my office is reopening and I don’t feel safe going back

A reader writes:

I’ve been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, and my job, in general, has been understanding. They’ve been communicating to us that there isn’t a “hard date” that we’re expected back in the office, but recently they completely flipped that stance and now expect us all back at the top of next month.

My husband is immunocompromised and I don’t want to risk his health, but I feel really betrayed and really backed into a corner by my job.

I’m not sure if I have ground to stand on to fight this, but I’m not sure if I have protection if I’m forced out, or if I would be denied unemployment benefits. I’m pretty sure if I do try to raise this issue, regardless of whether I have other coworkers backing me, I will be told to deal with this because they can replace me with a slew of other newly unemployed people, and trying to find a job now feels incredibly daunting.

Do I just suck it up and risk my husband’s health and stay at a job I’m pretty sure can survive another wave, or do I try to find a new job now and become expendable when the next wave hits?

You have a lot of company in this awful boat. My inbox has been filled with letters from people facing the same terrible choice: Do I keep my job in a crappy job market, or do I protect myself and the people I live with?

Many employers are re-opening too soon, long before the benchmarks set by public health experts have been met (often even while local virus cases are increasing rather than decreasing). But there are things you can try in your situation.

First, talk with your employer. Explain that your husband is immunocompromised and high-risk, and that you’d put him in danger by returning to the office right now. Ask if it’s possible to continue to work from home, offer to provide medical documentation if they want it, and point to how effectively you’ve been doing your job remotely these last few months. (Whether to make this request of your manager or to start with HR depends on your sense of how reasonable and flexible each of them is.) With a decent employer, this could be enough! A lot of employers that are re-opening are making exceptions for people in your situation, but you have to know to ask.

If you were the high-risk person instead of your husband, you’d have some legal standing to push the issue. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), you’d be able to request telework as a reasonable accommodation during the pandemic. (That doesn’t mean your employer would have to agree, but they’d be required to have a dialogue with you about what accommodations would work for your situation.) But unfortunately, the law’s protections only cover you; they don’t apply if your spouse is the one at high risk.

So, where does that leave you if you make the request and your company refuses? Well, you can try pushing back with a group of co-workers; you’re probably not the only one in this situation, and even co-workers who aren’t would likely support you. A group of employees pushing for a change can be much harder to ignore than one employee on their own. Plus, if you act as a group, you get the protection of the National Labor Relations Act, which says employers can’t penalize groups of workers who speak out about working conditions.

If your employer still refuses, at that point you’d need to decide if you’re willing to keep the job under these terms or not. (If you do decide you’re going to quit over it, though, let your employer know that first—because it’s possible that will spur them to try to keep you. Just make sure you’re not bluffing, because they may just accept your resignation.)

Unfortunately, you’re right that in most states you won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits if you quit for this reason, so it likely would come down to how long how you could live without the income from this job, how long you think it would take to find a new job (something especially hard to predict right now with so many people out of work and job-searching), and how likely that job would be to let you work remotely. It’s a horrible choice to have to make.

It’s also true, of course, that many people—essential workers and others whose workplaces haven’t closed—have been dealing with this choice from the start. But it can feel particularly unreasonable when you’ve already been doing your job from home and can point to that working well, and your employer still won’t let you protect yourself and your family members.

Originally published at Vice.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann O'Nemity*

    My boss started saying last week that they wanted everyone to return to the office soon. This week, one of our essential on-site employees went into quarantine after a close family member tested positive. All talk of returning to the office any time soon has died down.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I realize I didn’t really offer any constructive advice here. Sorry about that.

      OP, have you talked to coworkers about this yet? How is the general mood? If a lot of people are worried, it would be easier to push back as a united front. I’m really hoping your boss realizes the risk involved and reconsiders.

      1. Bob*

        I think you did offer constructive advice, nothing affects motivation like personal consequences. Perhaps trying to get everyone and their families tested (i know how hard that is) is a possible solution, someone has it then the employer bringing everyone back becomes incredibly unpalatable.

      2. JSPA*

        That’s not going to be an uncommon scenario, which does suggest another strategy. Not great, but less-lethal.

        OP could find another coworker in a similar situation, and (short term, like a month or so) the two high-risk spouses could live in one home, and the two coworkers in the other.

        Within a month to six weeks after opening, it’s (sadly) quite likely that there will be an outbreak at work, or work-adjacent, and WFH will be restored. At that point, OP and the coworker quarantine for 2 weeks, get tested, then reunite with their respective spouses.

        As someone who’s often apart from spouse for a month or two or three, it’s not necessarily unworkable. If OP and coworker were to both get sick and survive, without putting respective spouses at risk, that would be…well, still hugely stressful and still dangerous, as people with no risk factors can still have really bad outcomes. But still better than bringing it home, unawares, to an immunocompromised family member.

          1. Eva Luna*

            I don’t like this. I am in a similar situation, and people shouldn’t have to separate from their spouses and live with strangers because bosses have dumb and pointless ideas about making people be physically in the same building even if they can’t work in the same room anyway because of social distancing, and when they have jobs that have been done perfectly well (more efficiently than normal, even) without forcing anyone to take pointless risks. Like taking public transportation to work because there are no other realistic alternatives, which the C-suit exec who made this decision doesn’t have to do because he drives every day and has his own parking spot.

  2. pebbles*

    We’ve had a number of cases at our office and yet management has lied to us about this (saying “no cases in the office” because the cases were actually in the office NEXT DOOR, which is in the same building and separated by a hallway). Their tone throughout has been very victim-blamey and gaslighty (saying stuff like “we can’t protect you if you don’t protect yourselves” while doing very very little on an institutional level to protect anyone but the senior-level executives – they get a cleaner making constant rounds sanitizing their office, while even the cubicle workers who could work from home are not permitted to (because that’s not “fair” to people who can’t work from home). I hate it.

    1. TomorrowTheWorld*

      I am the only person in my specific office who cannot do her job from home. It’s daunting, as I’m on immune suppressants but also quite nice because it is lovely and quiet and I can play loud music while working. Two other people were in yesterday and the place felt crowded and noisy! I hope most of them stay working from home, really.

      1. PJ*

        My son is also on immune suppressants. He has a treatment every 8 weeks and for the April treatment his doctor advised us not to travel for the appointment due to that hospital being in a “hot spot”. We did travel in May and got the good news that experts have determined that his medication will actually help him if he gets Covid due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Obviously I know nothing about your situation, but this was really good news to us and might be worth asking your provider about!

        1. TomorrowTheWorld*

          That’s great news for your son!
          I have rheumatoid arthritis, so I don’t know if xeljanz or methotrexate would be of any help.

          1. ItalianBunny*

            I have RA too.
            As i know, the Idroxichrloine helps as it is an anti inflammatory and is being tested as of now (hellow, not being able to get it since February -.-)
            Idk about metothrexate, tho, but i could ask my rheumatologist.

      2. Kes*

        In your case if your higher ups are reasonable it might be worth preemptively mentioning that you’re glad everyone else is working from home given that you can’t and are on immune suppressants, to try and head off the kind of thinking in pebbles’ office.

        1. TomorrowTheWorld*

          I work for a government health care agency and the people who can work from home were ordered to do so before I even said anything. Which is great for everyone, really, some of them had to commute quite a long way. And I have colleagues who are in and out, because of the type of work we do, but everyone is very strict about following health protocols and I have free access to disinfecting wipes, gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. So, pretty good, really!
          I just like being able to crank up Dead Kennedys while working on spreadsheets.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I hate the whole “that’s not “fair” to people who can’t work from home” argument.
      Yes, there are unfortunately some people who absolutely have to come into the office to do their work.

      But a whole lot more are “knowledge workers” who can basically do their work from anywhere. Often the difference is that “knowledge” and/or field of study one has chosen to work in. I studied what I did precisely for this reason, it’s work that is 97% computer-based with necessary 3% in-person meetings and/or events. If you chose something different, that’s not my fault, it’s just different nature of the work. There are rewards and downsides to each, you either accept what you chose, or study to change your work so you can work remote too.

      I say this because I spent a long, long time of my life sacrificing, studying, and struggling to get out of the blue collar factory and shift work I was born into to move to a knowledge worker type job. I want to reap those perks and rewards of that job.

      1. Fancy Owl*

        I hate that argument too. In my case, I work in IT and some of my coworkers have to be on site some of the time to work with hardware and others like me work like 95% on my computer. They called us all back to the office full time, and my boss kept saying it wouldn’t be fair to allow some of us to keep working from home when others come in and I’m like, but safety should be more important than “fairness” here! With more people in the office 5 days a week it’s less safe for everyone.

        1. a good mouse*

          Exactly – if they let you work from home, it’s actually safer for the people who have to go in, because they have more space and are exposed to less people. If it was a normal world and a question of working from home this might have merit, but right now it’s legitimately counter-productive to safety to have everyone come in.

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            That’s exactly the point. Our production people need to be onsite. The office workers do not. By having office workers work from home, it makes it easier to enforce social distancing requirements because we can easily space people more than 6 feet apart when they are doing paperwork or catching up on email. EVERYONE is safer this way.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I’ll add less crowding in the break areas and cafeteria areas and rest rooms. And fewer people to funnel into the building with a temperature check that does nothing to spot asymptomatic carriers.

          2. leapingLemur*

            “if they let you work from home, it’s actually safer for the people who have to go in, because they have more space and are exposed to less people. ” This!

          3. Quickbeam*

            100% yes. My husbsnd works in a correctional facility with covid+ inmates every day. The fact they I am working from home keeps *him* safer and exposed to less unnecessary risk.

        2. Annony*

          I would think that even those who cannot work from home would want everyone who can work from home to do so. It decreases their exposure by having fewer people around.

        3. Nesprin*

          Its so weird that “not fair to the people who have to work from the office” has led offices to increase the interactions and thus exposure risk of those same people they’re trying to protect.

        4. Works in IT*

          I wouldn’t mind coming in to work and moving my laptop out of the way so someone else could make use of my (out of the way, isolated) office if they had to be on site for work. I’m certainly not using it at the moment!

      2. Autumnheart*

        Whether or not a knowledge worker “deserves” to work from home because they studied hard and sacrificed a lot (frankly, I think that’s a pretty crappy attitude), the point of working from home is to reduce the number of possible vectors for the people who must be on-site. It’s not fair to ANY employee to require them to be on-site and increase the likelihood of infecting people, just because someone wants to see butts in seats.

        What I’m really disgusted by is the attitude I’ve seen expressed in a lot of places, like a worker shouldn’t make “too much” money, or enjoy her work environment “too much”, because otherwise she might not be inspired to do her job. Like…what? Next time we found a nation, let’s not have Puritans make the rules. The idea that we need to suffer an appropriate amount (emotionally or physically) in order to justify our paycheck, that we already earned with our labor, is appalling.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Paying me a decent wage and providing a safe work environment inspires me to work harder. My current jobs have paid the most over my career and I go above and beyond because I feel valued. When I worked at minimum jobs the turnover was always high because people were always leaving for more money.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          No it’s not fair for “force” any of the office workers in if it isn’t necessary. But then what? They get laid off because they cannot access a piece of equipment? That also sucks. They should get access to what they need without making everyone come in.

          For me this WFH argument was happening at my work before COVID and is a very sore topic. The “fair” argument has been used many times to try and force butts in seats when it made no sense at all for about 80% of the employees. Or, it’s been granted or rescinded under a guise of fairness when it either is or is not related to actual work function.

        3. A*

          1) Understandably, but I do think you projecting here a bit. This comment clearly hit a personal note for you, I do think that needs to be taken into account as it’s impossible to not have that impact the lens you are viewing it through.

          2) I think the primary point of the comment about ‘fairness’ wasn’t that they worked hard and therefore ‘deserve’ to WFH – more so that it shouldn’t really be about ‘fairness’ even in the best of times because if being in a position that can be done off-site is important to you, you can pursue that specifically. If you pursue a line of work that requires being on-site, than it is what it is. My interpretation was that this was with the understanding, as you spoke to as well, that right now it isn’t about ‘fairness’ because it’s a matter of public health.

          Just saying, I interpreted the comment you responded to very, very differently than you (rightly or wrongly), so I’d recommend holding back on assumptions and telling people they have a crappy attitude etc.

      3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Same here. When we were kids and said “that’s not faaaaaair,” adults would say “well, life is not fair.” And now that we’re adults, we’re told “it’s not faaaaaair” to others when we make perfectly reasonable, logical requests.

      4. Aquawoman*

        I agree that the “it’s not fair” argument is silly, but I have to push back on the idea that everyone has complete freedom of choice about what career to have and it’s all about individual “choice.” That’s just not the case.

      5. Quill*

        Sending people who CAN stay home back helps protect the people who have to go in! Fewer potential disease vectors!

      6. Thankful for AAM*

        I work for a city and, as long as we are closed, I can do 100% of my job from home. But I cannot bc IT has decided that we cannot since there are not enough laptops for everyone and there are too many security issues with using our own computers (as though no other workplace has ever figured this out).

        So we all have to go to the building. Most of IT is working from home.

      7. Looking Outside*

        Workers who haven’t been able to work from home during this time haven’t been doing so because they didn’t sacrifice enough or study enough or struggle enough. It’s because their jobs are essential for our lives to function. We need to buy groceries and have our trash collected and have a healthcare worker take care of us when we have COVID. Please don’t think that those folks haven’t sacrificed or struggled enough, they are certainly sacrificing and struggling plenty right now. Be kind to essential workers who haven’t had the opportunity to work from home because they’ve been keeping your trash from piling up in the street and making your life better and maybe take a minute to advocate for some community and/or governmental support for them. There have been very few perks or rewards for essential workers during this pandemic and quite a lot of risk they didn’t sign up for.

        1. AnonNurse*

          Thank you. As a healthcare worker, I haven’t had the ability to stay home with my children and I see all the others that are also out everyday in retail, sanitation, etc that are all just trying to do their jobs and keep the system moving. I admit the only perk is that I’ve had a job to go to and didn’t have to worry about security but that hasn’t been the same across the board. I haven’t looked for perks but it also hasn’t been an easy time.

      8. JSPA*

        Reducing occupancy makes it safer for everyone; those who stay home, because they are home, and those who come in, because density and number of contacts are both lower. How this is mysterious to anyone is mysterious to me.

      9. Lierre*

        I agree people shouldn’t be forced back into the office because of “fairness,” but your attitude reeks of current entitlement (whatever your upbringing was). Are you really okay profiting off their labor AND blaming them for their choice of education and/or career? That’s… quite the attitude. Do you really think, in this current job market, that not one of those people have sacrificed, studied, and struggled like you, only to find themselves unemployed in their chosen field? I hope you find some compassion, and also realize that no one’s position, including yours, is guaranteed in this current crisis.

    3. CatsOnAKeyboard*

      The other thing that’s particularly frustrating about the not ‘fair’ argument is that it also puts those who can’t work from home at higher risk! Having the people who can work from home reduces the crowding in the office and reduces the chance they’ll come into contact with someone contagious.

      And particularly since they don’t have any choice about going into work, it’s safer for them if those that don’t need to – don’t.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Yes, this! My office was overcrowded before the pandemic hit, so I’m glad that our leadership worked to keep as many people as possible doing WFH, with those who do need to do work onsite separated appropriately. Those who have a mix of both are coming into the office on staggered schedules whenever possible, for physical distancing.

        1. Mama Bear*

          One thing companies can do is shift people’s work schedules so there are fewer people in the office in general. There are folks in my building that cannot WFH at all, but if they all stagger their hours depending on where they work, they at least reduce the points of contact with each other. AND there are still the one way stairwells, limited capacity elevators, masks…One of my coworkers is apparently the primary caregiver for an ailing spouse and is very concerned that if they get the virus, they don’t have the means to hire additional in-home care. Given how terribly the virus has burned through assisted living facilities, I can’t blame them for wanting to keep their spouse home (among many other reasons).

          There are a lot of reasons people are worried about returning to work – family health, lack of childcare (open doesn’t mean full capacity, and many camps are closed), etc. I can close my door but if I had an open office…? I’d bring these things to the boss’ attention.

          Even if they say “come back now” and OP can’t get more WFH time, I’d push back on what the company will do to protect people.

      2. MissMeghan*

        Yes! I feel much more comfortable sitting in my office by myself than with an office full of people. What is fair to those that have to come in is to give them enough space to work comfortably, keep them informed and listen to how their office space needs may have changed, and be flexible where you can. I think what most people want is to feel safe at work and heard by their employers, even if that doesn’t mean everyone can work from home.

      3. fposte*

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure our excellent maintenance guy wasn’t thinking “Dammit, this is so unfair and I wish hundreds of people were back in this building with me to even things out.”

  3. Elizabeth West*

    It’s much tougher trying to find a job now; I can’t even get a reply anymore—although that may be because pea-brained people think unemployed people are unemployable, not true. You don’t want to be in that boat if you don’t have to. If you can work this out with them, it’s worth trying.

    1. Chris*

      Even though the ADA doesn’t apply since the OP isn’t the one with the medical condition, I wonder if using the “accommodation” language still might be helpful in persuading the employer to do the right thing.

    2. Not a Blossom*

      And if they won’t work with you, it’s worth considering if there’s a way for you to separate yourself from your husband. If your home is large enough, you can try to stick to separate areas and clean common places like mad. You can also consider having one of you move in with someone else for a while. Obviously, neither situation is ideal and your job sucks, but if they won’t help and you can’t afford to quit, those are options.

  4. Arghhh*

    My husband is back to work this week (his work can’t really be done at home, so he’s been home but on payroll for the past few months). I’m so nervous about it, all day, every day.

  5. Red Wheelbarrow*

    I’m so very sorry you have to deal with this, OP. It’s so frustrating that many employers seem to put their income ahead of their workers’ safety, and that the laws don’t seem well adapted to protect workers in this situation.

    1. A*

      “It’s so frustrating that many employers seem to put their income ahead of their workers’ safety,”

      This is an oversimplification. As someone that has been managing a global supply chain on the brink of collapse across hundreds of CPG brands, I can tell you right now that for companies that had production shut down as well – it isn’t just a matter of putting income ahead of safety. It’s a matter of literally keeping the company alive.

      Within my brand division, heck yes we opened that factory the first day we were allowed – our employees (myself included) literally voted on it. We aligned that we would much prefer to return under as-safe-as-possible conditions (only those truly required onsite are, checking temps, PPE, socially distanced stations etc.) and have a company to return TO… than hold out longer and go under.

      Especially because it isn’t just the employees – we are the largest employer in the county by far (for most positions you would need to move to find work elsewhere), and the economic impact if we were to go under would be DEVASTATING. We chose to keep everyone employed, and not kill an entire county worth of hilltowns.

      This is a tough situation all around, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t paint business owners and companies with a blanket brush of ‘The Man’ etc. Most people honestly do want the best for their employees, and I have seen so much hard work and sacrifice that it’s heart breaking to see it framed in this manner.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Clearly your situation is different though. Your job cannot be done remotely.

        It is about profit over safety in the cases where a job can and has been being done successfully from home for the past three months and now everyone is rushing back.

      2. Aquawoman*

        The post didn’t say “all” it said “many” and I think there is plenty of evidence to support that. It’s nice for you if you work in a company that doesn’t fall into that category, but the LW clearly does.

      3. pancakes*

        “. . . it isn’t just a matter of putting income ahead of safety. It’s a matter of literally keeping the company alive.” A company isn’t a living creature, though, and you’re still talking about income. The potential future income of employees is still being weighed against their potential safety in this scenario.

        I don’t see any particular reason to believe that most employers do in fact want to run their businesses with a focus on what’s best for their employees—I think the US would be a radically different country if that was true—but that’s obviously a matter of opinion, and it’s neither here nor there in terms of assessing whether a particular workplace is safe or not.

      4. ShanShan*

        I’m a teacher.

        I teach very well remotely. I certainly teach better remotely than I could in a half-empty room wearing a mask. Teaching in person next fall would mean not just trading a safe situation for a blatantly unsafe one (a lot of the professors are over 65), but trading a better experience for a worse one.

        But parents of incoming college students don’t understand that, having never taken a remote class and often having limited familiarity with the internet. And rather than make an attempt to convince them or sell the idea that an online class would be a better experience than a masked, half-empty one (or, hey, the idea that whether I live or die should be a part of their calculations), I have seen school after school make the decision to cave immediately without a fight and return to in-person teaching in the fall. It’s not just a dangerous choice, but a bad choice that will create a bad product. But they’re doing it anyway, because it’s what the customers, who have very little knowledge, want.

        There’s a right way to do this. There’s a way to make these decisions where the safety of your workers ranks, I don’t know, SOMEWHERE on your list of concerns — where you at least put up a fight and make an attempt to convince customers to want something new instead of just giving in immediately to the dumb thing they think they want — where you and your employees are on the same side and act like it.

        I’m glad to hear that you work in an industry like that. Most of us don’t. Most of us work in industries that treat us like replaceable work units and feel very little loyalty to us. In a lot of fields, that’s just what working in America is in 2020.

        If you don’t want employers to be painted with a broad brush, it’s not us you should be talking to. TALK TO YOUR FELLOW EMPLOYERS. Convince them to treat us better, and we’ll stop saying mean things about them.

        1. Fan of in-person instruction*

          “But parents of incoming college students don’t understand that, having never taken a remote class and often having limited familiarity with the internet.”

          Yeah, no one under 35 understands the Interwebz. Way to stereotype.

          Try “these parents disagree with you,” and don’t want to cough up $40K/year for video instruction — particularly when a big part of the benefit of a degree is the college alumni network you’re buying into, not only the knowledge itself.

          I agree with these parents 100%, and I would recommend any student your institution is placing in this position take a gap year.

        2. pancakes*

          Parents aren’t the only people driving decision-making on this, nor the only people paying up. According to a 2018 Reuters article I’m looking at, “parents are contributing 34 percent [of private college tuition payments] directly out of savings or income, and students putting in 13 percent. Scholarships account for 28 percent, with the rest covered by parent and student loans.” Regardless who’s paying, college is about a lot more than taking classes. Getting away from home and starting to live a life of one’s own, for example, and making friends with like-minded people one isn’t likely to meet in one’s home town. The idea that students will or should be happy to pay full tuition for an online-only experience seems pretty blinkered to me.

        3. Beth Jacobs*

          How do parents have limited experience with the Internet? Parents of incoming freshmen would be between 40 and 50, meaning they would have been born in the seventies. The Internet has been used in academia since the eighties and virtually everywhere else since the late nineties, which is when the parents would have entered the workforce! In fact, I’ve found that generation is often more computer savvy, because things weren’t as user friendly back then. I loathe this age bashing.

          1. Beth Jacobs*

            For what it’s worth, I have taken a few online classes and they were great. But that was after I already had a brick-and-mortar degree. I don’t think I would have done well with a fully remote degree when I was 19 – student life was a huge part in me overcoming my social awkwardness and growing up. There were also some moments when I definitely would have given up without a support network of friends.

        4. Kelly*

          I work in academia and was interacting directly with students this spring. Most of them were at best okay with having courses online during the last half of Spring 2020, but were really hoping that Fall 2020 would be back to in person instruction. It wasn’t what they were paying for, especially since campus only refunded student housing costs. They did not refund the other fees and services that they had paid for, including rec facilities, printing and computer labs, etc. Most were very appreciative that they could check out laptops. They were paying for an education from a top tier public state school not the University of Phoenix online. There were also concerns about how virtual instruction made maintaining academic standards, including no cheating and plagiarism much more difficult

          It was an okay short term solution, but needs more fixes and adjustments to be a sustainable one long term.

          My gut feeling is that both K to 12 and higher ed are going to have to attempt in person instruction in the fall. I have family members that teach K to 12 and they said it was more work to do virtual/online/remote instruction than it was to do in person teaching. All of them said that they had kids who barely logged on to do their school work because of a combination of lacking internet access and their parents didn’t help them.
          It wasn’t a good experience for either them or their students.

      5. Avasarala*

        Tell that to Amazon and other companies that would rather put their many many employees at enormous risk just so they can make a few bucks.

    2. Introvert girl*

      No, it’s not profit over safety, its control over safety (and sometimes profit).
      It’s a 19th century Prussian factory ideal that has been translated to office work. Higher ups like to have a view of their workers, especially in open spaces. Even if the company has better results, employees work better, are happier and get sick less often, some managers just feel they’ve lost control over their subordinates when they WFH. It’s the whole view of seeing your workers like children: needing supervision. This is learned behaviour and can be unlearned.

      1. Effin' A*

        Speak for yourself. Some would disagree that “employees work better” and that “the company has better results” when working from home. I for one view it as house arrest, not a perk.

        (Mind you, I am not saying this specifically about working from home during the pandemic. I realize that’s necessary for public health reasons and am opposed to opening too early. But once the pandemic is over…I want NOTHING to do with working from home.)

        I also think that you you lose a lot of serendipitous innovation when you have constant work from home.

        1. pancakes*

          You’re speaking for yourself, too. I’ve been working from home since last summer, as is the rest of the team I joined when I took the job, and I love it. This is, obviously, personal opinion, and putting in caps or being hyperbolic about it wouldn’t somehow make it more powerful.

      2. Mama Bear*

        A LOT of managers want to count noses and haven’t figured out the right way to do so remotely.

  6. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    You don’t mention any protective measures that would be in place when you return. Do you know what they are planning, if anything? I’d definitely ask about that and see if that helps alleviate your concerns. If you are managing your workload just fine at home, it might be worth it to point that out when you push back. As for unemployment, that is trickier, and will vary from state to state. If you can get something definitive from your partner’s doctor that it would be too risky to actually go into the office, that could help. Good luck to you!

    1. Siha*

      I think the question about what protective measures is important. Will employees be required to wear masks? Will desks be at least 6 feet apart? My work is doing that and saying only 40% should return in a few weeks. Im immune compromised but I feel ok going back to work (occassionaly, not full time) because those requirements are being met at my work. If not, Id have a huge problem with going in.

      1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

        Right! I think there was a lot of anxiety from the letter-writer but not a lot of clear information. Not that she’s not right to be somewhat anxious, at least, but there were too many unknowns for me! (not that the LW is here for MY advice…..!) :-)

  7. Teacher in a Bind*

    I am 100% in this position, and the job is teaching, where I’d have to be in the same (not very large) room with 100+ different high school students over the course of each day. People keep saying “kids don’t get sick,” but a school in my city just had a pretty big outbreak of high school aged kids from a pool party, so that sure doesn’t seem like something I can rely on.

    So far our school hasn’t announced anything, but other districts in the area have said they’re reopening. I’ve been strictly quarantined since schools closed in mid-March, and online schooling has been working pretty much fine here (we’re a 1:1 district where everyone has a laptop and at least moderate internet access — I know that’s definitely not true for all.) I’m not looking forward at all to deciding whether to put my family at risk or quit my job during a pandemic.

    1. Another Teacher*

      I know this doesn’t help, but I’m in the same boat and be I feel your pain We also did an amazing job at distance learning, but I feel pretty confident that they’re going to force us back, too

      They’re planning all these things to keep kids with the same group all day to minimize contact, but I teach the whole school anyway so it does nothing for teacher safety.

    2. M2*

      Has your state come up with guidelines? Our state school system is closed Through the end of the year but starting in a week or two daycares for non essential workers are opening. They have strict guidelines on the state website. Look to see if the health department has any guidelines for what the plans are for going back to work. I would think teachers are essential. Having young children at home has been really difficult but I would think online learning for most high schoolers would be ok (not for those without internet computer or those with special needs how do they get their education?).

      I think there just need to be better guidelines. Again I feel for younger students who can’t really learn from online, those with special needs and those who do not have laptops/ internet access as well as those who rely on school for safety and food needs.

      If you don’t see anything on your state site can you go to your principle or union rep if you have one? They really should be thinking about this for the fall and starting to get plans in place. For us they can’t have more than 10
      kids in a classroom, no visitors, No sharing anything, adults and those of age wear masks etc.

    3. Sleepy*

      Definitely talk to your union rep if you have one. They should be protecting you. If not, you won’t be the only one quitting.

      I foresee a massive teacher shortage this fall especially in high schools where teachers are exposed to so many students each day–it’s more realistic for elementary school where students are with the same teacher all day to limit exposure to one group of students (still scary enough, but at least it’s 25 kids rather than 100-200 kids). Where I live, they ended up closing schools not because they were actually concerned about people’s health but because a lot of teachers are 60+, nearly all substitute teachers are, and people just refused to come to work and there were not enough teachers and substitutes to keep them open.

      1. Teacher in a Bind*

        If only. Without revealing too much, I work in one of the “first to re-open” states, which conveniently (ha) don’t have teachers unions. It’s great advice in general though.

        1. Quill*

          Honestly we’ve known for months that “kids don’t get sick” is just not true, even for kids with absolutely no known pre-existing risk factors. And as anyone who has ever caught pinkeye will tell you, asymptomatic kids running around spreading it are a huge risk too.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Off topic, but the “kids don’t get sick” is just complete BS. Just because they might not be getting seriously ill doesn’t mean they’re not contracting the virus and then infecting others who are more likely to be seriously ill. Kids are germ balls. They are a HUGE source of illness transmission for something like covid. Just like they’re passing around colds and the flu, they will absolutely pass around covid, indiscriminately, to anyone they come into contact with.

      Anyone who thinks kids don’t get covid just told you that they have zero understanding of how the science actually works and you should therefore not believe anything they say about anything factual in nature unless you can independently verify it.

      1. leapingLemur*

        “Just because they might not be getting seriously ill doesn’t mean they’re not contracting the virus and then infecting others who are more likely to be seriously ill. ” I was coming here to say something like this, but you said it better than I could.

      2. Avasarala*

        Couldn’t agree more. Kids don’t get ESPECIALLY sick, but they still get sick and pass it to others!

    5. Person from the Resume*

      There are options for schools. Unfortunately everything remains up in the air.

      Some schools in the school district where I live have said that there will be some form of home schooling at the start of the next school year. Possibly not all kids at school every day.

      For younger kids who stay together as a class, teachers change classrooms instead of students.

      There are options, but unfortunately it sounds like your district hasn’t provided guidance yet.

      Also I don’t know who said “kids don’t get sick,” but that’s BS that not backed up by facts. I’ve seen several reports of kids in my area sick or who have died of COVID-19. In March or April, my friend wanted to have herself and her kid tested because they were sick with possible COVID symptoms, but the site refused to test her child because they weren’t testing children so if kids show a low positive rate by data it could simply be that few were tested in the first place despite symptoms. And what about the asymptomatic carriers?

    6. Jayn*

      Our district hasn’t made a decision yet for August, but they’re talking about keeping buildings at 50% capacity (either alternating weeks or doing half days). Staying 100% remote is also being talked about, but my kid really needs the school environment so I’m hoping they don’t pick that option.

    7. HS Teacher*

      The AZ governor has already ordered us to go back in August. The guidelines require teachers to wear masks, but not students. My girlfriend is immunocompromised, and I’m going to have to make a very tough decision soon. We can’t continue teaching remotely because of the way educational funding is handled in our state, and the state legislature here is not going to change the law about educational funding. Our district is already in a shortfall and can ill-afford to lose any more money, even if doing so would be a better way to keep us safe.

    8. JustMyOpinion*

      The problem with schools is that while your job can be done online (or WFH) the people that you are trying to reach can’t make that work. I live in a blue collar town and I work full-time. I have two children in school. If I can’t work, they don’t have food and shelter. I cannot WFH. How do I do the online learning with my children? How do I afford the extra care if they are not in school? I would I be able to continue working full-time (a financial requirement) and make sure that my children are educated?

      1. Morningstar*

        To be fair, do we just ignore the fact that schools are not a safe environment for all those reasons, or do we try to provide education without providing daycare (since daycare is really not why schools were developed though it is a convenient secondary function for some)?

        1. JustMyOpinion*

          I don’t disagree with you, my question is how is this done? If we can find a way to provide education differently, I’m for it. But in my scenario, how would that work? (meant seriously and not defensively). My children are two young to be left on their own, so that would require care when I am gone. I have no choice but to work.

          1. Libretta*

            Your situation is specifically why we needed the government to step up. Other countries paid people to stay home. It is what was needed here and just not happening. I wish I had a great answer for you – maybe working with other parents to homeschool with the same group? It would help limit exposure and allow you to work. This is a rock and a hard place for you and you have my sympathies.

            My serious suggestion – which sounds ridiculous, but I mean it – is to consider social services and not work. Or pull your kids from school and find care for them while you work. I am also a single mom and I hate this suggestion – but I am very worried about the fall and I haven’t figured out what I will do with my kids. I can work from home, but remote schooling and remote work is a really hard thing to do. One. More. Week.

            1. JustMyOpinion*

              Unfortunately in my state you simply can’t choose not to work and rely on social services and even if that wasn’t the case, social services would not be able to be enough to pay the mortgage. I also don’t really understand the difference between my kids being in care and them being in school. In care they are subject to an even greater cross-section of parents then in school.

              At the end of the day, the majority of parents have to work. I agree it could be something hybrid as the poster below suggested. Older students in high school could be at home, and K-8 could either be at home or at school on a voluntary. However, here we already have a truancy issue and I can only imagine what will happen if parents

              The two months where we home schooled and worked full time from home did not go well. Not only because it caused 12 hour days but also because I’m not a teacher.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        The OP is a high school teacher, so most of the kids shouldn’t require constant supervision. I think that’s the way to do it really – open K-8 and Special Ed on a voluntary basis and have everyone else continue remotely.

  8. Anon Anon*

    I am wondering if it could be also be worthwhile asking what changes your employer is going to be making to ensure that all their staff are safe? Asking your employer about social distancing, masks, cleaning routines, etc. What is the organization’s plan. If they have no plan or don’t have specific policies for each of those things I also think it will be easier to push back.

    1. Colette*

      I can’t speak for the OP, but there are really no changes my employer could make that would make me think working from the office is a good idea, since it is not really necessary in my line of work.

      1. Anon Anon*

        Working from the office is not really necessary in my case either, other than a CEO who much prefers everyone to work in the building. However, i think it’s much more reasonable to ask employees to work in the office (especially if it’s believed that staff are more productive in the building — whether that is true or not is a different story), if there is a concrete plan that focuses on staff safety and it adheres to the CDC’s recommendations.

        1. Colette*

          My issue is that I don’t think there is an effective way to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. It’s not just being in the office – like many of my coworkers, I take transit to work. Masks are required for transit, but you’re still necessarily stuck next to people and touching things that others have touched. (I also don’t think I could wear a mask for an entire trip, let alone a work day.)

          If the OP thinks there are steps they could take to reduce the risk to a level she is comfortable with, she can ask! But if not, I think that asking puts the focus on the wrong place.

          1. GD375*

            This is my issue too. As far as I’m concerned, there is no amount of safety persecutions that would make me feel better about going to the office because there will always be some risk and it’s a completely unnecessary risk for me because I can just as easily do my job from home.

          2. MistOrMister*

            I drive, but a number of my coworkers take metro or the bus. So, while I might feel safe during my commute, I would spend all day exposed to people who have been on masss transit. Not to mention being exposed to those people who don’t believe in social distancing. Unless I was to be given my own plastic bubble with a continuous air supply, they can’t make me feel safe at work. I am really not looking forward to going back. My office had been talking about starting to bring people back this month and then us all being back in June. So far we haven’t been given more information but I hope like heck they’re re-thinking that and leave us be. Or else only bring back people who have difficulty working from home

        2. lazuli*

          The CDC’s recommendations include working out ways for high-risk employees and employees with high-risk household members to telecommute:

          Protect employees at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices. Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

          * Support and encourage options to telework, if available.
          * Consider offering vulnerable workers duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if the worker agrees to this.
          * Offer flexible options such as telework to employees. This will eliminate the need for employees living in higher transmission areas to travel to workplaces in lower transmission areas and vice versa.
          * Ensure that any other businesses and employers sharing the same workspace also follow this guidance.

        3. lazuli*

          And the CDC’s number one recommendation for social distancing in the workplace is offering telecommuting in general:

          Establish policies and practices for social distancing. Alter your workspace to help workers and customers maintain social distancing and physically separate employees from each other and from customers, when possible. Here are some strategies that businesses can use:

          * Implement flexible worksites (e.g., telework).

  9. J*

    I could have written this exact letter (and was considering doing so). My spouse is immuno-compromised and I was forced to go back to work against my will this week after 2.5 months of working from home. My supervisor and HR are aware of my circumstances but would not allow me to continue working from home despite the fact that I’ve been productive (more productive than I am now, because I’m sitting at work dealing with near crippling anxiety).

    At this point I’m trying to decide when my mental health reaches the point where I need to take a medical leave and apply for short term/long term disability leave with my insurance.

    Another colleague of mine had childcare issues and asked to work from home for just another week and was told no. They’re being completely inflexible and morale has been negatively affected.

    It sucks. Before this I loved my job and consistently spoke positively about my employer.

    1. Anon Anon*

      I feel like this situation has really shed a light on what employers are really like.

      Before this I would have said that my employer wasn’t that brillant. But, they’ve honestly really stepped up and been much better than I expected during all of this. At the same time, I have friends who work for companies I thought were awesome that have been pretty crappy.

      1. Sue*

        I felt the same during the recession. There are companies I will never do business with or work for after what I saw then. Companies forget that their employees have relatives and friends who hear what they’re really like and who won’t forget.

      2. we see you, and it is noted*

        I would have thought that my husband’s large corporate employer was going to be the difficult one. Turns out it’s my small community organization that’s crapping on me.

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        Yes. My institution and department in particular had been very resistant to WFH, though my department was being forced towards it due to literally running out of office space to seat everyone (a combination of partial WFH and/or doubling up in the more spacious cubes was being discussed). But by early March they jumped in wholeheartedly on this, provided us with a significant WFH guide, sent a questionnaire about the WFH experience about a month ago, and are really trying to keep distancing and actual need to be there in mind. Since we’re a hospital, you want to minimize disease spread by unnecessary personnel coming into the workplace and bringing it in with them.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, they were very resistant to full time WFH until this hit. They were very into the open plan, butts in seats “collaboration” baloney that the open office fad spewed forth. Now, the guidance is we’ll WFH unless we have to be on site. There are still several of us pushing for cubes/walls because open office == germ factory for most people. The only thing worse is a grade school.

      4. cncx*

        I agree, my company really stepped up during the pandemic and changed what i thought of them for the better.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’m sorry OP.
      Unfortunately, I think this will be the stance of many employers who just simply do not like WFH for whatever reason that probably has nothing to do with your actual job function or work. COVID may have forced them to allow WFH but they have a mindset of insisting on going back to a normal that will never be normal again.

      1. Effin' A*

        …going back to a normal that will never be normal again.

        Yeah, because we never went back to normal after the Russian flu, the 1918 Spanish flu, the Hong Kong flu, H1N1, etc. Pandemics end.

        1. Avasarala*

          Oh my god stop right now.
          Pandemics fundamentally change the nature of the society they hit. Do some more reading before spreading unhelpful misinformation online.

          1. Effin' A*

            The pandemics that have fundamentally changed things are (1) the smallpox pandemic in the New World, and (2) the Black Death, which, it has been argued, accelerated the collapse of feudalism. (Maybe you can add the Plague of Justinian to that, but that’s one I haven’t read up on.) Neither is similar to this pandemic, either in terms of lethality or political circumstances.

            The closest analog we have to coronavirus is the Spanish Flu. After it ended, people stopped wearing masks and happily resumed socializing, travelling, and going to offices. Offices have existed in some form or another since, say, the early 1800s, if not before. There is no reason to think technology will kill them off.

            The only lasting change that I think will come out of the pandemic is an acceleration of the retail apocalypse, but that of course started before the pandemic.

            In any case, “oh my god stop now” isn’t an argument.

            1. allathian*

              I doubt technology will kill offices off completely, but I doubt we’ll go back to the old normal either, at least not until there is effective medication for Covid-19 and a safe, effective and affordable vaccine.
              I love WFH, but the only thing I really miss is talking to people that I don’t work with very often if at all during my breaks. But that’s for informal chats more than anything else, my job doesn’t require much collaboration.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Pandemics don’t end until the viruses responsible for it either disappear or the general population becomes immune/tolerant. Covid is likely to be around for quite a long while. Until a vaccine is developed and enough people get it (to ensure herd immunity it’s going to take around 80% and I’m concerned that won’t happen) we’re going to need to adjust our ways to cope.

          So yeah, expect distancing, hand sanitising etc. to go on for a while.

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

      This. A neighbor who is a single mom was told to come back part time, and is desperately trying to find a reputable nanny for her toddler. Her mother used to care for the baby, but she’s high risk, so that’s no longer an option.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        My sister has the same issue. She’s divorced (and it wasn’t a friendly one so she avoids her ex), works full time and usually our parents took care of her son when he wasn’t at school.

        Now, my mum has serious lung issues (whooping cough did some damage) so is too high risk to be around my nephew. I’m unemployed but also high risk due to an autoimmune disease and not ideal because I don’t have or get on with children in general. So I can’t help either.

        She’s running out of options.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      May I encourage looking after your mental health as v important if it’s at all possible?

      I didn’t during this. Ended up in a psychiatric ward under observation. Extreme case, I know, but I really wish I’d asked for help earlier.

      (I’m ok now, back home, meds are helping. Kinda annoyed that the Hollywood portrayal of nervous breakdowns are not even remotely close to what a real one was like)

  10. Ali G*

    OP it doesn’t sound like your office has given you any info on how they are bringing people back. Are they staggering times in the office or anything?
    If WFH isn’t an option full time, what would be OK for you? My office is bascially planning to have staggered work weeks, to reduce the # of people in the office on any given day. We’ve also installed plexiglass protectors on the cube walls to provide some more separation. But we also don’t plan to have people packed in right next to each other going forward.
    If you could offer some solutions to reduce the risk (obviously it can’t be eliminated), that might get you some flexibility that could alleviate some of your stress.

    1. 42*

      I work in Manhattan in a large skyscraper office building. My employer is starting to talk about our eventual office reopening, addressing how they might manage headcount at any given time, office cleaning, the cube farm, etc (no firm direction on any of that yet).

      They’re mulling over what to do about our office space, but completely ignoring the fact that **everyone in our office takes mass transit to get to the office** – the subways or trains. Majority of us live in the outer boroughs or neighboring states. How are we supposed to be all germ free inside the office when we have to slog through grimy subway stations and train stations and packed cars just to get there? I won’t even get into the kind of crowding that happens when there are delays and equipment breakdowns.

      1. Ali G*

        Oh yeah. I would say 75% of our staff takes mass transit (DC area). I am lucky that no one in my org is being forced back. We are all on our own schedule. But we have people that want to come in and some that already are for certain activities (payroll).
        I have no idea what people who don’t have other options can do if they must return to the office. Driving is expensive and cost prohibitive for many. Where I live masks are required on mass transit, but I don’t think #’s of people using at any given time is.

      2. Frank Doyle*

        And elevators! If you’re in a high-rise, EVERYONE is going to be in elevators with each other. Ugh.

        1. somanyquestions*

          Exactly! In our reopening plans they talk about 2 people per elevator- do they expect the other 80% of people to just walk up & down dozens of floors? The elevators are always busy. And do you want a staircase full of panting people in business clothes, breathing hard & infecting each other?

          Luckily they’re planning on keeping people working at home for a lot longer, so they have time to come up with a better plan, lol.

  11. league**

    As an administrator who tries as hard as I can to be a good communicator to staff, I bristled a bit at this: “They’ve been communicating to us that there isn’t a “hard date” that we’re expected back in the office, but recently they completely flipped that stance and now expect us all back at the top of next month.”

    In our case (public library), we initially communicated that there was no hard date, because there wasn’t. Then, as we got more info, as local laws changed, etc., we….did have a hard date. So then we communicated that.

    Not saying your employer isn’t being a jerkface! I hope they let you keep working from home. That specific line just stuck out to me as possibly not being evil or “flipp[ing] that stance.”

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I was a bit confused by that too. Right now my company is not saying when we will start back. But I’m assuming at some point they will decide and when they do they will communicate it.

      I mean, how else would it work? Depending on the timing I could understand if they communicated a return to work on the 28th of the month for the 1st of next month might feel abrupt… but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here. (I would assume the LW would have mentioned a super short time frame like this)

      1. fposte*

        I think it helps, but I also think that responses to things like this change aren’t necessarily really about the change–they’re just about the stress of life under the pandemic. So I don’t think you can completely proof yourself against them.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      It can be hard for employees to understand that policies can and do shift in response to developing scenarios. Management can appear to have much more control over a situation than they in fact do–particularly in a case where the disease was a complete unknown and how to react to it was a complete unknown. I’ve run into the same problem, and I try to mitigate it by presenting every policy as temporary. So everything is “We’re doing X based on what we know now. Expect that to change as the situation changes. ” It gets tedious announcing every single thing with that caveat, but I’m hoping it leads to less disappointment and resentment.

      1. league**

        Haha, I use similar wording about “this is a constantly changing situation; we’re adapting daily and will let you know when things change” (and then actually letting them know when things change). Not saying we’re perfect here at League’s Library, but we really do try….

    3. fposte*

      Somebody else is saying the same thing, and I’d agree. Eventually a hard date was almost certainly going to come, and this is three weeks’ notice for planning, which isn’t short. I can totally understand that the OP would still prefer to work remotely, and there may be reasons why it’s unnecessary for her particular position to be back, but the overall handling of the timeline doesn’t seem out of line to me.

    4. Sparrow*

      I read it as saying that their employer had said there wouldn’t be a hard date to require people to come back to work – like, once they start reopening, people can choose to come back in, or not, depending on their functions or their needs elsewhere. That’s what my company has been doing, with top leadership saying that WFH will remain an option for anyone who can take advantage of it for the duration of the pandemic. When the offices reopen, most people will have the option to come back in, but not the requirement. If they suddenly turned around and said, actually, we’re requiring everyone to come in again by July 15 or whatever, that would be a sudden flip of that stance.

      1. Bex*

        I thought the same thing.

        “There won’t be a hard deadline”
        “There isn’t a hard deadline”
        “There isn’t a hard deadline yet”

        Three very similar sentences with very different implications. I can definitely see how employees could conflate or confuse them based on that they were hoping to read.

    5. A*

      Ya, this also stood out to me. I could have written the same thing about my employer…. but… isn’t that how it’s been everywhere? Everything is changing so fast, of course they don’t know how it’s going to play out definitively.

      At my employer, we didn’t have a hard date – but then the re-opening plans were released by several states – so for those states, we did. But in light of a few 2nd spikes in cases (and concern around cases continuing to increase in light of the protests), we ended up cancelling the return date a few days before. 20% of my office had a ‘hard date’ of returning this Monday – now it’s back to TBD (aside from those truly required to be onsite to fulfill their job description).

      NOTHING is hard fast right now! Kudos to you, this must be extremely challenging to work through in regards to communicating info to employees etc.

      1. Alessandra*

        It’s also tricky in a metro area with multiple counties with different stay home orders.

    6. kittymommy*

      Yep. We are public government as well and we’ll end on day giving out the “nope still can’t do that” and then the governor drops a new executive order ten minutes later completely changing it. For the most part we have written our orders to goo in line with whatever the state says and to take affect when they change it, but for those localities that haven’t done this, they’re scrambling to have emergency meetings to change their orders.

    7. CorruptedbyCoffee*

      We’re a library, and didn’t get a hard date until 2 days before they scheduled us back.

    8. AnonLibrarian*

      Our library is still not sure when we will open to the public but they have been very transparent about who is making the decision and what factors are going into it. Many decisions are not in the hands of the library so it is changing all the time; the board has a say, the governor, etc., but the library has been as transparent as possible.

      We also opened in stages which has helped a lot. Stages of offering service and stages of bringing people back slowly. Some of it changed last minute but again, they were very clear that stage 2 would come next, will look like this, and we anticipate it around this date.

      So I think it is possible to do a better job than the OP’s company has done.

  12. Colorado*

    I would ask your employer what their precautions are. What are their plans for distancing, masks, cleaning, staggered hours, what if someone or a family member tests positive? Push some of the responsibility back onto them. Push back as a group. Maybe they’ll reconsider once they realize they don’t have it all figured out.

    I’m in the opposite boat. My husband works in a hospital so has been working the entire time. I don’t like working from home so am asking when I could go back to office, even part time. My employer is not making any decisions now until after Labor Day so we’re all home until then and it’s even looking like for the rest of the year. Good luck!

  13. hbc*

    OP, it’s a minor quibble, but I wouldn’t go into any conversation with them with the idea that they “betrayed” you or “flipped” from one stance to another. This situation has been ridiculously fluid and unpredictable and really hard to manage. If you’re in my state, they very likely *couldn’t* have had a hard date until the governor announced it with a week or less notice. It was “we don’t *yet* have a date” rather than “we won’t force anyone to come back on any particular date.”

    I know lots of businesses that would say “Everybody back in the pool” with the expectation that individual managers will work out what’s safe with their own groups, or that individuals will request an exemption, or that hadn’t actually thought through the consequences and will make adjustments once the impact is pointed out.

  14. Funny in Other Ways*

    OP, do you think your employer would consider staggered schedules or alternating work from home schedules? For example, half of the employees who can work from home will do so every other week or day, while the others go to the office to work, then they switch. At the least it would reduce the number of people you come into contact with.

  15. Dave*

    I would check with your state health board as well. Some are reopening but still anyone working from home is supposed to continue.

  16. Rebecca*

    I’m in PA, and my county went to Green Phase, and so did the county I work in (different one). We’ve been teleworking since mid-March, handling extra work for furloughed coworkers, and nothing has really changed, except…our butts aren’t in our chairs in a room where a manager can see us. Even though Green Phase states “Continued Telework Strongly Encouraged”, we all have to be back week after next. Very few of us want to go back, except the manager pushing this and maybe 1 or 2 others, just because they want to get out of the house. On my part, this has been the least stressful time of my entire work life. I asked to go back last, because I live with my mid 80’s aged mother, who is at high risk, but I still have to go back to the office. I’ll be sitting alone in an office, not allowed to congregate, having to wipe everything I touch with a wipe, hand washing, hand sanitizer…so effectively, I’ll be commuting back and forth to an office to be exposed to X number of other people and Y secondary exposures….to sit in an office to work by myself. Which I can do at home.

    I’m also torn on this. I don’t want to be forced out of a job with such high unemployment. I’m going to request that I be able to work from home at least a few days a week, will see how that goes. I fear pushing too hard will get me pushed out the door. It’s not lost on me that many of the people who aren’t coming back are “worker bees” and I don’t know of any management that got furloughed.

    As others have said, the pandemic, if nothing else, has shed light on management practices, that’s for sure, for better or for worse.

    1. we see you, and it is noted*

      My state also is saying that working from home is still suggested. One friend in a large office said the made the offer to people that if they were comfortable and wanted to come in once a week or something then they would arrange a schedule to keep the number of people in the office low. I know some people are struggling with everyone at home. He said he did go in because he wanted to check on things and while he was able to work mostly alone on his floor, none of the others in the office were wearing masks. He doesn’t plan to go back.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I really love the way my company is handling it: as the offices can reopen, they will be bringing back people whose work cannot be fully completed from home, but where they didn’t have to be in the office meanwhile, as well as people who *ask to be in the first wave returning*, for example if they have a harder time working from home due to bandwidth or other issues (or just really want to get out of the house, or whatever).

    3. Anon Anon*

      I don’t know that many employers really understand how work is going to change in the office when they reopen. Things aren’t going back to normal. I mean one of the things I’ve talked about with our leadership, is that the social interaction that occurs in the office can’t happen anymore because of the need to social distance. That things like group meetings will still need to be conducted by zoom. We won’t be able to do impromtu meetings, because there is only one room in the building that is large enough to have small group gatherings (say 5 or fewer) that allow us to maintain social distancing. So when does it start to look ridiculous to ask people to work in an office, when they are actually less stressed and more productive working at home? Because I think that is a real issue for many.

      Not to mention, at least in my area, the two biggest vectors for disease transmission right are religious gatherings and workplaces.

      1. we see you, and it is noted*

        Yep. So being productive from home is not as good as sitting where you can see me in a mask on heightened alert about everything I touch and who I come into contact with and with my blood pressure sky high because of anxiety? Not to mention the anxiety of my family and kids who are now going to be sitting in a day care with 50 other kids… Makes sense (eye roll)

      2. blackcat*

        This is one of the thoughts I’ve had for my classes (college level). I’d rather do a zoom class with breakout rooms than a socially distanced classroom where students can’t actively work together.

      3. Oxford Comma*

        For many people, I think there is this (mistaken) belief that if we all go back, we can return to normalcy.

        Viruses don’t care about management’s nostalgia or need to have butts in seats.

      4. Anony-Mouse*

        I too wonder why the push to come back to an office that won’t allow normal work practices. No meetings, no group coffee breaks to network, etc etc. I’m actually networking more with coworkers during Skype convos.

  17. we see you, and it is noted*

    I am able to do 99% of my work from home. I am happy to occasionally pop in and take care of the items I need to go into the office for (mail, etc.) My boss thinks everyone else is just “freaking out” and that she has a better understanding of how viruses spread than other people. Before you ask, she has absolutely NO medically training. She wants to move forward with large in-person events and is chastising people who don’t want to attend those events. She’s asked for my feedback about what peers at other places are doing and when I say “they are canceling or postponing” she just says “that’s crazy. glad we aren’t doing that!” and laughs and rolls her eyes. She even says “just have it outside.” Our space is small, open, and not well ventilated. Child care, frankly, is also an issue for a lot of people. I am actually worried that she is going to make us look like we aren’t taking this seriously as an organization and turn people off of our mission. I pushed back and in her response email she also brought up my annual review. Seems weird and threatening, right?

    1. BethDH*

      Yes. That is horrifying. I don’t have any useful advice other than to confirm that you’re not overreacting.

  18. Fancy Owl*

    I faced this dilemma a few weeks ago, and I was forced to come back. For me, I don’t have an immunocompromised family member but I do have massive (diagnosed) anxiety about illness and wfh was super helpful for me in controlling that. This is what has helped me at work:

    1) Create a base. For me it’s my office, which I know I’m lucky to have. For you it could be your office, or cube, or desk. If they were hotdesking definitely fight to get a permanent desk. Don’t let anyone into your space. Put down tape if you have to. Get a small mirror if you have your back to the entrance so you can see people approaching. When someone seems like they are going to enter the base, ask them to stay be back and go get their mask they aren’t wearing it. Don’t worry about seeming rude, you need to protect yourself. Fight to get wipes so you can can clean your space in the morning or when you leave and you can’t be sure someone else didn’t enter.

    2) When you have to leave your space wear a mask at all times. Try not to let people pull you into conversations in areas where it’s hard to distance, ask them to move to a more open area or better yet call or email you instead. Ask them to wear a mask if they aren’t.

    3) Fight in person meetings as hard as you can. Ask if it can be done via zoom or phone. If you absolutely can’t get out of it, fight to have the meeting in the biggest room you can and try to find a place in the room where you can get the most space. Ideally, you’d be able to avoid meetings though.

    But I think the number one thing is not to let your perimeter be compromised out of fear of rudeness. I’ve let people talk to me without masks early on and had to deal with the anxiety the rest of the day. Hold firm! Hopefully they’ll let you keep working from home, but if not I hope this helps a little.

    1. Raea*

      +1 on the rear view mirror for your desk – I already have one because I have a tendency to get really engrossed in my work, and then jump five feet in the air in shock when someone tries to get my attention. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be helpful in this scenario, but you are right!

    2. J*

      I haven’t had a meeting outside my department’s area yet but I will not enter anyone’s office and intend to ask people to either book our large boardroom or conduct meetings by phone.

      I’m also wearing a mask all day, every day. I’m not lucky enough to have my own office and I don’t feel safe at work, period, but a mask gives me a bit of protection. My cubicle is not 6 feet away from my neighbour, which is contrary to public health recommendations and I’m furious about it but HR ignored my concern when I brought that up from a health and safety standpoint.

      Nobody else in my office is wearing masks which is frustrating.

      The one thing that the office is doing right is they put up signs creating “one way” hallways to encourage social distancing.

      1. allathian*

        Unless you’re wearing a surgical mask, it won’t protect you at all. It only protects others if you’re asymptomatic. Masks are better than nothing, but only when everyone wears them. If not, they’re worse than useless because people think they’re safe when they aren’t.

    3. Oxford Comma*

      This is great advice. I really like your idea about creating a base. My boss is fighting against us having to go back ,but I don’t know what the future holds. If I do have to go back though, yeah, that’s going to be the plan.

  19. mf*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. My husband is immunocompromised too, so I feel your pain. It sucks, *really, really sucks*, that there aren’t more protections for employees who have at-risk family members. You shouldn’t have to choose between risking your spouse’s health and not being able to pay your bills.

  20. Hey Nonnie*

    Related to the question in this letter: what if, instead of quitting, you simply refused to work at the office and stayed home to work? Thereby forcing the employer to either deal with you working from home, or to fire you. Could you then argue that you lost your job due to COVID and get unemployment benefits that way? Or (as I suspect) will it be highly dependent on how sympathetic the UI adjudicator is, since the employer might argue you were fired for insubordination?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’d likely have benefits denied; they’ve been clear that this isn’t a reason they’ll give unemployment (or everyone would do it).

      1. That'll happen*

        My employer told us if we refuse to go back to the office they will consider it job abandonment.

          1. Vikus*

            Why can’t you just make something up about being immunocomoprmised and then claim ADA? They can’t make you produce actual medical records due to HIIPA, right?

            Or what if you said the anxiety generated by having to go to work was a disabiliy?

            1. Doc in a Box*

              I suspect you’d be asked for a letter from your physician. I write such letters all the time (even pre-pandemic); I don’t put in specific diagnoses, but I do have to certify that in my professional opinion, [patient’s] medical conditions require [XYZ]”

              If you are looking for actual disability (SSI, SSDI, or an employer-based short/long term disability plans), there are specific forms to fill out, certifying that patient can lift X pounds, stand for Y duration (with and without breaks), and do/not do a variety of other tasks.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      So two things. You may be able to get leave under the CARES act if his doctor agrees that it is not safe for your husband for you to work in the office. Second, I was in a legal education class recently and there was discussion about some protection for having disabled family members. I don’t know if it is under the CARES act or a local ruling on the ADA. I would have to do a lot more research on that, but it is worth considering !

      1. momofpeanut*

        As a reminder, the $600 federal benefit is only good through end of July (the 25th?). Trying to live off regular unemployment is very tough – in my state, Michigan, the weekly max is under $400.

  21. blackcat*

    My husband’s employer is generally unreasonable, but has announced that certain positions can continue WFH full time indefinitely, others are under consideration (and likely will WFH part time), and that they are looking at reducing their physical footprint as a long term cost-saving measure.
    They’ve already invested the $$$ in the equipment and IT support to have more people WFH and have realized it can net save money.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*


      If 90% of the jobs at a company can be done from a home office, then theoretically they can save up to 90% of their real estate costs. A lot of this stupid open plan stuff is really about saving money of office space. Well, WFH saves even more. Since they’ve already had to outlay the money for the WFH infrastructure, instead of adding office space, they can sublet some of the existing and have more folks just WFH.

  22. leapingLemur*

    “if they let you work from home, it’s actually safer for the people who have to go in, because they have more space and are exposed to less people. ” This!

  23. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I agree with you 100%: in your position I would be terrified to go back to work.

    But there are 40 million people on unemployment in the US and they are estimating the economy will take ten years to recover. The employers hold all the cards now.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, it’s equally as bad of a risk to not be employed and have no health insurance and money if/when you catch it. I would go back to work because you’re not okay or safe either way, but no health insurance and money will also kill you, just slower.

  24. anon for this*

    I am freaking out about this. My company has always been really opposed to working from home (I got in trouble for letting my direct report work from home when he was sick in mid-March and didn’t have any PTO accrued yet and he felt good enough to work but was very worried about spreading COVID if he had it, and the execs acted like the idea that he might have COVID at that point was a conspiracy theory or something, even though we knew there was already community spread in our area). Then some people were finally allowed to work at home at the end of March when the stay at home order here happened, though a lot of people are still working in the office or partially in the office. Our county hasn’t even entered Phase 1 of reopening yet and there is already a lot of talk about how we are getting back to normal. Our COO was surprised when I told him that actually the governor’s has said that anyone who can work from home should work from home through Phase 1. It was just announced that when we reach Phase 2 remote work will be “highly recommended” instead of required and I am preparing for a fight. But myself and my direct report are not higher risk than anyone else (probably lower risk, he’s in his 20s and I’m in my 30s), I just feel like it’s irresponsible for us to work in an office during a pandemic if there is literally no need for it. We also both rely on public transit (since they don’t pay me enough to afford a car).

    1. anon for this*

      Also I know this doesn’t apply to everyone and is clearly a huge generalization, but it does feel a little generational. I’m a millennial and my direct report is Gen Z and we’re both carefully isolating, no intention of returning to restaurants when they reopen, concerned that our state is reopening too soon…and then every time I chat on the phone with my boomer boss and ask him how his weekend was he talks about going on weekend trips in open counties, getting together with his family (even at the beginning of the stay at home order, which we are still under!), etc., and it just feels like we’re in different universes. It feels weird to make a fuss when he is clearly more at risk than I am, but also I don’t understand why he’s not concerned. At one point I referred to “when the second wave hits” and he was like…I hope there’s not a second wave! Well, we can all hope that I guess…

      1. gyrfalcon*

        That sounds like something specific to your situation. I’m a Boomer (just barely) and I’m taking this all vary seriously. My Silent Generation father and his wife are taking it so seriously they’re essentially barricaded in their house.

        So without a whole lot more evidence, I don’t think it’s fair to make this a generational thing.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        I really don’t think this is generational. I’m Gen X. I work with Boomers and Millennials and most of us want to stay WFH.

      3. Effin' A*

        Nearly all “generational” analysis is utter bunk.

        Its proponents are almost always someone trying to make money (“I’m a consultant on managing generations in the workplace”) or trying to make a name for themselves (Winograd and “Millennial Momentum”).

        They usually traffic in the crude stereotypes that would be instantly discredited if applied in the same way to women or POC.

      4. londonedit*

        Yeah, definitely not generational. My parents are 71 and even though they live in a part of the UK that’s been less affected than others, they’ve been fully shielding/self-isolating since the lockdown advice came into force in March. I’m in my late 30s and I haven’t even been to a supermarket for 12 weeks, despite not having any health issues (my philosophy is that I should stay home as much as I can, and if I don’t need to go to a supermarket then I shouldn’t do it). Yes there are people who have been breaking lockdown and not taking it seriously, but it’s not a generational thing.

        1. anon for this*

          Yeah it’s definitely an assumption based on the people I know, not claiming full accuracy here! I just know that all my millennial peers in various parts of our 30s are taking things very seriously and all of our parents and the older people I work with are not. Could absolutely be a coincidence.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            That’s been my experience for me and most of my friends as well.

            My dad continued to have friends over to his house throughout the whole stay at home order in our state, and kept saying that Home Depot was open as if that somehow that meant he didn’t have to stay home.

            He and my step mom were supposed to go to Paris this summer and he’s very irritated that they had to cancel that trip. So instead he will be traveling to Mexico and then to Spain next month. He’s being so irresponsible.

            My step mom said that she told him he would have to fully self quarantine for two weeks after he gets back from his trip (she is not going to go with him) and she said that resulted in a fight that almost ended their marriage. I’m not clear yet on whether it resulted in him agreeing to quarantine or not.

  25. MistOrMister*

    I know this is completely backwards but…I’ve been waiting for my job to try to rush us back. And if they do I would be hard pressed not to quit and go get a job at a grocery store. Which I know is a stupid reaction. But at least the grocery store has no choice but to have workers come in. Whereas with an office where remote work has been going fine, it feels like a slap in the face.

    1. anon for this*

      I have definitely fantasized about angrily quitting when they try to force me to come in! But I’m too much of a wimp to work in a grocery store.

  26. Deborah*

    I’m personally immunocompromised, and I have asthma, and I have had bronchitis for a month. I’m starting my 3rd round of antibiotics and 2 round of steroids tomorrow. And there were 6 people out of 40 that tested positive 3 weeks ago at work, who are still out sick. But my doctor cleared me to go back to the office starting Monday (I have a fever right now so she wants me in antibiotics for 48 hours). Company is so small there’s no HR.

    Doctors in my state don’t seem to be willing to write documentation for the immunocompromised to do telework, and my state is being really lax about business, what’s essential, and opening up really quickly. However, what I was able to fight them on was in regards to getting the guidelines around social distancing in practice. I looked up my County’s back to business plan and what the requirements were, and my state’s guidelines for dealing with outbreaks in the workplace, etc., and I got them to segregate different areas to avoid cross contamination, bring in someone to clean regularly, separate work stations with plexiglass where there wasn’t room for 6′ distance (it’s a completely open office, no dividers), and encourage masks, by sending documentation of where these were the minimum requirements of the county, state and city. So if you can’t stay out of the workplace, you can possibly get them to make the workplace safer. Alternatively, if it would be extremely difficult for them to do that, maybe it would make them more amenable to continuing telework.

    1. BethDH*

      Wow, just want to say that I’m impressed with how calm you sound here and how much you’ve managed to do to ameliorate a really lousy situation.

  27. Heather*

    We had an extremely detailed, multi-page reopening plan. I knew as soon as it got inconvenient it would all get thrown out the window. A coworker who was purposely not wearing a mask and openly not social distancing after hours started showing symptoms today. Suddenly it’s we can come in if we want, contrary to the plan. The employee can return upon a negative test, as opposed to the 14 day quarantine the plan calls for. At least it looks like I now qualify to get tested now.

  28. Hates remote working*

    Being alive carries risk. There is no way at this time to guarantee zero risk. People need to accept this fact and decide what level of risk and uncomfortableness they can handle. Even if there is a vaccine we don’t know when it will be, or if it will be 100% preventative. Life is full of calculated risks. It’s not reasonable for people to never leave their houses again.

    I honestly feel more anxious about having to keep working from home than any covid-19 risk. If my company told me they were shifting to work from home only I think I would finally crack and have a breakdown. I can’t handle it much more of it (currently on week 13).

    1. Anony-Mouse*

      If your company did that you could go work at a co-working space for that “office feel”.
      Personally, I love WFH. I’ve never been happier. No more noisy breathers, no more loud interruptions (from people socializing or asking questions), and less distractions (I can always mute my notifications). It’s been great.

      1. Hates Remote Working*

        Except a co-working space isn’t with working your fellow co-workers. There are benefits to being in an office at the same time with your colleagues. Working at a co-working space is still working remotely.

    2. cncx*

      i despise WFH as well, if i wasn’t able to go back in the first wave i would have lost my mind. Still i understand people who were holding strict quarantines now being expected to go back and being anxious about it. But yeah, i could never ever work a full remote job.

    3. Persephone Underground*

      I miss my office sooo much, and agree that life will always have risks, but that’s no excuse for companies to force people to take unnecessary risks either! I’m not going to not wear a seatbelt or a mask (especially as the mask is not for me but for others who could be killed if I unknowingly infected them) because “life has risks”, nor will I give companies a pass on risking worker safety when they have other options.

  29. Random IT person*

    Questions like these make me really appreciate my job.
    I do work for an American company – but in on of their European offices.

    Current stance:
    – if you want, and it is safe – you`re welcome back in the office (they actually would like that , for the social interactions, even from a distance)
    – if you want, but share a workspace / office – we will move people to separate offices
    – if you want, but cannnot (due to using public transport) – WFH is not a problem – but no company car is provided.

    They also provide single use facemasks, tissues, soap, sanitizer for every workplace / office.

    The only sacrifice we`ve been asked is to use extra PTO days (5 in total) so the outstanding amount is diminished.
    (added – we have 28 to 35 days PTO depending on seniority in role, and age – so hardly a massive sacrifice).

    I appreciate the fact small companies may not have the funds / options my employer has (the European branch anyway) – but maybe you can use these policies as example.

    Also, if someone is in a risk group, or one of their immediate family members is – WFH is extended – no question asked. (that said, if the uncle of your neighbors dogsitter is at risk – too bad – that`s not a valid reason)

    Looking at my job now – i`m soo happy to have what I do :)

  30. Persephone Underground*

    Wow- *this* is something to call legislators about. People in this situation should have protections for their jobs, or at the very least have a special exemption allowing them to claim unemployment if they quit due to pandemic safety concerns! This is very apropos given the other article today talking about calling your legislators. Given the nature of coronavirus, the ADA *should* have its protections extended to household members because it’s almost the exact same risk whether the disabled person themselves is the one forced to work or a member of their immediate household. (Excuse me while I make some phone calls!)

    Though isn’t Alison’s advice missing something there? If they simply refused to work in the office and continued working from home (after the other steps failed) then they’d force their employer to relent or fire them, increasing the likelihood they could get unemployment, right? Quitting means you’re SOL, but firing means the employer would have to fight your claim over the various applicable laws in your state.

    1. Persephone Underground*

      And yes, this makes me grateful that my job decided we’re not reopening the office until at least January. They said since we’re able to work remote we shouldn’t clog up transportation etc. for those who really have to reopen more than we do.

      1. Persephone Underground*

        Adding on- this is as someone who really really really misses working in an office and struggles to focus while working from home. But I still feel safer with this decision. Even though the entire situation stinks.

  31. Janet Snakehole*

    No one in my immediate household is immune compromised, but I still don’t feel safe going back in to work this summer/fall. I work for a college in a partially student-facing position. We’re still coming up with it’s plans for next school year. I also have a school-aged child that I really don’t feel comfortable sending back next year. My husband works from home already.

    I feel guilty about this, but I am probably going to quit once they announce we are re-opening and we are going to home-school next year. I am very privileged because I can afford to do this. I am working on documentation and transferring skills as best I can, but I value my health more than my job.

    In a year from now when the economy is in shambles and the job market is still abysmal, I may feel differently, but for now I’m going to do what I need to do to keep my family safe and healthy.

  32. Eva Luna*

    I am in a high-risk category, and my doctor has advised me to self-isolate. The only public indoor space I have entered in the past 3 months was for a medical appointment that can’t be done via telehealth.
    My husband’s employer has been WFH since 2 days before our state order required it. Before that, they basically didn’t allow WFH at all, even though his job is one that can be done quite effectively remotely. They were just informed that starting in July, everyone will be required to be in the office 50% of the time. Management has stated that they will allow staggered schedules, but clearly had not given any thought as to how to make that work (as in key cards don’t operate past 6 pm). Use of kitchen facilities and water cooler is strongly discouraged, but no alternative provisions for providing water to employees have been made. Almost everyone commutes by public transit, and my husband is fine with biking, weather permitting, but many people don’t have that option realistically, and two major bike paths have been closed in our city, and large chunks of public transportation (even if it were safe to take) have been shut down because of civil unrest. Employees asked about being able to use the (quite limited) parking spots, and were basically told to coordinate it among themselves. Management really just hasn’t thought through the nitty-gritty details at all, and I honestly don’t see why people should have to be in the office in person some arbitrary amount of time because of some misplaced notion of ass-in-chair.

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