the company’s crisis comitee following Goverment guidelines.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’m moderate to high risk, and my wife and housemates are high risk. I have no interest in working in an open plan germ pit until there is a vaccine. Fortunately, my job is doable 100% remote.

    5. Karol*

      Besides the ADA, check your local and state health departments. Most of the state Stay Home statues cover this, and many of the Return to Work statutes do as well. For instance in Iowa, if you work at meat plant you HAVE to return to work, but if you have to care for children, or are sick or have family members who are immunocompromised, you may be able to stay home for awhile longer.

  7. Shirley, You Must Be Joking*

    This is such a great summary! I worry about people being forced back to work in an office when they should have the chance to have an accommodation considered. If your employer is not engaging in the interactive process of considering your accommodation request, that’s a serious offense on their part.

    If an employer claims “undue hardship” when denying to make any accommodation they are taking a huge risk. Legal cases where the employer argued that they refused all accommodations for undue hardship are often found in favor of the employee. The bar for proving undue hardship is pretty high. (I’m not a lawyer but I’m trained in HR on this stuff) Here’s the definition from the EEOC website:

    “Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer’s size, financial resources, and the needs of the business. An employer may not refuse to provide an accommodation just because it involves some cost. An employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation the employee or job applicant wants. If more than one accommodation works, the employer may choose which one to provide.”

    The EEOC website has lots of good resources for employees in this situation. No one wants to have to deal with taking legal action, but at this point going back to work in an office can pose a serious health risk.

  8. Detective Amy Santiago*

    If nothing else, I hope that the majority of companies have learned during the past few months that telework is a reasonable accommodation for the disabled. I know too many people who have requested this and been told ‘no’ in the past that are now successfully working from home.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      It’s going to be interesting. I’m for the most part ambivalent to telework and don’t have strong feelings on it one way or another.

      That being said, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when some start going back to work in an office, especially those that aren’t as used to or able to cope with remote work. I think it’s one thing, when you’re forced by law to do it and all employees are remote vs. some remote and others on site. I think that is going to add more challenges.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        My poor manager is one who doesn’t work well at home, IMO. Part of it is his kids. But, he chose to be a parent, although having no childcare or school to keep them occupied is rough. I have sympathy, but don’t see it as a reason that I need to work at the far end of a hour plus commute.

  9. KBZ9*

    How does pregnancy fit into this? I understand that pregnancy is not covered by the ADA. Are pregnant employees dependent on the goodwill of their employer to make sure they have an isolated workspace/plexiglass/telework options even if recommended by their doctor?

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Pregnancy unless with medical complications doesn’t count.

      I’m a pregnant frontline worker at the federal level – my accommodation was not to work on COVID units. But I still have to go to work physically and work with (supposedly) non-COVID patients in a high risk aerosolizing situation.

  10. Bookworm*

    Uuuugh. Just wishing the LW and anyone else who may be in this (or a similar) situation the best of luck. I really hope you are accommodated!

  11. MissDisplaced*

    Erg! I hate when HR uses the “team player” card. That is always their excuse and it’s frustrating.
    You don’t like open offices: You’re not a team player.
    You want to WFH: You’re not a team player.
    You don’t want to attend the XMas party: You’re not a team player.

    Like no, I do not want to get sick so no I guess I am not a team player when it comes to COVID germs.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, it’s an excuse used to try and manipulate people into feeling guilty. It’s ridiculous, we are all adults and should be able to have our own preferences without being guilted about them.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Me too. Whenever I hear that, I feel bullied and devalued.

      Damn right I don’t like open offices and want to WFH: The only time I’ve ever had pneumonia was when I got it from a crowded open office. Now I’m more vulnerable to it.

      IMO, your job should threaten your life with illness or risk making you so sick that you’d rather die.

  12. Proud of my leadership*

    This is absolutely ridiculous! No employer should be forcing people back in the office if they can do their work successfully from home and have reasons to need to continue to work from home. I work for a large health related agency and they have flat out told us that people can continue to work from home if they have risks including age, health, and pregnancy, or have child care issues. They also are only bringing people back in a slow phased plan that will take many weeks and is based on what the data about the virus. All employers should be doing this as much as possible. Being a team player should mean that employers are doing everything they can to allow their employees to be safe, healthy, and productive either in the office or working from home.

    1. Colette*

      Part of the issue is that not all work can be done successfully at home. I volunteer for an organization that hasn’t figured out how to get cheques out to people, so they are only doing direct payments. I run regular standup meetings that are usually done in person; we can do them online but that’s not practical if most people are in the office. Receptionists may be able to do other work while the office is closed, but need to be there when it’s open.

      But even if it’s possible to do the job fully from home, there is a cost to being the only person not in the office – you miss out on all of the side conversations that are currently taking place remotely but will move to in person once you have a critical mass in the office. That will cost you information, and opportunities.

      Now, since the pandemic rages on, I personally think offices should stay remote as long as possible, and that they should support people working from home if they can – but there may be cases where that’s not practical.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        There are very easy solutions to all of the issues you raise.

        For one thing – why does it need to be all or nothing? People can go in to complete tasks that are necessary on site and work remote the rest of the time. A lot of my colleagues are going in for 2-4 hours per week to print and scan documents. That limits the number of people in the office at any given time and also their exposure.

        Meetings can absolutely include people both in person and remote. It’s not difficult at all to accommodate this.

        And information should be disseminated in ways that are accessible to everyone. If conversations can be inclusive while everyone is remote, they can remain so if some people are remote and some are on site. Sure, it might require a bit of extra effort, but why wouldn’t you want to do whatever you can to retain your talented employees?

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          ^this. It’s a numbers game. Number of people in the office times the amount of time spent there times precautions taken. If you can’t go fully remote, even keeping the in-office time to a minimum and other measures, like having all meetings be electronic will go far.

          1. Anon Anon*

            And I think there are many employers who are not always considering the little things.

            For example, if there is departmental printer/copier, how often does it get wiped down now? Who is responsible for wiping it down? Will employers be requiring masks for all their employees as recommended by the CDC? How will they be ensuring that social distancing is being met?

            Every report has indicated that you are higher risk for transmitting and/or catching the virus if you are indoors and have prolonged exposure to someone with the virus. It’s why churches, parties, and meat packing plants have been hot spots for transmission. So employers are going to have to think about what their mitigation techniques are going to be. Life in the office is not going to return to normal for a very long time.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              IMO, the modern “green” open office is a coronavirus’s idea of paradise: close desks, no walls, and minimal air circulation to save energy.

              1. Pennyworth*

                A ‘green’ office is more liely to have windows that can be opened and allow cross ventilation , which is far safer than the traditional sealed box office. Closed spaces are the worst place for virus transmission.

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  The “green” office I usually work in is open plan and has no windows that open. It has fancy automatic blinds, but low air circulation rate to save energy and money.

        2. Ali G*

          This is basically what we are doing. A few people have been going in to do payroll and for other reasons. Our CEO goes in every day to get the mail (we are a non-profit so getting those checks is important!). We are basically WFH with a few days here and there we will go in. We will coordinate schedules to make sure we can be safe when there are people in.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I like that your CEO is the one going in for the mail and not making the lowest person on the totem pole do it.

            1. That'll happen*

              I have a friend that’s a partner at an accounting firm and I believe only she and her partners have been going into the office to get mail and documents that clients drop off. I think that’s the way to do it.

        3. Nobby Nobbs*

          My dad’s work is sticking mostly to work from home, and will be for the foreseeable future, specifically to protect the workers who need to come in to perform their duties. They’ve decided those people are too important to risk, and I wish more workplaces would follow their example.

        4. Colette*

          When a team is all onsite except one person, the one person who is not on site will miss out, because the bulk of unplanned conversation happens in person. They can (and should) be invited to meetings, but that interpersonal interaction just will not be available to them. I’ve worked on teams that were largely remote and teams that were not, and that’s just how it goes – no one is trying to exclude the person who is not there, and it may not even seem relevant to them, but they end up missing out.

          Sure, meetings can be both remote and in-person, but again it is harder for the person who is not there to participate (some people won’t be near the conference room phone, so will be harder to hear; the remote person can’t see the non-verbal cues that happen in person).

          If everyone is remote, everyone has the same advantage/disadvantage; if one person is remote and everyone else is in person, the remote person is at a disadvantage. There is no technology or human effort that will reasonably compensate for that.

          1. allathian*

            That’s true. My team has members in three locations. We used to sit in a meeting room with those elsewhere calling in. We didn’t want to intentionally exclude them or ignore them, but it ended up happening anyway when we got talking. Our solution? To take all meetings to Skype even when 9 out of 11 team members were at the office. That way, everyone was equal.
            These meetings are every two weeks. To be fair, before COVID we had quarterly meetings in person, including the two at the other offices. When they visited us, we’d often have other collaboration as well as the big all-team meetings.
            It’s less of a problem if everybody is WFH or most people are in different locations.
            That said, the person WFH may think that being left a bit out of the loop is a small price to pay to avoid constant interruptions or irrelevant (to them) non-work talk at the office. Losing out on opportunities for promotion may not be an issue either, plenty of employees are happy where they are and aren’t particularly keen on promotion. Recognition for a good job, sure, and that should be available to remote workers too.

      2. ThatGirl*

        It’s funny, my company changed ownership in fall 2018, then our CEO left and the new guy made a whole fuss last year about how we shouldn’t work from home (many depts had 1 standing day a week to do so) unless it was an unusual circumstance. And now of course everyone is and the understanding is that non-essential folks will continue to do so until at least September. But there are a few positions that are much, much harder to do from home and a few more where access to office/professional equipment helps a lot. So I actually want those folks to be able to go in, at least part-time, to make my job easier.

        Personally, I do miss the social aspects of an office environment, and having a dedicated workspace with dual monitors, full-size keyboard, etc. But I’m also not in a rush to go back, because being in busy/crowded public environments feels very weird right now.

      3. KaciHall*

        This. I’ve been the last person working from home the last week. Apparently while I was home working, major job duties shifted in the office and no one thought to tell me. This includes my job duties, by the way. So for three weeks, my job has been different but I didn’t know. I wasn’t actively doing that part of my job as it involves answering the phone, but I’d still been doing all of the follow up work. If I had been in the office, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

        Of course, now that I’m back in the office I find out that my entire job could be done from home but they don’t want to allow that. I was willing to come back because I couldn’t do my whole job from home and we are somewhat essential. So it’s a frustrating time for me at work right now.

        1. leapingLemur*

          What is wrong with some companies?! Do they care about how their employees see them (which affects turnover) (turnover is expensive)? Aren’t they even worried about increasing the spread of COVID-19? The more people can work at home, the safer we all are.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          *Family Feud wrong answer noise* BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPP

          Hello,KaciHall’s company, did you know there are many ways that people can answer the phone from home? Survey said — virtual assistants and WFH CSRs!

          1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

            @Elizabeth West, exactly right!

            …do they not have a phone client in the year of our lord 2020? This is not new technology! I’ve been using a commonly available telephony software for years and works really seamlessly whether it’s on my laptop, a desk phone i’ve signed into, or an app on my mobile phone. What is my boss’ number? I HAVE NO IDEA, I click on a picture of his face and it makes call go vroom.

      4. Anon Anon*

        I think the biggest consideration many employers need to take into account when reopening offices is how the work will change in person with social distancing.

        For example, we large group meetings of 30-40 people monthly. Those meetings have always been a mandatory in person meeting. We’ve been having those meetings via zoom. We will have to continue to have those meetings via zoom (I suspect until there is a vaccine) even after our offices reopen because we do not have a space that is physically large enough to house that number of people with social distancing.

        Small meetings of just a couple of people can now only occur in one room in our building, because it’s the only room large enough to allow us to social distance ourselves. I think the way that people work when their offices reopen is going to look very different. At least in our office, you won’t even be able to go into another person’s office unless you can maintain social distance. We can have far more side conversations over skype or slack.

        1. alienor*

          My colleagues and I were recently told about some of the plans for after we return to the office, and they included staying at your desk, not going into a room with another person, and not having any face-to-face meetings. I’m a bit baffled as to how being in the office is a benefit if all I’m going to do is sit isolated at my desk and have meetings via Zoom. I can do that at home without having to wear a mask. (They also mentioned that people would be encouraged to eat lunch at their desks and avoid snacking and drinking during the day to minimize maskless time, which I’m sure is going to cause an uproar.)

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, at that point it’s the same as WFH with a commute and a mask added to it. Yuck. But some managers gotta see your butts in seats.

      5. Gloria*

        Employers should be making as much effort as possible to make telework practical for as many employees as possible when the alternative is literally death for some people.

        Meetings can absolutely include both in-person and remote participants. Reception can be reconfigured so it doesn’t have to be manned all day. Giving up all the little side conversations is an easy thing to sacrifice and everyone just needs to be understanding that some people aren’t going to be able to do that for a while.

      6. sh*

        Standup meetings? What if somebody can’t stand for any length of time, or at all? Meetings are no reason at all to come into an office, not with the technology that is available today.

        1. Colette*

          Then they sit? They’re short daily meetings, it’s not about what position you are in.

          And again, if no one is in the office, virtual meetings work great. If 3/4 of the team is in the office, they stop working as well.

          1. TiffIf*

            For four years I have been working from home one day a week-many people on my team also do this but it is often a different day of the week. All our in person office meetings are also virtual–people working from home simply dial in to the conference line and the conference room does also. It takes some setup and a little bit of planning, but can totally be done. We’ve often had 8 people in the office and 2 people on the phone or the reverse–with 2 people in the office and 8 people on the phone. In most cases I would say it just takes some forethought and practice.

            For a different meeting my team is mostly local but we have two people who work in other offices who have to be in that meeting–there’s no practical way for them to be physically in that meeting, so every week they dial in even when the rest of us are gathered in a conference room.

            1. Colette*

              How long are those meetings?

              My meetings are between 5 and 15 minutes. If everyone is in the office, they can happen in a hallway; if someone is not, we need a conference room and have to spend a minute or so calling in. Is it possible? Sure. Is it more difficult? Yes – and the person calling in misses the pre and post meeting chats, which can be as valuable as the meeting.

              Again, meetings can be done virtually. But there’s a lot of unofficial interpersonal stuff that happens in an office that a single remote person will miss out on.

              I’m not saying anyone should have to go in to an office in a pandemic! I am saying that if you are the only person not going in, be aware that there is a price for that. Ideally, businesses would continue doing things remotely for the foreseeable future and no one would have to make that call.

              1. TiffIf*

                The first meeting I mentioned is a daily stand-up and it is rare to last longer than 15 minutes.

                The second meeting I mentioned is generally about 30-60 minutes once a week.

                It can be more difficult when part of the team is working remotely, but if you have a lot of valuable information happening in informal chitchat then you need to get into the habit of saying something like “this is information that Susie might need-let’s get on a conference call” or at the very least put any needed information or decisions into chat/email so you have documentation and everyone is on the same page (documentation is something you’d want even if everyone were 100% in office) and it ensures that the information is communicated to someone who, even if they’re in the office that day didn’t happen to be in that particular conversation–maybe Joe went to the bathroom right after the meeting and missed the valuable information that happened in the post-meeting chat.

                I’m not saying anyone should have to go in to an office in a pandemic! I am saying that if you are the only person not going in, be aware that there is a price for that. Ideally, businesses would continue doing things remotely for the foreseeable future and no one would have to make that call.

                There shouldn’t have to be a “price” for a minority working remotely–especially for health reasons–when there are easy solutions. Is it really that difficult to keep chitchat to non-work topics or just don’t start any discussion until you can conference? Or to keep people in the loop?

              2. No name*

                If the unofficial interpersonal stuff/chitchat normally happens in the elevator, over lunch, or stopping by someone’s desk – it shouldn’t be happening during this time for onsite employees either, due to social distancing guidelines. I think people who prioritize getting back into the office for that kind of interaction will quickly find out it’s not as much of an asset as they thought it would be (nor as detrimental to be off-site).

                And in any case, if the difference is a possible leg-up in my career versus possible death, I’ll sacrifice that little career bump.

          2. Gloria*

            I’ve been leading team meetings with some of my team joining remotely for years and yes, it is slightly inconvenient, but isn’t a slight inconvenience worth it if it literally saves people’s lives? The status quo has been thrown out the window by this pandemic and we all need to be open to new ways of working right now. The priority should on keeping employees safe, even if that means excepting a little bit less productivity or a team that is a little bit less cohesive than it would be in normal times.

  13. Potato Girl*

    I’ve been anxious about this for weeks. My partner has high blood pressure, but has been 100% WFH for years so we don’t know if his doctor believes in high bp as a COVID risk factor. I have a bit of asthma, which I never mentioned at my doctor because it’s only a problem when I exercise in the cold, or smoke/vape, or visit a dirty house… so I manage it on my own by avoiding those things.

    I live in a region that subscribes to the belief that if you take personal responsibility to live a healthy lifestyle you won’t get sick. So I’m very anxious about the unknown future day when my employer may tell me I can no longer take personal responsibility to protect my household. I have a painting respirator (which I bought several years ago for spray painting projects) that would protect me from the anti-mask league, but it makes me look like a drama queen, so I worry about the office politics consequences of wearing it.

    I have no suggestions, just solidarity. I’m finding it harmful to my mental health, to live in a culture that says every misfortune is your fault and you must choose to avoid anything bad happening, but also some of those personal choices are made unavailable (but bad consequences are still all your own fault).

    1. Get a diagnosis*

      Would you consider informing just your manager so they have your back?
      Or having your doctor diagnose asthma even if you do not get it often?
      Or even showing a prescription for asthma inhalers even if you don’t have the diagnosis?
      Having a disease is not necessarily a lifestyle choice, and even if it were caused or exacerbated by life choices, you cannot ignore the disease.
      A colleague has both asthma and allergic rhinitis but always refers to it as hayfever even in instances when attacks are triggered by exercise or a cold. I said asthmatics have to shield, hayfever sufferers don’t have to.
      My stance was that I do not care what HE calls it, if his GP coded it as asthma, he needs to take multiple daily asthma meds: controllers and relievers, and he has some cold 50% of the time, he gets to work from home no questions asked, and I can take on HR without disclosing.
      Then of course the partner mentioned some conspiracy theory about GPs being quick to diagnose asthma so they put you on a register, big pharma wanting you to never be well enough so you always use their meds, and whatnot… thanks boss. I still won, and he is working at home

    2. kt*

      It is harmful to mental health to be held responsible for things you can’t control and to be given no grace. Solidarity. :(

  14. anonymous ADA info*

    I have not read any of the comments; this may have already been covered. I am in Wisconsin, in case states make a difference but I do not think they do. My son is currently working with an attorney in order to get ADA access. The attorney said one does not have to affirmatively assert their rights under the ADA (point #1), one only has to let the business know one has pre-existing medical conditions. I really appreciate this post today because other info on it is quite helpful.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To clarify: that’s absolutely true. But when you’re dealing with a company like the OP’s friend’s (where she has already mentioned the medical condition and been told no), it’s helpful to make it official and cite the law.

    2. Employment Lawyer*

      Well, #1 rule: Your son should listen to his attorney. If he trusts random Internet folks more than his own attorney, he needs a new attorney. With that said:

      As a rule I advise most clients to go above the minimum notice requirements; it’s one less thing to worry about when push comes to shove. Also, it’s frankly a courtesy to everyone. HR reps are people too, and they can sometimes just get confused, and so on.

      My $0.02: If you want to talk about an ADA accommodation, do everyone a favor and start out the conversation by saying something like “I want to talk about an ADA accommodation because _____.”

  15. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’m going to look up the UK regulations because a friend of mine has been told to get into the office and she’s got several autoimmune diseases same as me. Her employer is basically saying ‘the only risks are for the elderly, unfit or obese’ and if you fall into the latter two categories then that’s something you need to fix.

    I’d at least hope that any company would offer a dialogue and discussion as to workable accommodations. I really hope everyone gets to stay as safe as possible. My friend is on the phone to me a lot because she’s lost two coworkers to covid and she doesn’t think she can handle going to the office to see those abandoned desks where someone isn’t coming back.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      “Then that’s something you need to fix”—??! Oh okay let me just lose 60 lbs real quick. That company is being garbage.

      My condolences to your friend, though, about her coworkers. You’d think the company would realize how serious it is.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, their managers have this view that health is something you can choose to have, so if you’re e.g. on either end of the BMI scale it’s because you’ve chosen to be like that. That’s part of the reason I quit that firm 6 years ago without another job to go to. Horrible place.

        I really hope the company does do something to honour the memories of the missing, something that’ll help the rest of the staff. They’ll likely just clean the desks out, throw stuff into the trash and carry on though. I’m trying to find grief counselling resources in our local area for her.

        1. MayLou*

          I am fairly sure that UK law provides better protections than USA law in this sort of situation – if your friend is in a union she should contact them. If not, I believe ACAS may be able to signpost her to support. Even aside from coronavirus, the Equality Act places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments which is likely to apply here.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I wonder how they expect to “fix” aging. Philosopher’s Stone?

    3. Observer*

      So, they have decided that the that all of the relevant medical authorities are wrong about the risk factors for Covid19?

      Even if someone could magically go from “unfit” to “fit” and from obese to healthy weight in a week or two, that doesn’t touch on all of the other underlying conditions that increase risk.

    4. Amethystmoon*

      Those aren’t exactly easy things to fix, especially if you have medical conditions that complicate things like losing weight.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      Ugh. I’m disabled, and thus “unfit and obese”. It’s not going to change at anyone’s say-so, either. (I’ve been overweight since puberty, and all the diets and exercise don’t change it. No diet “advice”, please, unless you want both barrels.)

      Your friend’s employer is a corporate a**hole. You shouldn’t have to be a skinny exerbunny to have a job that is safe.

    6. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Right. I was healthier, and about 40 pounds heavier, 20 years ago. But none of my medical issues make me high-risk for COVID-19, whereas still weighing 190 pounds would make me fat enough to be considered higher risk.

      Part of that “healthier” is just that I was twenty years younger, and injuries accumulate over time. But the main difference is that I was diagnosed with MS about two decades ago: an autoimmune disease that is not a COVID-19 risk factor (I asked my neurologist).

  16. Nep*

    I’m immunocompromised and working for a small employer not covered by the ADA, but I will say that when I presented my boss with a note from my doc, he immediately accepted that I’d be working from home for the foreseeable future and we’ve started having talks on how to reallocate work around the office to make that more feasible.

    If you’re lucky enough to have long-term disability insurance (I do outside of my employer), I did also confirm that mine would cover the instance of not being able to go back to work and being let go because of it.

  17. Nikki*

    At the very beginning of COVID WFH, disability advocates predicted that WFH would become “unreasonable” as soon as it wasn’t needed by the majority / non-disabled people. I’m really sad, but not surprised, to see this prediction coming true.

    There is still no vaccine and no treatment for COVID, and if you’re high-risk then you have a 5-10% chance of dying if you catch it. I hope the EEOC takes this into consideration when evaluating employers’ accommodations. A company that allowed WFH for the past 2 months shouldn’t be able to argue now that WFH is “unreasonable” in the face of this danger.

  18. Employment Lawyer*

    This is tricky, of course. For a client, I’d just sue. But for society, it’s tricky.

    At heart, employers are generally allowed to set the job terms which they want and hire who they want, at the salary they want. Things like the ADA are exceptions, where we are (socially) willing to make employers pay for things and people and jobs that the employers wouldn’t voluntarily pay for.

    I can easily see that there are going to be a lot of people who REALLY don’t want to go back to work and who are going to try every avenue to avoid it and make their employer pay for remoteness. The # of people who don’t want to go back will vastly outnumber the # of people who, objectively speaking, should be entitled to stay home and get paid against their employer’s wishes.

    I’m skeptical about the long term success of those positions, and I expect that the terms “high risk” and “can’t return” are going to be incredibly overused this fall. I also anticipate that there will be some backfiring from overuse. I suppose we’ll see how the cases shake out!

    For example: Assume that an employer wants everyone in to the office. Who gets to stay home and be paid a salary, against their employers’ wishes and (for any added costs) at their employer’s expense?

    1) Someone who claims that they’re scared to return (how do you know if that claim is real? What if it is real? What if it will cause them mental harm? What if they freak everyone else out?)

    2) Someone whose private doctor writes a note that says “I do not advise XXX to return to work” or “XXX needs to work remotely due to a health condition.” (What assumptions underlie that note? What did the patient tell the doctor about the job? Do poor people have the same opportunities to get notes? Do PO have the same opportunities to get notes? Do doctors really ever refuse to write such notes, and if so what is the risk cutoff?)

    3) Someone who is in a risk group other than “perfectly healthy 18-21 year old.” and, perhaps, gets a doctor’s note. (Do they need to be “increased” risk; “moderate” risk; or “high” risk? Completely immuno-compromised? What do moderate, increased, and high even MEAN, anyway? Who assigns the patient to that group? Is is just a crap shoot about whose doctor writes a better letter or whose doctor has a more-employment-progressive mindset?

    4) Someone who is a sole caregiver to an elderly / child / immunocompromized /etc. Or who SAYS they are (how do you check?) Or who rooms with someone who is. And so on.

    It’s gonna be a very interesting fall.

    1. MayLou*

      If someone has demonstrated, during the mandatory stay at home period, that their job can be done perfectly well from home, why should they have to return to the office at all? I’m planning to request that I continue working from home the majority of the time simply because it saves me so much money in computer-related costs. There are aspects of my job that are better done from the office and I look forward to being able to do those again, but I was surprised how little I need to be present in person to get my job done.

      1. Sleepy*

        I expect those will be the cut-and-dried cases. There are plenty of edge cases though, that are going to be hard to sort out because some portion of the job would be better done from the office, even if doable from home.

        I have a young employee who previously disclosed to me that she has a heart condition. She was terrified of coronavirus, understandably, and eager to work from home. She transitioned to WFH earlier than others and has done as good a job as I could hope for. The catch? We work with the public performing services that normally take place in person. These services can be done online, I would say at about 80-90% efficacy, but not 100%. She’s an asset to our team and I definitely want to continue to accommodate her as this goes on, but I’m also worried that our clients won’t want to accept services online long-term which are not as good as what they were receiving in person. This could affect the long-term viability of our company.

        I’m definitely not g0ing to insist this person come in any time soon. For a strong employee, I will make every effort to keep her with us while feeling safe. But if she was just so-so, or if the transition online meant the job was being performed at 60-70% efficacy…it would be tough.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Might it be possible to match the high-risk clients with the high risk employees? For example, some clients might be okay with 80-90% if it allows them to stay home longer or have one less physical contact.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        Most simply: If you have ever employed someone then you probably know that YOUR sense of “doing it perfectly well” and THEIR sense of “doing it perfectly well” can differ significantly. (The # of employees who are bad workers vastly exceeds zero. The # of employees who think that THEY THEMSELVES are bad workers approaches zero.)

        1. HoundMom*

          This is well said. Without making any assumptions about the individual looking for advice, she could be thinking she is nailing the job perfectly from home, but her managers may or may not, agree with that self-assessment. The words “team player” could be the guilt-inducing, we have no good reason for you to come into the office. Or, it could be an avoidance of saying the performance is not as strong as we would like or need.

    2. Nikki*

      I’m both an employer and a person with chronic illnesses/disabilities so I think about this all the time.

      #2 is what worries me most, on a societal level. There’s a demonstrated medical bias against poor people, women, people of color, and people with mental illness. We know from research that certain people’s pain is taken less seriously and certain people are more likely to be diagnosed with conversion disorder (the modern term for hysteria/psychosomatic illness). How many of these people are going to miss out on a well-deserved doctor’s note because they can’t afford a doctor visit, or the doctor doesn’t take them seriously, or they are sick but undiagnosed and therefore don’t fit the criteria?

      I’m very concerned about all the people who, once again, are going to be failed by the system and put in a dangerous situation because of their disability. Can we guarantee that the system we set up identifies the “right” people to WFH and doesn’t discriminate along well-tread paths? I’m not sure.

      And I’m concerned about the backlash as well. I think anybody who has lived with a chronic condition has experienced doubt, judgment, and even hatred from people who don’t understand their condition. This is especially true for invisible illnesses (many of which are named as pre-existing conditions for COVID) because the symptoms of invisible illnesses are often subjective (fatigue, pain) and can change in severity over time. In the process of getting my diagnoses I’ve been called lazy, weak, hysterical, self-obsessed, incompetent, a bad patient, a bad student, and a bad person in general. I still get called these things when I speak out about my illnesses or advocate for disability rights.

      I so badly want the trend toward WFH to benefit people with disabilities. But as we reopen, I’m getting more and more resigned to the idea that it may end up backfiring, as you said. I would love to see the EEOC work with forward-thinking doctors, COVID researchers, disability advocates, diversity and equity experts, and employment lawyers to grapple with the points you’ve raised. Asking individual employers (who have a conflict of interest, as it is) to come up with answers to these questions without guidance or legal precedent seems like a recipe for disaster.

      1. remizidae*

        “We know from research that certain people’s pain is taken less seriously and certain people are more likely to be diagnosed with conversion disorder (the modern term for hysteria/psychosomatic illness).”

        It’s important for people to know that psychosomatic illness is 100% real. If a doctor tells you your illness has a psychological cause, it is NOT equivalent to dismissing your pain or calling you a liar. They are simply saying that the only treatment for this condition is psychological. People get ill for psychological reasons all the time, so please don’t spread this misconception that every source of pain has a physical cause.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yes, but for women, the disabled and minorities, medical doctors “diagnose” illnesses as “psychosomatic” more often. They also often miss the real, life threatening condition because they assume that the woman/disabled/minority person is just a whiny mental case who needs a shrink, not an MD.

        2. Nikki*

          You’re right — I can see how the way I’ve written this implies that conversion disorder / psychosomatic illness is not real. Thank you for bringing that up. Psychosomatic illness is real and it is important for people to understand that physical symptoms and pain can have psychological causes! Anyone who’s gotten so stressed that their head or stomach has started hurting has, in fact, experienced this. :)

          I meant to convey that certain people who have somatic illnesses are more likely to be told that their pain is psychological, when physical causes for the pain have not been appropriately ruled out. As many as 50% of early Parkinson’s patients are misdiagnosed, some with psychosomatic illness. Women presenting to the ER with atypical (non-male) heart attack symptoms are sometimes sent home with a psychiatric or psychosomatic diagnosis. I’ve met someone who had a life-threatening neck condition that was initially diagnosed as conversion disorder. And I have personally been told my symptoms were psychiatric / psychosomatic when they later turned out to have a physical cause.

          Psychosomatic illness is real, but it needs to be investigated thoroughly and diagnosed properly. This is particularly important in the context of COVID, because someone with a psychosomatic illness is likely not at increased risk, but someone with a psychosomatic misdiagnosis may be.

        3. Observer*

          That’s all well and good. But in most cases, the term is used to essentially dismiss illness or not actually track down an ACCURATE diagnosis. If it’s psychosomatic, then we don’t need to do bloodwork, scans, exams etc. See a therapist and take some psychotropics and leave me alone.

          One of the reasons that women have significantly worse outcomes with heart attacks is because when they show up at the doctor or ER, they get sent home – often with no testing, because it’s “just hysteria” etc. Women take, on average, 3 years longer than men to get a diagnosis for their physical symptoms, even when the symptoms are easily seen and concrete!

          1. Quill*

            And if it’s a disease that in any way related to the fact that you have a uterus… the rate of correct diagnosis drops significantly. See: endometriosis, PCOS…

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        Yup. (Also, hopefully you guessed that “PO” in #2 was supposed to be “POC.”)

        Asking individual employers (who have a conflict of interest, as it is) to come up with answers to these questions without guidance or legal precedent seems like a recipe for disaster.
        Well, the problem (so to speak) is that you’re trying to force people rather than convince them.

        Imagine an employer who hates middle-aged, cisgender, white, attractive, english-speaking, highly educated, men. They don’t want to hire them for full salary because they think their work is 20% less valuable.

        You have three basic options.
        1) Let them discriminate in hiring. If salaries stay the same, those men won’t get jobs. If salaries can move, they’ll get paid 20% less for similar work (though from the employer’s perspective they are being paid fairly because the employer VALUES their work as worth less.)

        2) Force them to hire men and pay them the same $$$ and same job. The employers unsurprisingly hatey-hate this and will try everything to duck it, because they think that they are being forced to overpay for employees that they don’t want! And to a degree this is sensible: society is taking “society’s” problem (men can’t get a job) and sticking it on a small group of employers.

        3) Convince employers through bribery. Say “OK, we know society thinks white men are worth 20% less, so we’ll tax everyone and will provide a subsidy to bump their salary by 20%. Other than that, do what you want.” This is the “society wants something, and society will pay for it” method

        Here’s the fun questions:
        A) Which do you think is worst, middle, and best for employees: #1, 2, or 3?
        B) Which do you think is worst, middle, and best for employers: #1, 2, or 3?
        C) If the “best” isn’t what we have now, what do you think is the reason behind it?

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          This makes no sense. If discriminatory employers hate anti-discrimination laws, that’s their problem and shouldn’t be made anyone else’s.

          1. Employment Lawyer*

            It does, because part of drafting a good law is to predict (and consider) the expected response. People (on both sides!) want what they want, and they will do what they can to get it. A law which doesn’t consider the response will rarely work.

            For example making criminal history questions illegal (ostensibly to help groups with large %ages of criminal records) turns out to HARM those groups because absent the ability to ask, the employers assume everyone has a record.

            Similarly, if you make it really hard to fire X people then you may think it will “keep more people in X category employed” but you will find employers ramp up hiring discrimination instead and also hire fewer folks: it may make things worse. Look at France.

            If you make it impossible for an employer to ask “how much will this cost to accommodate your disability?” and think about whether it’s worth it before hiring, then you may think they will just absorb accommodation cost…. but instead, employers use gross speculation and guesses instead, and assume everyone w/ a disability is really expensive, and try to avoid hiring them, and so it can make it worse.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          If ‘men’ can’t get a job I’d argue that that absolutely is the fault of employers. If an employer has some kind of bias against a group of people it shouldn’t be accommodated or in any way encouraged.

    3. pancakes*

      “What did the patient tell the doctor about the job?” is really getting into the weeds. If there’s nothing on the face of a doctor’s note or about the circumstances of the employee presenting it that suggests something nefarious is happening, there’s no good reason to start speculating that something nefarious is happening.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Lots and lots and lots of people lie. If you get a benefit, then it makes it even more likely that someone will lie.Some are employees, some are employers; both of them lie, all the time.

        Seriously, do you think the doctor is going to ask “OK, describe every specific of your office so I can assess it for safety?” No. Will they ask “OK, let’s talk about other alternatives to this note, like coming in the back and sitting in the corner?” No. Will they dig into the patient who lies? Not usually, unless perhaps they are poor/disabled/POC/etc. (see my post above.)

        Notes are sometimes specific, like “don’t lift more than 50 pounds for a month.” But a note to “stay home because of general CV risk” is, frankly, quite often going to be BS.

        1. pancakes*

          It sounds like your mindset is that doctors are untrustworthy and doctors’ notes to employers advising their patients should work from home are “often going to be BS.” You are of course free to have this mindset, but if you’re not pointing toward anything that’s actually happened, only things that you fear might happen, it seems like pointless wheel-spinning to me. It’s also not clear what you’re advising people to do or not do. “Don’t bother getting a note from your doctor because a real crank of a boss or their lawyer won’t think it’s legit” isn’t sensible advice.

          1. Employment Lawyer*

            I trust privately-paid doctors as much as I trust company-paid arbitrators. Do you trust THEM? Both are biased as hell in my experience.

            If a rich white person w/ a private lawyer and a private doctor needs a note saying something, they can generally get the note. I’ve personally seen ADA accommodation letters obtained from Massachusetts, written by a hired-gun remote psychiatrist in Texas after 1 remote “telephone session”, which magically diagnosed the exact problem they wanted and magically produced the exact recommendation they demanded. And that is not a joke. If Doctor A won’t write it, they just hire Doctor B and so on; there’s no way to track how many doctors they go through.

            A system which gives benefits based on the ability to get such notes is, in my view, not a great system.

            Poor people cannot easily do that; neither can non-English-speaking people; neither can some POC, or a lot of other groups which I am disinclined to ignore.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The ‘we shouldn’t accommodate or give benefits to anyone because a few people lie’ trope is rather past retirement age by now.

  19. alienor*

    I’ve been reminding the entire “just keep staying home if you’re worried, no one is forcing you to go out” crowd for weeks that situations exactly like the one in this letter would happen–people can’t make the decision to stay home indefinitely on their own, they have to have the employer’s permission. Plus, I think there’s still a perception that the only people at risk are old and/or visibly sick and disabled, but there are many, many, many people in their 30s and 40s who look fine, but have hypertension or diabetes or asthma that they go to work with every day. It’s so frustrating.

    1. Nikki*

      This was my immediate concern when people started talking about reopening. Our state’s plan advises that at-risk people remain home until the final stage of reopening… but if they work for a business that opens in one of the earlier stages, how are they supposed to manage that? It puts people at the mercy of their employer.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Not to mention that the people who work in service positions are not given that choice.

  20. Database Developer Dude*

    I have an underlying condition (high blood pressure), and live with someone in a high-risk category (70+) and have semi-regular contact with my Mom (77). I will definitely be seeking accomodations when I go back to work. Allowing me to wear a mask at a minimum. If they don’t do that, well, my current workplace is such that I’m ready to start a legal ruckus. That’s a different story, though.

    1. allathian*

      Unless you have an N95 mask, wearing it won’t protect you. It’ll only protect others from an illness you may be carrying, provided you wear it correctly and change it often enough so it doesn’t get damp. Sorry, but masks may be a bit better than nothing, but not much. I can see the point of having mandatory masks on public transport, but only if everyone complies. There has to be some consequence for non-compliance, such as getting thrown out at the next station.

      1. pancakes*

        Allathian, that’s not correct.

        “A comparison of homemade and surgical masks for bac-terial and viral aerosols (19) observed that ‘the median-fitfactor of the homemade masks was one-half that of the surgical masks. Both masks significantly reduced the number ofmicroorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgicalmask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission thanthe homemade mask.’ Research focused on aerosol exposurehas found all types of masks are at least somewhat effectiveat protecting the wearer. Van der Sande et al (38) found that ‘all types of masks reduced aerosol exposure, relatively stable over time, unaffected by duration of wear or type of activity,’ and concluded that ‘any type of general mask use is likely to decrease viral exposure and infection risk on apopulation level, despite imperfect fit and imperfect adherence.’ However, overall analysis of particle filtration is likely to underestimate the effectiveness of masks, since the fraction of particles that are emitted as aerosol (vs. droplet) is quite small (30). Analysis of seasonal coronavirus compared to rhinovirus (26) suggests that filtration of COVID-19 maybe much more effective, especially for source control. In summary, there is laboratory-based evidence that house-hold masks have some filtration capacity in the relevant droplet size range, as well as efficacy in blocking droplets and particles from the wearer (26). That is, these masks help people keep their droplets to themselves.’


  21. animaniactoo*

    My response to HR: “I am working in every way possible to be a team player and continue to fulfill all the duties of my job. However, I believe that being a team player does not mean ignoring the individual needs of the team members based on their specific circumstances. While I do not know the needs of my other team members, I would expect that you would consider them all individually and address them individually as we work to recover while this situation is still ongoing. In my case, I am asking you, as the managers of the team, to consider my individual needs and accommodate them based on the specific danger of this virus to me, and the potential for worse-than-average consequences if I, specifically, catch it.”

  22. Sleepy*

    I wonder if this is a situation where there are tasks that can be done remotely and tasks that have to be done in person, and any employees working remotely are not going to be able to do their fare share of the tasks that have to be done in person? That’s the only way I can make sense of the “team player” reasoning.

    The other explanation, of course, is that the company is being petty. Which is totally possible.

    1. TROI*

      My company is finding that working from an office isn’t as essential as they thought. In fact, since it isn’t and workers can work from anywhere they are replacing US and Canadian employees with lower paid workers from India. There was talk of it before but now our company’s CEO is putting the gas on it.

  23. I Need That Pen*

    I think we’re all about to find out just how many people/employers thought this whole working from home thing was a luxury, and not an effort to protect our communities and ourselves from this pandemic that’s still spreading like a house afire. Would I like to be back at the office? Sure. Do I want to risk bringing home something to my elderly mom (don’t tell her I said elderly she’ll kill me)? No. I intend to be safe and take precautions because this thing apparently can fall the mightiest of trees, in addition to those in higher risk situations. I’m really chapped by people who continually say, “Oh this only affects the old and the obese.” People who say that are more scared than they’re letting on.

    When I read, “You’re not a team player,” in this case the only thing I can hear is, “If I have to be here so do you.” I only accept that logic for hangovers and sunburns on Monday mornings (sometimes).

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Plus, the people who say “Oh this only affects the old and the obese.” are often essentially saying that they are fine with sacrificing the old and the obese.

      1. TiffIf*

        Plus, about 42% of the adult population in the US is obese. That’s…a very large number of people.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yes, but many people think “I’m just a little pudgy, they’re grossly obese”.

          Fact is, the disease doesn’t just hit the old and obese. I saw before and after pictures of an athletic guy, six pack abs, who survived COVID-19. Yikes! He looked horrible.

    2. Katniss Evergreen*

      Yeah.. this. My husband was told “not to flaunt” his WFH status with peers when he first started. It felt like his bosses were telling him not to tell people he was working remotely, despite the fact that everything he does in his job can be done remotely with apparently the same efficacy as pre-pandemic work. He works for a giant company whose stock has soared this year.. and which didn’t release a wide statement to the staff temporarily on remote status until just a few weeks ago, telling them they’d likely be WFH until the fall.

  24. Mimmy*

    1. Notify your employer that you are making an “official request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Use that wording.

    I thought you don’t have to be so formal in asking for ADA accommodations.

    1. Snark no more!*

      It starts the conversation with (hopefully) everyone on the same page. HR doesn’t have to guess what it is you’re asking for.

  25. Ranon*

    I find it just fascinating that so many employers are assuming that somehow productivity at an office when folks are social distancing and dealing with all the mental overhead that comes with that will somehow be the same as it was prior. I suspect a lot are in for a rude surprise and may discover that productivity is indeed better with the folks who can work from home continuing to do so.

    1. alienor*

      Same. In addition to general stress, etc., my office is planning to check temperatures in the morning as people enter, which I’m sure means waiting in line if you arrive at a peak time, and we’re being asked to wipe down every door handle, microwave handle, faucet and so forth after we touch it, so a lot of time is going to get eaten up by screening and cleaning. I get where they’re coming from and I appreciate that they’re taking it seriously, but I also think there’s a point where it just makes more sense to leave most people at home, and only bring in the ones who have a strong preference for being in the office or can’t do their jobs as effectively outside it.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yep. Though I suspect a lot of employers are just going to pressure people to work extra hours (probably unpaid) to do the screening and cleaning. And then lean on “you should be grateful to have a job at all, lots of people are unemployed.”

  26. Kettricken Farseer*

    Reading about all the grief people are getting from their employers makes me sad. People shouldn’t be forced to come into the office against their will. I mean, people are DYING, and the people who don’t die get still very very very sick. You’d think they’d be a little bit more forward-looking — what happens if you’re all forced back in and then someone tests positive? Yank everyone back out of the office? You’d think it would be in their best interest to keep the work going no matter where and let people keep themselves healthy.

    I am soooo grateful that my enormous healthcare-adjacent employer is letting people opt in to going to the office. They’ve been really clear that if you have any reservations at all about coming back, you can stay working from home. And you don’t have to prove any kind of underlying issue for either you or your family – they just take your word for it. It’s been such a relief.

    1. riverflows*


      I’m also confused about this EEOC language “after the COVID-19 crisis has ended”, “after the immediate crisis has passed”. What are they considering a “crisis”? Just because some regions are starting to open up from the lockdown, does it really mean the crisis is “over”? There is no vaccine, antibody tests aren’t accurate, people are still dying or getting very sick. Regions are only opening up due to the economy and not any medical declaration that it is now safe. Does each business get to make a declaration themselves that the crisis is over?

  27. Queen Anon*

    The nature of my job is such that doing it from home is no different than doing it from the office. My team is located in 3 different offices anyway and everything we do is digital and over the internet.
    Actually I have noticed a difference in my mental well-being, in that it’s better than ever. I’m a classic introvert and by Friday evening, I’m usually exhausted just from the constant daily interaction with people. This hasn’t been the case since I began WFH. I get all the office interaction I need through Skype and email, I have a lot more control over the extent of it, and I don’t feel the need to recover from work on the weekends, even though I work just as much now as when I was in the office.
    Not every experience is universal (including mine!).

    1. lilsheba*

      Same here, I would love to be able to work from home (haven’t been setup yet) because being in the office around all those rah rah people is exhausting, and the whole environment is terrible for an introvert who just wants to be left alone.

  28. lilsheba*

    I’m wondering about this myself. So far I’ve been on a paid quarrantine leave from work because they would rather do that than let people in the call center work from home, for some unknown ridiculous reason. Well they finally said 2 weeks ago they would let us work from home, and I’ve been waiting on standby for when I need to come in for the 1 day training on the setup needed to work from home. They are providing the pc, a large monitor (to make up for the fact I won’t have two monitors here) keyboard and mouse, the phone function is in the computer. I have a space setup, I got a chair for this, and I’ve heard nothing. The quarantine deadline is on May 31st, and now I’m worried they won’t setup the work from home now and force me to go into work, even though I’m at risk due to health reasons. I want to be able to ask for accommodations to let me work from home from now on, it would be so much easier and cheaper and healthier for me.

  29. J.B.*

    There are very real societal restrictions right now with the lack of childcare or school. It seems like the most likely outcome now is alternating day school in the fall. Which means that parents, disproportionately single parents and those that are already disadvantaged, will not be able to work full time from the office.

    1. J.B.*

      This one is a nesting fail. There will be lots of problems like this and I think if there’s an underlying health issue, act now using Alison’s plan. There will be more and more balancing to do as the year goes on.

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