my company punishes single people who have to quarantine more than once — but not married people

A reader writes:

I was recently told during a company-wide training by my company’s HR department that employees who have to be quarantined more than once a semester will have to work remotely but still take sick days and/or vacation time. We were also told that while HR understands and will make exceptions for families who end up passing the disease to one another, the expectation is that others (i.e., single people) should not have to quarantine that often and they will subtract accrued vacation/sick time and take “disciplinary action” if you have to quarantine multiple times.

Right now I am not eligible for a vaccine but I have already had to quarantine and get tested once this semester (thankfully not COVID) and am worried that if have symptoms again I may be penalized. HR also mentioned that having to be quarantined multiple times is too hard on other coworkers but they allow parents to exclusively work remotely

I should mention that my entire job can be done remotely (I am not a customer-facing position) but I am still required to go into the office and be exposed for half the week, mostly because some of my coworkers who are parents (and have customer-facing responsibilities) now work remotely. Work is the only place where I am exposed as I do everything online/pickup and go months without seeing family or friends. If I do show symptoms again, I am torn on what I should do. I feel as if I am being discriminated against for having no children and living alone. Should I just cross my fingers and hope I don’t get sick?

I should also mention my supervisor is awesome about everything but she can’t fight HR’s edicts.

Wow, your employer is so terrible I don’t know where to begin. So in no particular order:

* They want you to work from home but they’re also going to charge you sick or vacation leave for that time, while you’re working? This is not only an unethical policy, but it’s a laughably illogical one too — why would they expect you to work during that time if they’re deducting it from your leave time? (In most states this is legal — more here — but it’s really, really bad practice and no decent employer would do it.)

* By punishing people who need to quarantine, they’re ensuring that people will come to work when they should be quarantining … which means this policy will lead directly to more people being sick, more people needing to quarantine, and more of their workforce being impacted (and, you know, possibly dying).

* Single people shouldn’t have to quarantine as much as people who are married or have kids? I’d love to see their statistics on that. Single people have roommates, go to the grocery store, have electricians/plumbers/other necessary workers in their homes, etc. etc. etc.

* “Quarantining multiple times is too hard on your coworkers!” Yes, the situation sucks. Being in the middle of a pandemic is a hardship for everyone. Your employer can’t discipline their way out of that reality. (And that’s before we get into the ludicrous hypocrisy of them saying that while ignoring their preferential treatment for parents. To be clear, I’m all for accommodating parents — but let’s not pretend it’s impact-free while chastising single people for daring to have a cough.)

* In some jurisdictions (but not federally), it’s illegal to discriminate based on “family status,” which includes whether you are married or have children. It’s worth checking to see if that’s the case where you work.

How do your coworkers feel about all this? Ideally you’d push back with a group of them on the policy requiring you to use sick or vacation time while working from home, and on the idea of disciplinary steps for protecting your colleagues’ safety in compliance with public health guidelines. You might consider consulting with an employment attorney who will know the laws in your area, as well.

And frankly, they’re really asking for you to go all out and unionize … so you might think about that too.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 303 comments… read them below }

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      I’m feeling physically ill.
      I want to scream.
      I guess I’ll have to go home to work today, since I’m ill.

    1. DiscoTechie*

      This was read in the Archer voice in my head. But, for real. Could they design a better system to spread COVID among the company?

      1. Luke G*

        Can we pivot from Archer to Friends? “Could this system BE any more designed to disincentivize safe behavior?”

      2. Momma Bear*

        One would think that quarantining one person would be better than exposing an entire department…this is a virus, not PTO/leave bank abuse. If someone made me both use PTO and work, I’d either do very little work or spend that work time looking for a new job because that’s a crappy policy.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I really don’t see how they *can* make you take PTO and also work. Anybody can say “I’m sorry, I’m taking a sick day because I’m unable to work today,” and they can’t prove it’s not true. If they’re going to charge from your sick time anyway for having to quarantine — which is frankly obnoxious of them already! — there’s no reason anybody should do a lick of work for the bastards during that period.

      3. Quill*

        Me and my brother just yell THAT’S HOW YOU GET ANTS at each other regularly and this is definitely one of the times that calls for it

    2. Artemesia*

      no kidding. we no longer take cabs or ubers because we know desperate people who need the money will drive if they can contagious or not and there you are in a little enclosed space with them. we walk, or drive or even take the bus instead. This policy guarantees people will lie about exposure and mild symptoms. Why wouldln’t they when it means it costs them?

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Do they WANT more people to die of Covid? Because that’s how you get more people dying of Covid.

      (Find/replace ‘die’ with ‘maim’ as well because long haul Covid is not a laughing matter. I bet a lot of these firms will absolutely detest seeing their medical insurance costs skyrocket due to all the people now with long term circulatory/breathing difficulties).

      1. Artemesia*

        I have a relative who had COVID LAST March who is still suffering symptoms and reduction in quality of life from it. His wife who was athletic and strong and in her 50s took weeks to recover so she could practice her sport again.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve lost 3 friends to it, who were healthy people in their 30s/40s beforehand. I’ve got another close friend who was an avid jogger who now needs walking aids to get across a room. It’s too early to tell exactly what the impact on healthcare is going to be from all these long term effects, but I’d love for society in general and companies in specific to understand that it will NOT be good.

          1. allathian*

            I’m sorry for your losses.

            I suspect that we’ve only seen the first hints of the long-term effects of the pandemic. For many people, this will mean a severe long-term if not permanent loss of quality of life. The athletic person who now needs walking aids to get across the room or the person who loses their sense of smell and taste. Or worse, suffers from a modified sense of smell where everything smells disgusting, including their family members.

              1. Self Employed*

                And disability systems will either break horribly (like Zoom school in neighborhoods without broadband) or get reformed (the way work-from-home suddenly became possible when people who weren’t asking as a disability accommodation needed it).

                1. Kal*

                  As someone who’s been dealing with the system for a decade (with symptoms very similar to covid long haulers), I can say that disability systems are already horrifically broken, so this is going to be a lot of people dumped into them to live through a lot of unnecessary pain for way too long.

                  The only potential benefit is if the extra visibility of so many more families having to deal with the brokenness that there may be the will to actually force a reform to happen. I hope that that can be the silver lining to the current cloud of misery.

        2. nonegiven*

          My cousin had a pulmonary embolism after a fall that the doctor told him was directly related to the Covid he had recovered from.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          I have a friend who’s around 40yo, used to run 5Ks regularly, got COVID in April. Four months after she tested negative, she was still having symptoms but got dismissed. After she passed out three times, at least once while sitting down, the caregivers decided something really was going on, and figured out her new heart problem. Caused by COVID. It’s been 10mo, and, well, she can walk across her house now.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        COVID unvaccinated my dad for shingles. I hope the shingles vaccine is the only one that COVID impacts, because we really don’t need a measles outbreak on top of the current situation…

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Yep! He got the shingles vaccine about three years pre-pandemic, caught COVID, and has had chronic shingles that refuses to go away for about four months now.

            1. Self Employed*

              I have not had shingles but know people who have had it excruciatingly. That is horrible if it effs up shingles vaccination…

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          I’m going to hope that was unrelated bad luck: even a 97% effective vaccine has that other 3%. [“Hope” because that would mean the risk of shingles hadn’t increased.]

          I hope things work out smoothly for your father.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Dad’s rheumatologist says that there’s a definite link between people getting COVID and then getting severe shingles infections directly after. He’s not the only one where he lives who got the vaccine and then got shingles directly post-COVID… but you’re right in that if it’s just a local phenomenon, it could just be that the particular batch of shingrex provided to that area was faulty.

            1. Anono-me*

              I feela bit guilty about it, but I hope it was just a bad batch.

              Sometime in the 70s, ‘They’ changed the dtap vaccine in such a way that it made the whooping cough part less effective long term. Now there are lots of new grandparents who think they are responsibly immunized who are at risk for catching/carrying whooping cough. ( I’ve been told it was changed back to a stronger vaccine, but a lot of people don’t know about the problem in the 70s). We only found out when a vacinated sibling got whooping cough.

              I hope your father is doing well and that you are staying system free .

              1. DataSci*

                You’re supposed to get a dtap booster every 10 years anyway, so having had a less effective one fifty years ago shouldn’t matter. (I mean, the grandparents in question may not know they’re supposed to get a booster, but that’s a different matter.)

              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Whooping cough vaccines have always required boosters, though I wish there was an effective way to ensure people get reminded when a vaccine they’ve had requires a booster shot, and some kind of auto appointments set up to get them.

                Even I forgot about getting another tetanus shot….until my cat bit me!

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Oh, that reminds me, I need to check to see if I need any vaccine boosters after I get my COVID vaccine…

                2. Anono-me*

                  I thought it was the tetanus and diphtheria part that needed a td booster every 10 years and the pertussis was one done right and done. I guess I will be double checking with my dr about my vaccine schedule.

                3. Kimmybear*

                  I always know when my husband got his last Tdap. He injures himself every 7-8 years so he gets a booster and I remember the latest drive to the emergency room. ;)

              3. KoiFeeder*

                I don’t expect you to be excited about the idea of immunity amnesia, don’t worry.

                And he’s doing as well as anyone can be when they’ve had shingles for months and can’t get rid of it.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Returning to this because…I owe you a better apology than the one I gave.

              I’m really, really sorry I misinterpreted things and flew off the handle. It was inappropriate, rude and I don’t have any excuse.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                If someone was walking around claiming that people shouldn’t get vaccinated for COVID because they’ll get shingles, I wouldn’t blame folks for getting riled up about it! Within the context of your misunderstanding, your reaction was understandable. Frankly, I’m glad that you’re willing to stand up for this sort of thing! I have absolutely no hard feelings.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          That’s…rather unlikely. There’s very few viruses that can erase your immune systems memory (measles is one), and nothing in any of the Covid vaccines can alter your cellular DNA (which would honk up the immune system).

          Additionally, corona viruses and herpesviruses are very different in their structure so the immune response is very different to both. Herpesviruses can become reactivated during periods of intense stress though, they’re masters of hiding from immune systems which is why when you catch one your body never gets rid of it entirely.

          Or the shingles vaccine just didn’t take. Sometimes that happens sadly, no vaccine has a 100% rate. Hope he feels better soon, shingles is a right nasty.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            He got the shingles vaccine, then COVID, then shingles. The Covid vaccine is innocent, it was the virus.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Ahh, my bad I misunderstood. Apologies. It is within the realm of feasibility for a virus to knock out immune system memory. I’d strongly suggest he get checked/boosters for any other vaccines he’s had.

        3. LTL*

          Are you certain that your dad got shingles due to getting the COVID vaccine?

          We have so much illiteracy around this virus already, please please do not spread misinformation unless you are 100% sure that it’s not misinformation.

          1. LTL*

            Just saw your clarification that you’re talking about getting covid and then getting shingles, not getting shingles due to the vaccine. My bad.

        4. MCMonkeybean*

          Oh wow, you just made me go read read about how it looks like there may be a connection between Covid and an increase in shingles cases.

          I’ve been using shingles as an example, trying to get my father to understand that it’s too early to say things like “my friend got covid and was fully over it in a week” because we don’t know yet what sort of long-lasting impact Covid might have just like how people used to give their kids chicken pox on purpose to “get over it” because they didn’t know it could cause problems later with shingles. So it’s crazy to see that Covid itself may be causing more problems with shingles!

          I’m sure that still won’t get my dad to take anything seriously…

      3. lailaaaaah*

        We had a huge outbreak at our school just before Christmas. Several students have lost relatives, one staff member is still in hospital, and another (a PE teacher) has developed what looks like chronic fatigue and heart palpitations. And there are STILL people debating whether or not the risk is ‘overblown’.

    4. JM60*

      Yeah. What I read, “Quarantining multiple times is too hard on your coworkers,” I was thinking, “Is getting COVID better for your coworkers.” I highly doubt the coworkers are in favor of this policy. I know I’d much rather be inconvenienced by a coworker’s quarantine than I would risk being exposed to COVID at work.
      Besides, since their work can be done remotely, it’s not even clear that quarantining is in hard on the coworkers at all. It just seems like a BS excuse that HR is using.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “I know I’d much rather be inconvenienced by a coworker’s quarantine than I would risk being exposed to COVID at work.” This!

      2. lailaaaaah*

        So much this. Is it an inconvenience being the only person in the office? Yes, sometimes. But having had COVID, and now living with my high risk parents, I absolutely do not want to risk catching it and bringing it home.

    5. animaniactoo*

      That was my immediate thought. This is an excellent way to get people to decide it’s not bad enough to stay home/etc.

    1. sacados*

      I hope so! Altho I wonder if this may be one of those things that’s horrible and exploitative and totally unethical, but just skirts the line of not being strictly illegal …

      1. Emma*

        Doesn’t have to be illegal for a lawyer to make an impact. I feel a phrase along the lines of “…the potential liability to your organisation should an employee break quarantine to come to work under threat of disciplinary action…” could go a long way.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          OHH! I think even if the OP said that it could go a long way. Especially since they seem to have to be in the office part time!

        2. Eye roll*

          “And we’ll table the discussion of just how it will look when it comes out that you penalized single people for the behavior of roommates, service people, and co-workers, but did not penalize those with families.

          For starters though, let’s talk about the impact of giving those with families ‘extra’ sick and vacation time compared to the single employees who get their time off confiscated for obeying health orders.”

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            I really want to be a fly on the wall at the meeting between that HR department and the OP’s lawyer.

            1. Eye roll*

              Forget about OP’s lawyer. If I was their lawyer, the only sound from my office would be a long scream right now.

  1. Jean*

    Ask your employer for written documentation of all of these policies, with all discrepancies between the policies for single vs married employees spelled out explicitly. Use that exact wording when asking. If HR has anyone with a fully functioning brain (debatable, based on what I just read) they will get your drift and revise this policy quick.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      that’s a good idea, go directly to HR and say you’re confused and can they document what they expect in this regard explicitly.

      1. Myrin*

        And that angle isn’t even that far-fetched. I have to admit I haven’t been on my A-game all day but I certainly didn’t quite catch all the nuances that are going on at this place from reading OP’s very detailed account of them. OP, please feel very free to borrow my confusion.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          This is an excellent idea. And please send us an update, OP — we want to know how it goes!

    2. Brett*

      I strongly suspect the policy will just say there is an exception for exposure within your household, rather than specifying married, single, with children, etc.
      (Which would cover roommates, but all the other potential avenues of exposure for single person.)

    3. Threeve*

      This is a REALLY good point. I had an old job that shared its horrible new policies at meetings precisely so they could have plausible deniability. (“Oh, that’s not what we meant I’m sorry so many people were confused and complied with it (to our benefit). We’ll definitely make amends by mumble mumble.”)

    4. Luke G*

      That wording falls right into the zone of “How do you say you might need to consult a lawyer about the company’s actions, without actually SAYING you might need to consult a lawyer about the company’s actions?”

      See also: “I want to officially document my request for reasonable accommodation.”

    5. Ashley*

      And short of them providing written documentation, you can write the policy back to HR. I would send them a super detailed info stating – Just to clarify, since I had to quarantine once this year through no fault of my own (unless you left the state or intentionally tried to get COVID), if I am exposed a second time I will have to use sick time but am expected to work?
      I would also check local laws to see if family status is a protected class. I appreciate companies being flexible with parents, but they should offer flexibility to the rest of their employees that don’t want to get COVID and risk death for doing their job that can be safely done away from everyone else.

      1. doreen*

        I’m wondering if that “unless you left the state” is what the employer is trying to get at. Quarantine time at my state government agency is not deducted from people’s sick or vacation time – unless they are quarantined because they went out of state for personal reasons ( and really only if they flew out-of-state, because the DOH can only realistically keep track of people who fly in, not those who drive across the border).

        1. Observer*

          Well, if that’s what they are “getting at”, they should say so. But I don’t think that’s what they are getting at.

        2. OhNoYouDidn't*

          If this is what the policy was trying to get at, then workers with families would also be punished for going out of state. I don’t think this is what the policy is trying to address, at least no from the way the OP stated the issue.

          1. Self Employed*

            Like the family that got kicked off a flight because their 2-year-old wouldn’t keep her mask on… but they were flying to NYC at Xmas to take her to see the big tree for the weekend. When NYC still expected people from out of state to quarantine for 2 weeks, and clearly this trip would violate quarantine.

      2. Properlike*

        I absolutely love playing stupid with management over email. Document, document, document. And if they try to resolve it through a phone call, then you send them a follow-up email “making sure you got the conversation correct.” :) Better to play stupid than to actually be as stupid as your company’s management.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          YES. I’ve been exposed to COVID twice so far, and both times it was a workplace exposure. If I was told I had to use sick time AND work from home when my job is the reason I was exposed in the first place, there would not be enough lawyers in the world.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Based on experience the firm will just say you have to PROVE you got it from work before they’ll do anything. Which, without really expensive genetic sequencing kit, is darn near impossible.

          1. Rachel Greep*

            My state legislature is in the process of passing a bill to specifically prevent legal action against businesses related to COVID, as in you can’t claim you got COVID at work and sue your company.

            1. tangerineRose*

              So then companies would have less incentive to try to keep their employees safe from COVID-19 at work? Ugggh.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        Other local laws to check include:

        – What your state says about employee covid rights. For example I strongly suspect this policy would not be legal under california regulations, for more than one reason.

        – What your state says about requiring employees to work while on “vacation” or sick leave.

      4. Observer*

        I appreciate companies being flexible with parents, but they should offer flexibility to the rest of their employees that don’t want to get COVID and risk death for doing their job that can be safely done away from everyone else.

        What is extra stupid about this policy is that’s not really protecting “families” anyway. Because they are raising the risks for everyone so much with this nonsense that any married person / parent who needs to come in for any reason is being put at MUCH higher risk than they would otherwise. So even if you want to pull the “But think of the children” card, this just doesn’t cut it.

        To be clear – the company’s behavior would be bad even if this were not the case. This just makes it additionally bad and stupid.

      5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I love those emails. “Thank you for your presentation today. Based on the information you presented today, it is my understanding that the company has adopted the following policies regarding COVID-19 and quarantining: ”

        Outline everything – including the fact that single people are required to come into the office and risk exposure that way, even when not part of their job, but they are the only ones who will have to use leave while working from home and who will face potential disciplinary action for it.

        End with, “It is my understanding that these are the policies that you are requiring for employees who are unmarried, regardless of whether they have roommates, live-in partners, and/or elderly or disabled family members to whom they provide care, and also regardless of whether the place where they are most likely to face exposure is in the office while performing public facing work as part of their job requirements or as part of another person’s job requirements that they have been forced to assume due to the pandemic in order to allow married people with families to work exclusively from home. If you have any clarifications to this policy, please advise us at your earliest convenience.”

        Be sure to copy the whole office on this!
        (disclaimer: the wording of the final paragraph is mostly for humor. If you actually want to send it, OP, lose the entire last paragraph except the last sentence!)

    6. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Find the part too where having children puts a burden on your coworkers while you’re out, so you should be penalized for that, too.
      Because, hey, what’s fair is fair.

    1. LITJess*

      Especially as it sounds like OP works for a school and not just some random, small local business. More likely the local/state press might run with the story.

    2. EvilHRCat21*

      yeah I think “trial by twitter” would be v. good here if you could get a friend to tweet it for you!

  2. lizanotlisa*

    It’s the same mentality that assumes you can’t possibly have family obligations or that your holidays are less important if you don’t have a spouse or kids.

      1. KHB*

        I imagine they’re trying to disincentivize people from taking risks that would cause them to need to quarantine. But this is not how you do that.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Far too close to the diabolical ‘oh it’s only the elderly and disabled at risk from this’ in the scale of ‘ways to make entire swathes of the population feel completely expendable and worthless’.

      1. Self Employed*

        Someone I follow on Twitter posted that a government official was listing off a bunch of symptoms as reasons to classify someone’s life as “not worth living” and they happened to have most of those.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Exactly. This feeds right into the bosses who have explained that they need me to work more nights or weekends or holiday adjacent dates because “you don’t have a family.” The fact that I’m not a parent doesn’t mean I don’t have a family, and it doesn’t mean I’m any less at risk if a member of that family gets COVID or that they’re any less at risk if I get it. Making sick leave contingent upon parental status is so beyond not okay.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yep, this is ridiculous. Okay, I’m a parent, so by those bosses’ standards, I have a family, which is my two adult children. But my children don’t, by the same logic, have families?… but what am I? Didn’t we just establish that I am their family. And that’s before I even get into the elderly parents situation; i.e our immediate family members who are the highest risk of us all, need us to visit them every now and then to provide assistance (which puts extra pressure on us to stay safe so we don’t infect them), but because we didn’t give birth to them, they don’t count? how am I supposed to give birth to my parents so they are factored in? This logic is wild.

    3. A Teacher*

      I’m a single mom, so while my daughter and I could pass it to each other, I have to rely on parents for kid care stuff. But according to this policy, I can’t count my parents in my network (much like a single person wouldn’t be able to count a parent that they may need to help, or a sibling they may need to help etc…) and that’s just wrong on so many fronts. My school district is so much better about this thank God.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        Well, if you cared about your job and your coworkers, you wouldn’t have children anyway, because maternity leaves means more work for them. /s

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “why would they expect you to work during that time if they’re deducting it from your leave time?”

    This happened to me. I asked to WFH during the last few weeks of my pregnancy. My boss told me she didn’t have WFH when she was pregnant in the 1980s, and she managed just fine without it. So she said if I ever worked from home, it would be noted as sick time. I told her I wasn’t going to WFH then, and she was sincerely shocked. She was also not too bright so there’s that

    1. Dwight Schrute*

      I hate this mentality. Because something was difficult for you but you did it does not mean we should continue making things difficult for other people when we don’t need to

      1. Sara without an H*

        This is the logic behind much of graduate education: “I was miserable, and I want to make sure you have the same experience!”

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

        “When I was your age, we didn’t need heating at school, we wore wool socks and our coats and we were fine!”

      3. Who Am I*

        I hate it as well. I don’t want my stepkids to put up with the working conditions and attitudes I did back in the day (I began working in the early 80s). I want things to be better for them and easier for them to succeed without sacrificing their health and personal life. I just don’t understand the “I suffered so everyone must suffer and if you don’t you’re just a spoiled brat” mindset.

    2. Double A*

      This is so bananas to me!

      “Can I work from home?”

      “Yes, but you’ll need to take sick time.”

      “Oh, then I will just take sick time and not work.”


      Like… duh!?!? Haha.

    3. Midwest writer*

      I had a co-worker whose daughters were my age when I had my two older kids. She spent much time griping to other co-workers about my (mostly unpaid) FMLA leave after they were born and about the fact that I took time to pump for both of those kids. None of those things were an option when her girls were born, so why should anyone else get to enjoy them? Her multiple smoke breaks each day were unremarkable, though, of course.

      1. alioelj*

        As is the higher premiums everyone in the company will have to pay to cover the cost of her forseeable lung cancer treatment!

        1. Midwest writer*

          Also that. That place was a disaster by the end and I’ve been gone long enough for the second baby involved to now be 7.

    4. mcfizzle*

      Gah I cannot stand the “it was good enough for me, so it is good enough for you”. Sounds like a great way to “help” you find a new job at some point.

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        Like the one OP’s mentor whose response to her being sexually harrased was, “Oh, yeah, that sucked when I was your age.”

    5. virago*

      Snarkus Aurelius, your boss is what the late Frank Zappa was talking about when he said: “It’s not getting any smarter out there. … You have to come to terms with stupidity … and make it work for you.”

      “My boss told me she didn’t have WFH when she was pregnant in the 1980s, and she managed just fine without it.”

      Well, no kidding. I worked in the 1980s, too, and I didn’t have WFH then, either. Relatively few people did! If COVID had been an issue then, I imagine that many more people would have become sick because we didn’t have the technology that allowed employees to do their jobs remotely.

      (I bet your boss appreciates the fact that smartphones allow her to connect to employees wherever they are. Would she want everyone to go back to using landlines? After all, she managed just fine without smartphones.)

      Fortunately, my boss is smart enough to recognize that a) It is no longer the 1980s and b) The way to contain the spread of a potentially deadly virus is to make use of technology that allows people to do their jobs without all being in one open-plan setting.

    6. Elbe*

      Yes! Stuff like this always makes me think that the people defining the policies just aren’t the sharpest.

      Do these people not realize that they are, effectively, asking the employee to work without pay? Why would anyone agree to work without pay? And, more specifically, why would anyone agree to work without pay for a company that is treating them so poorly?

      1. Observer*

        Do these people not realize that they are, effectively, asking the employee to work without pay? Why would anyone agree to work without pay? And, more specifically, why would anyone agree to work without pay for a company that is treating them so poorly?

        Because you should be GRATEFUL that we so munificently gave you a job! Be happy that you are employed, you unappreciative thing! /sarc

      2. Nanani*

        They probably do and think its a brilliant perk (for them/the company) that they should have started doing sooner.

  4. kristinyc*

    Are there any single people who have kids? What happens to them?

    If they’re making some people physically go into the office to work, they’re at as much exposure risk as anyone else. This is ridiculous. Sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. :(

    We’ve had to do two quarantines that are daycare related (thankfully none of us had covid, and whoever in my son’s classroom DID have it is fully recovered). If we didn’t have a child in daycare, we probably wouldn’t have had to do that. But I’ve been working from home since March, and will indefinitely (and hopefully forever), and have pretty minimal risk.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Or single people who can’t do absolutely everything by mail order or curbside? I mean, it’s not like I can send my spouse on errands.

      1. Claire*

        Right? Do people genuinely not understand that single people have MORE responsibilities than married people, since they can’t split household responsibilities with a spouse?

  5. OrigCassandra*

    Single people don’t ever care for family elders or neighbors. Nope. Totally doesn’t happen. Also, single parents are not a thing.

    OP, your HR is a disaster zone. I try not to wish ill on people, but I am thinking some things pretty loudly.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Also single people don’t live with other people like roommates! Single people actually move through life in a human-sized hamster ball.

      Oh, and we get turned into animals if we don’t get paired up soon enough.*

      Da fuq.

      *The Lobster reference.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        //Single people actually move through life in a human-sized hamster ball.

        For the mental image alone I thank you! First thing that’s made me laugh all day. (Cynically, but a laugh is a laugh)

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Right? At this point in human history, I think I’d be happy to move through the world in a human hamster ball if that were an actual thing.

      2. Llama face!*

        Excuse me, but I seem to have missed the distribution for my human hamster ball. Could I get that ASAP please? Only half joking.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Brand name ‘Zorb’… I’ve seen videos and they creep me out.
          (Hamster wheel standing desk is more my style, but I digress.)

          1. OyHiOh*

            There is a hamster wheel (with battery powered hamster) on my work desk. It’s a metaphor for self perpetuating systems and refusal to change/”get off the wheel.” Being stuck in one is my idea of a nightmare.

    2. Llama face!*

      Yeah, the most common demographic for caretaker of elderly/disabled relative? Single women. Most common demographic for other charitable and volunteer work… yep, still the single people. But let’s penalize them while also exposing them to the most risk. Where’s a handy brick wall when you need to bang your head on one?

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Right? Like, the whole reason I can DO this type of caretaking is because I don’t have *drumroll please* a partner and children!

        1. Quill*

          Only reason my mom could do so much for her parents was that my brother and I were grown by the time they needed it!

    3. OrigCassandra*

      Single people never work as election officials.

      (I say, as I’m about to mask up and head out the door to work my shift for the state primaries…)

    4. Observer*

      Single people don’t ever care for family elders or neighbors. Nope. Totally doesn’t happen. Also, single parents are not a thing.

      Of COURSE NOT! Don’t you know that all single people are just selfish beings choose to stay single so they can ignore everyone else’s needs? Either that or there is SOMETHING wrong with them! /sarc

      I don’t know if the people who make these policies think this or that they just don’t think.

      1. Contracts Killer*

        At a former company, they would try to have me work late to cover for people “with family” since I was single. I declined once because I had a date. The supervisor tried to argue with me that a date wasn’t a good enough reason and shouldn’t trump someone else’s family obligations. I pointed out that without dates, I likely wasn’t ever going to have a family of my own. It was like a lightbulb went off. I worked with idiots.

  6. Cat Tree*

    I’m more concerned about requiring you to use PTO while working. If I’m eating up my vacation time, I certainly won’t be working. But not everyone is in a position to push back like that.

  7. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP, I have a family and I would complain about this policy as being unfair to you if I was your coworker. I hope that your coworkers also see this policy as unreasonable and ridiculous.

  8. Shenandoah*

    It feels like they are operating under the assumption that if you are single, you are going out to bars or engaging in other risky behavior. Which is just …. so stupid. OP, even if you didn’t have to go into the office, you could still get unlucky going to the grocery store or whatever.

    Just insanely frustrating when companies do garbage like this that creates huge amounts of resentment and bad will.

    1. Natalie*

      So they’re requiring people without children to come into the office, a possible transmission vector, and then being shitty about it if they have to quarantine due to symptoms or a possible exposure? That’s… something, I guess.

      Your state’s Department of Health, Occupational Health, or similar might also be an avenue to pursue here.

    2. Kiki*

      Yes! And the accompanying assumption that folks with families *aren’t* going out to bars or engaging in risky behavior. Some of the folks I know engaging in the most unnecessary and high-risk behaviors are parents (e.g. flying to Disney World and going to indoor clubs in Orlando).
      It’s just such a poorly-thought out and unnecessarily punitive policy.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        This! I am amazed at the amount of traveling some of my coworkers with kids have been doing! Thank goodness I’ve been doing WFH since mid-March.

      2. high school teacher*

        Yeah, none of this makes sense lol. I know plenty of families who are having normal playdates, going out to restaurants, and yes, heading to Disney World. This is such a bizarre and obnoxious policy.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Oh, my coworkers are leaving the state, seeing family, all the good and happy things! My boss is heading on vacation soon.

          I just don’t know how when everyone is doing everything we are told NOT to do, they are still not catching it. I don’t WANT them to, mind you, but ….

          1. Bananag*

            I look at it like you can eat right, exercise, etc and die of cancer at 35. Or you could smoke, drink, eat unhealthy and live to 90. Or it can be the other way around. It’s a crapshoot.

        2. DataSci*

          Wow. Different locations / different circles, but I know nobody with kids doing anything like this. I have friends who aren’t speaking to us anymore because we let our kid have outdoor, masked, socially-distanced playdates with one other friend at a time, and for them (their kids have literally not left their yard since March – and nobody in the family is high-risk, and both parents are able to WFH) that’s unacceptable.

      3. All Monkeys are French*

        I don’t think that’s the assumption. I think the assumption is that people with kids can do risky things all they want, but they don’t deserve to be punished for it, whereas a single person deserves punishment for doing anything other than existing in the aforementioned hamster ball.

      4. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes the families I know (and don’t talk to much anymore) are far more “out and about” than the average single person. Some have said “Well it’s important for the children’s social development.” Yeah, OK. A Disney trip is a very important life experience.

        Meanwhile, my single friends and I are minimizing exposure as much as possible because we won’t have anyone to help out if we get ill, and/or because we are caretakers for elderly relatives we are trying to protect.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, the fact that they seem to feel that exposure is something that the individual employees can control *while forcing some people to come to the office* is just bonkers.

      They seem to be trying to acknowledge that they can’t control other members of people’s households, but the dissonance between “you should be able to avoid exposures and quarantines” and “you must come to this physical workplace” is just astounding.

  9. Kiki*

    This is just… so bad and completely nonsensical. I really appreciated Alison’s line:

    Your employer can’t discipline their way out of that reality.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of folks and organizations who can’t seem to grok that the current situation is not something they can just slough off and foist the inconvenience of onto someone else without consequences. I think, in a lot of the US at least, there has been a culture of make it work™ and refusal to accept limitations or consequences.

    1. The Original K.*

      I saw a tweet that said “The US is addicted to ‘business as usual'” and it was spot-on, and it’s to this country’s detriment.

      1. JustaTech*


        My company’s new CEO desperately wants everything to “get back to normal” so he does things like fly out to visit the various sites and holds in-person lunches for large groups. (Most of us kept our masks on and didn’t eat.) And now he’s having most of the senior folks fly to a hotspot of a new, more transmissible variant, for a bunch of in-person meetings. No vaccine, no testing, no quarantine. Just “be normal!”

        But then he got super mad that someone went to work on-site with COVID symptoms. I don’t remember how much extra COVID sick time we got, but even barring that, when the CEO sets a poor example, it’s very hypocritical for him to be upset when other people follow in his footsteps.

        1. Self Employed*

          And of course the best way to “get back to normal” is to have a really thorough lockdown, like New Zealand. Not this half-assed “congratulations, your county opened up a few hospital beds, go open the restaurants at 25% capacity!” rubbish.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s prevalent in the UK too. There’s also growing number of people and firms basically stating ‘we refuse to let this become the new normal, so we’re just going to return to regular lives and if you have a problem with that then that’s your issue to deal with’.

      This whole past year has really exposed a lot of people, corporations, management et al for what they truly are. Selfish and unwilling to even consider others.

    3. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is so well-put. It is honestly the hardest part of the pandemic to me, aside from worrying about my health and my loved ones. I can deal with being at home a lot. I like working from home. I can deal with missing my friends and having to seem them virtually. I can deal with not being able to go out and wearing a mask when I do; hell, I’ve been wearing two masks anytime I went into a place for months. But the idea that the people in charge are just waiting to find a way/a time to just ignore this as much as possible… that I hate.

      I know I am so privileged to have stayed as safe as I am, but the culture of downplaying the risks or deciding that the inconveniences or a lack of desire to change our economic strategy is supposed to override people’s desire to be safe and live and be as health as possible makes me lose faith in people and society even more. This should have been an opportunity to revision our society, to make it more supportive and accessible, but the amount of people who would rather choose death and suffering (for others, not for themselves of course) to preserve some system that isn’t even working well… it’s ridiculous.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Somebody at your firm clearly never read ANY of the epidemiological, virology, public health care guidence information for Covid AT ALL.

    If you penalise people for quarantining, then you’re essentially encouraging them to come in/go out and spread a lethal virus. That’s what it boils down to.

    Even the most careful, high risk, mask and hand wash person I know (me) has to interact with other people during this and hence has a risk of contracting this wretched plague. If I were told that I couldn’t work from home/quarantine without taking it out of my sick leave because I’m not a parent…..yeah, all you fine people in North America would *hear* the resultant stream of profanity that I’d be yelling.

    Definitely push back against all this, and if you like I can say that as a former professional in the field of virology and epidemiology what they are doing is utter tripe and in fact will make this pandemic last *longer*.

    /stalks off ranting in several languages

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I know. People just don’t understand how a virus operates and what is considered safe during a pandemic. They just don’t get it.

      What makes it dangerous is that they think they do.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        A former coworker sent me an email last week about how ‘viruses don’t actually exist! Nobody has isolated one ever!’. He’d watched one YouTube video and now considered himself an expert.

        And yes, he knows I have a frikkin virology degree…

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          I like the idea that people are experts on their own experiences, but some people have seemed to take this to mean that they are an expert on anything that they here.

          I have relatives who had COVID and were quite ill, even needing hospitalization. They are now eligible for the vaccine and have been told by their doctor to get it, but they are debating if it is really needed now because their immune levels are probably sufficient for the time being. I wanted to ask: when did you become an immune specialist? Do you think your doctor didn’t consider that you might have some level of immunity before recommending vaccination anyway? How do you intended to know when your immune level is low enough that you require a vaccine, since they admitted in the same breath they knew the antibody tests were not reliable?

          There is way too much of people deciding whatever is correct is what they want to believe.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I like the idea that people are experts on their own experiences, but some people have seemed to take this to mean that they are an expert on anything that they here.

            This should be on a t-shirt.

          2. CircleBack*

            This this this. Our CEO had covid & a couple weeks later starts walking around our office without a mask. Because “oh don’t worry, I already got it.” Good for you but I haven’t, & I know you’re not an infectious disease expert, dude.

          3. tangerineRose*

            “they are debating if it is really needed now because their immune levels are probably sufficient for the time being.” Has it not occurred to them to ASK their doctor about this specifically?

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Viruses…don’t… whaaaat? What on earth does he think causes colds, flus, HIV and ebola? Miasmas? The wrath of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

          1. Observer*

            What on earth does he think causes colds, flus, HIV and ebola? Miasmas?

            See, that’s the thing. The Miasma theory is actually not that stupid. Because it turns out that there is a lot of overlap between stinky whatevers (eg stinky water) and infected things (eg infected water). The thing that these idiots miss (besides reality, of course) is that the problem is NOT the smell, but the thing that CAUSES the smell.

            1. JustaTech*

              Or is home to mosquitos, which have killed (indirectly) up to half of all the humans that have ever lived. Malaria, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, just ones off the top of my head.

              But that only makes staying out of swamps smart, it doesn’t make miasma theory true, or viruses not real.

              1. Observer*

                Of course. Just (unless you are trying to use evolutionary forces to weed our the gene pool) don’t encourage people to go into places like that…

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            It’s, apparently, your body ridding itself of ‘toxins’. The more toxins you have, the more serious the ‘illness’.

            Yup, have blocked him now.

        3. Observer*

          ‘viruses don’t actually exist! Nobody has isolated one ever!’.

          That’s a new one. But no more irrational than the flat earth people, or the even the ones who think that the moon landing was an elaborate hoax.

  11. hbc*

    It’s stunning. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve played “Whose quarantine was their own fault?” in my head, and could probably come up with a decent ranking of how each employee’s quarantine was an unforced error. But it would not at all have singles on one end and families on the other. The single guy who watched football (sans mask) on the same couch as his coughing mother deserves a smack upside the head, but so does the family guy who celebrated his birthday with 80 of his nearest and dearest last week.

    If you’re going to be judgmental, at least use *good* judgment.

    1. Arctic*

      Or maybe that kind of judgment as unhelpful and actively against public policy even when you think you are better at it?

      1. Louise*

        Oh I am judging my coworker who still had big Thanksgiving dinner with their family and then guess what had to quarantine because someone at Thanksgiving got had COVID. And then they couldn’t do their job and their work got pushed on me because of their actions, there is judging and annoyance all around.
        I most definitely want them to quarantine if they are exposed, but I would much prefer if they would act with a sense that their actions have consequences for others and reconsidered the big Thanksgiving dinner.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          There were several people at work who decided over xmas to have 20+ people over for parties and then had to quarantine a few weeks later because someone there had tested positive. I can inwardly roll my eyes and suppress the urge to bat a biology textbook over their heads and put down on the calendar that person X is quarantined until (date).

          Cthulhu knows I’ve ranted outside of work about so, so many people who just don’t get why we have safety measures. As long as I don’t do it online (or any way that can be traced back to my job), or at work I’ll darn well keep doing it.

        2. A*

          Ya I have a hard time not judging, especially because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I went to my dad’s for a small Thanksgiving gathering (7 people total including myself, total of 4 households) but we all quarantined for 14 days ahead of time in addition to getting tested twice, and did the same upon our return. Obviously this is only possible if you can WFH / have full control over your exposures, and several members of the family were not included as they would be unable to meet those requirements. But it is what it is, we included those that could and with our medical teams awareness.

          Very different ballgame than ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine!’, or those that just took a test assuming that would mean everything was dandy.

    2. Maggie*

      Yes, ascribing illness to moral failings is definitely the best thing you can do for public health! Give me a break.

  12. RainbeauxStego*

    Wouldn’t this be an ableist policy as well? Single or not, people who have an auto immune disorder or other health condition may get sick/have symptoms more often than those who don’t have those conditions. Speaking as someone who qualifies for 1B and has gone multiple times to stand in line for the vaccine and been turned away when they have run out despite having an appt, even if they qualify, it may still be difficult to get a vaccine! And we do not even know how long it will work!

      1. Midwest writer*

        About a decade ago, a newsroom in which I worked brought in the union rep from the biggest paper in the state to talk about doing just this. And the union guy said, “Our union isn’t terribly strong out here and frankly, I think you’d end up making less money in a more unpleasant/outright hostile work environment.” We just dropped it at that point. It was so disappointing. Unsurprisingly, those newsrooms are even smaller now than they were then and the papers are just shadows of themselves, after a corporate sale or two. I see all the good unions can do, but we just couldn’t get access to it in any meaningful way.

    1. ursula*

      I honestly live for the rare letters when even Alison, who is so gifted at finding reasonable and often minimally disruptive ways through awful and complex situations, just looks at a company and goes UNION, SORRY, TOO FAR GONE

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yup. I mean I’m actually kinda afraid of our union at times because they have a LOT of clout. But boy have I been glad of them this year.

      2. Tinker*

        Heh, I have been appreciating lately that I am not the only person who has from the accumulated weight of the past few years gone from “I’m a bit salty about bad managers, who should not be rewarded” to “solidarity forever, or at least maybe a little as a treat”.

  13. Play A Doctor On TV*

    Honestly, blow this up anonymously on Glassdoor/indeed, health depts, state and federal workplace safety, and to the press. Ask people to post this on social media. The reason I say anonymously is that this place has already shown themselves to be nuts, of course they’d retaliate against you.

  14. RagingADHD*

    Wait, so an asymptomatic person who doesn’t realize they’ve been exposed (who may have a cold or covid) comes into work, exposes you, you get symptoms and have to quarantine…

    And YOU get dinged for it?

    None of this makes sense. You are working in person. The most likely place to be exposed is the place you spend 8+ hours a day. It just makes my head hurt trying to even understand the fauxlogic.

  15. Knope knope knope*

    Alison’s suggestions are better, but if this was sent out as a companywide email I’d be tempted to reply all asking for clarity on the exact contradiction Alison points out. “As an employee who lives alone a and is required to come into the office regularly, I have cut out all in person errands and social interactions for my own safety and the safety of my colleagues. The only place I could feasibly be exposed to Covid is in our office. Can you please provide clarity on what I should do if I have already quarantined once a semester and begin experiencing symptoms again? Would I expected to come into the office/penalized if I don’t? I just want to ensure I am understanding the guidance correctly.” I’d ask your manager to ask that question of HR either way and perhaps she can say more pointedly that she feels forced to suggest her staff take unsafe steps to avoid penalization. Maybe this will get them to backpedal

  16. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

    That’s ridiculous. I’m single, no roommates (aside from a cat), and I’ve been going nowhere but work since the pandemic started. Groceries delivered, etc. Mask wearing, hand washing, sanitizing, disinfecting. I STILL GOT COVID.

    1. Elenna*

      It’s almost like you can get Covid from being around other people in the office! No, wait, that’s clearly impossible, no need to take such ridiculous steps as, for example, allowing people to not come into the office when sick… :P

      Yeah, no idea what this company is thinking.

    2. tangerineRose*

      I’m single, live alone, almost always use curbside takeout for groceries, quarentine (or wash) my groceries and any packages, etc. that comes into the house, haven’t eaten out since the pandemic started here, wear a mask and do social distancing on the rare times I go into a store, and I got what I think was the flu (only briefly; I think the fact that I got the flu shot a few months earlier was what saved me from a couple of weeks of misery). That was incredibly scary, not just because I was worried it might be COVID-19 (I quarentined 14 days just in case) but because I thought my precautions would prevent me from catching just about anything.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Sadly we rely a lot on having everyone else follow the rules too. My mask protects me a bit, but it won’t stop me getting an illness if the guy in front of me in the pharmacy queue is going maskless and coughing everywhere.

      2. Self Employed*

        I have a friend who has immune problems and typically has to quarantine during flu season. She’s been super duper quarantining during COVID, when her husband’s work makes him come in to the office he lives in the other half of the house (and they don’t use the central heating because they don’t want to recirculate viruses), they quarantine their packages, etc. etc.

        She’s managed to get at least two non-COVID viruses and a sinus infection. One of these she’s pretty sure she got from the UPS guy who wouldn’t stay 6′ away and was coughing, UNMASKED, while verifying her ID or something.

  17. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    See, this. This nonsense. This is the stuff that pits workers against each other based on family status. You have to fight so hard as a parent – well, a woman-identified parent – to be seen as competent and pulling your weight, and then this kind of horse hooey comes along and validates every single criticism people have about “special treatment.”

    This kind of thing is doing working parents ZERO favors.

  18. CoffeeandTea*

    This is stupid. Not everyone is married. I’ve been with my partner 5 years we aren’t married, but live together. I file taxes as single does that mean I would only need to quarantine once by their logic. Legally marriage is a piece of paper. I don’t think it magically means you will get exposed more in a pandemic compared to others.

  19. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Is it too early for “Worst Employer of 2021” nominations? I have to think this one is going to enjoy the pole position for at least a few weeks.

  20. not neurotypical*

    Allison asks, “How do your coworkers feel about all this?”

    Presumably, the parents who are working from home while their coworkers take extra risks to cover their public-facing tasks feel just fine about that. Do they also feel fine knowing that, if said coworkers end up having to quarantine (perhaps due to taking that risk), they will be penalized in a way that parents would not be?

    If not, then it’s on them — the married, the parents — to see and to object to their unearned privilege and to insist that their single/childless coworkers be extended the same compassion and care.

    I won’t hold my breath for such solidarity, but please do let us know if, in this case or any other, employees who are parents reject rather than demand special privileges.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I would not assume the married coworkers are ok with the policy. They very well might appalled by it. I know I would be conflicted in their shoes. On the one hand, I would be pleased to be fully remote and not have to be penalized for multiple quarantines. But on the other, I would be incredibly displeased that my perks were basically coming at the expense of all my single and/or childless coworkers. I can only hope that OP’s coworkers feel the same way.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      From admittedly minimal experience (I don’t have kids and never will) I’d wager that the parents in the office DO know, but are afraid of pushing back about the unfairness because it’ll result in ALL WFH privileges being taken away.

      However, when there is dialogue between those with children/those without in a situation like this it generally gives them all more confidence that they can in fact push back without the whole thing being removed from everyone. There’s also the ‘I don’t want to speak for a group I’m not a part of’ thing that often holds people back from speaking out against injustices.

      I’ve seen that solidarity happen quite a few times.

      1. Observer*

        From admittedly minimal experience (I don’t have kids and never will) I’d wager that the parents in the office DO know, but are afraid of pushing back about the unfairness because it’ll result in ALL WFH privileges being taken away.

        Given how stupid management is being here, that’s not an unreasonable fear.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Yeah, I can understand why they’d be scared. The odd thing is that if everyone who could work from home was allowed to (without working on a sick day), then *everyone* in the company would be at least a little bit safer.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yep. Very true.

          (I used to be exactly the type of childfree person who’d ascribe every single bad entitled lazy behaviour to parents in the workplace. Time has taught me that that’s just as much injustice as what I was accusing them of)

    3. Observer*

      Presumably, the parents who are working from home while their coworkers take extra risks to cover their public-facing tasks feel just fine about that

      That’s a stupid assumption. I know that’s rude. But your assumption is a LOT more rude. People who have children are not automatically stupid and selfish, and acting as though they are doesn’t make you argument credible.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Yeah – agreeing. This post made a lot of spiteful assumptions, completely out of nowhere, drew moral conclusions from those wild assumptions, and generally seems to be coming from a place of ignorance and unkindness.

      2. Claire*

        Well they feel fine enough about it to stay home while their coworker goes in to cover the parents public facing duties, so it’s not really that stupid.

        1. Jackalope*

          I mean, that could be the case, but there are other possible explanations for that. My office has had people go back in as volunteers; as someone who hadn’t volunteered, I don’t really know who is going in-person unless they contact me about it for some reason. So maybe the parents don’t know (or didn’t know) about the double standard. Maybe they knew but also can’t stay employed if they have kids at home. I don’t want to get off on a tangent about parents’ options here, having seen many such threads on this blog be unproductive, but if the company is as lousy as this snapshot would lead me to believe, they might not be able to get anywhere with such a protest other than possibly losing the WFH that may be what’s making it possible for them to work at all.

        2. DataSci*

          You do know that schools in many/most places are still closed, right? Parents can’t just leave a six-year-old home alone to go into the office, no matter how unfair they may think the policy is.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      It helps nobody if parents reject their privileges. But I know that I as a parent would be pushing for singletons to have the same privileges in these circumstances.

  21. MistOrMister*

    Oookay, and so what happens when someone like OP has to quarantine multiple times a semester simply because of work exposure? If you get sent home in January because it turns out Mary has covid and you work in proximity to her, then in Feb you get sent home again because this time you were exposed to Jack…how does HR expect to enact their ridiculous policy? As horrible as their policy is, I rather assume they would say the exposure is your own fault for not having kids and being able to work completely remotely. This is the most bonkers covid policy I have ever seen.

  22. Person from the Resume*

    * They want you to work from home but they’re also going to charge you sick or vacation leave for that time, while you’re working?

    I’ve heard of schools doing this b/c they want the teachers to show up for some reason even while they teach virtually via Zoom. I assume it’s related to “can’t trust you to work if you’re not in the school.

    1. Sam.*

      If they are taking PTO, even if it’s not by choice, they *shouldn’t* be working. It’s paid time off. If I’m in this position, I’m actually taking the time off, even if it’s not the time I would prefer to use it and even if they think I should continue working. A lot of employers are exposing their true colors right now…

  23. I'm just here for the cats*

    Wow! I just don’t know how to respond to this. HR is so off base it’s not even funny. They are saying that because you are single that you shouldn’t have to quarentine as much (assuming because there’s not others in your household) yet they are requiring you to go in the office, where you are exposed? Yet if you get exposed (from office then because, single people live alone??? Have no contact with others??) Then they are going to penalize you? So basically they are asking you to put your life on the line and jeopardize everyone else. Is there anyway a group of your coworker can talk to HR together?
    Worse employer of 2021

    1. Roci*

      Yes, I am glad Alison mentioned it. We really need to start looking at all these instances of “push back as a group” and see that maybe we should always have a group that would argue on behalf of workers for conditions that are not just the legal minimum amount of shitty, but actually, you know, good.

  24. Observer*

    Alison, you left out one more stupidity (to be FAR more kind than they deserve.) The office is a MAJOR vector for transmission, yet they are both requiring people to come in to the office and punishing them for being exposed IN THE OFFICE.

    This whole thing is such a mess it sounds like a caricature!

    1. Birdie*

      This is the part that really blew my mind. I just love that they are forcing the single people into the office, where they will be exposed, and then punishing them for being exposed in the office. Like. What? How does this make sense in anyone’s mind? As a single person living alone, I would be LIVID. As in, immediately looking for a new job livid.

    2. Elbe*

      If the parents are allowed to WFH and the single people are more often required to come into the office, there’s a decent chance that the single people are MORE likely to be exposed than parents. This is doubly true if the office is in a metro area and going into the office involves taking public transportation.

      And then, because they’re single and can’t get time off to quarantine, they’ll be in the office spreading it to the other single people.

      Someone needs to step in and set HR straight because this is a mess. These people shouldn’t be in charge of making decisions for others.

    3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I think that if they truly try to discipline anyone like they threatened, that person needs to write a statement in the official disciplinary document pointing out that they were required to be in office and exposed to the public as part of work (especially point it out if it is not a normal part of their job responsibility but was foisted on you during the pandemic to allow married people to WFH). Then get a copy, then hire a lawyer.

  25. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Wow. I thought my old employer was bad, having very limited provisions for work IT equipment and unrealistic expectations about how much a team could do remotely. But this makes them look practically benevolent.

    Context: most of our teams work could be done remotely, but the methods were harder and more time consuming. E.g cross referencing was harder without being able to print. Medium charity on a tight budget for the size.

  26. alioelj*

    Name and shame my friends… name and shame.

    Contact your local tv stations and write an anonymous tip to your local newspapers. Take a pic of any emails with your personal phone, block out any names in the to/from fields, print out the picture, and scan it into a PDF before you send it out to the media. (this prevents anyone from being able to find the identity of the phone/GPS coordinates/or other metadata that can rat out your identity if you send a jpeg file directly to them) Let the court of public opinion do its magic!

    1. alioelj*

      Let me clarify, I mean to say, document any company-wide emails that communicate these ridiculous policies to the organization!

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        That’s one reason she needs to get this policy in writing format. They seem to know they are going down a bad path with this policy, since they communicated it by an unrecorded zoom meeting. I have a feeling that HR will refuse put anything in writing.

  27. Mannheim Steamroller*

    We were also told that while HR understands and will make exceptions for families who end up passing the disease to one another, the expectation is that others (i.e., single people) should not have to quarantine that often and they will subtract accrued vacation/sick time and take “disciplinary action” if you have to quarantine multiple times.

    I would push back by asking, “What is the BUSINESS purpose of this rule?”

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      OP should say, “Ok, so if I cannot quarantine and I get sick, but I have already had to quarantine once that semester, I will just come in to work anyhow and risk infecting everyone. You guys cannot make me go home and quarantine if it’s my second time, because you guys specifically said we can only quarantine once or risk disciplinary action. For all we know, my current illness is just the flu, or bronchitis, or strep throat! Or, it could be COVID, and I might infect the whole office! And it could become public knowledge after a mass breakout here that HR demanded that we not quarantine more than once a semester and that you implemented this policy, which is completely inconsistent with public health guidelines, is possibly an illegal discriminatory practice against employees based on marital status, and is certainly inconsistent with any sense of common decency. Are we all in agreement here?”

      But seriously, OP does need to get the policy in writing or some recorded format. Then, I think she should report them to her state OSHA, department of labor, health department, whoever might be able to intervene. Also, might be worth getting an anonymous tip to the press.

  28. Anonworker*

    OP here. Thanks so much for the solidarity! I should also mention that all of the policies were laid out during a Zoom meeting that was not recorded so my supervisor is getting written clarification from HR. As one of the posters said I think seeing it in writing will evoke a response of “We didn’t mean it in the way you are implying.” I should also mention something else my boss is clarifying that was brought up in the meeting but I did not mention in the letter. We were told that Human Resources would tell us when we could see a doctor. When I was quarantined in January I had already contacted my doctor and supervisor before emailing HR and was notified that I should ONLY reach out to HR in the future. I thought it was strange at the time but after going to this training I see that Human Resources wants to control every aspect of the quarantine process.

    1. Elbe*

      “We were told that Human Resources would tell us when we could see a doctor.”

      WHAT?!? Your HR department has lost their minds. This is opening the company up to a massive amount of liability.

      No reasonable person would think that a company has the right to control an employee’s access to medical care, especially during a pandemic. Under what conditions do they imagine they would have the standing to tell someone NOT to see a doctor? What would happen if someone has mild symptoms, HR tells them not to see a doctor, and they develop worse symptoms later? or they spread it to an at-risk relative who gets seriously ill or dies?

      If there’s even a slim chance that the company CEO or board doesn’t know that this is going on, someone should send it up the chain. This is truly terrible.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “Your HR department has lost their minds.” Yes. There’s something truly odd/weird/horrible going on here.

    2. Shenandoah*

      Wow, HR’s arms must be sore from that insane amount of overreach into your life.

      They suck, OP – I hope you get a satisfying response to this or a new and better job (or both!). I am very glad to hear you have a good supervisor though.

      1. Elbe*

        I highly doubt that it is legal. In order for HR to give “permission” to see a doctor, I’m assuming that the employee would have to disclose symptoms and other health-related information.

        It may not be illegal for HR to offer to provide a recommendation, but I think it would be illegal to require it or to impose any consequences on employees who don’t ask them.

        I can’t believe the gall these people have. No sane HR employee would think they have the expertise/authority to be gatekeeping medical decisions during a pandemic.

    3. Nanani*

      That’s not OK. That could actively delay and even contradict compliance with public health orders, and the employee is the one who will face consequences for it because the company can just deny.

      If the public health authorities where you are are halfway competent, consider reaching out. For “advice”

    4. Eye roll*

      No. No. No. No. You email HR and say:

      I just want to memorialize your recent instruction. I am not to contact my own medical provider about any Covid symptoms or exposures. I am only to contact HR and obtain permission to seek medical care from my own provider on my personal time.

      I do have a few questions. Since HR now controls all of my access to medical care, how shall I forward the bill to the company for payment (particularly as the need for treatment is likely to increase with the delay)? May I go to the emergency room without permission? What is the home number of the medical reviewer for evenings and weekends? What is the penalty if I do not receive permission from HR to contact my doctor but must contact them anyway?

      Please respond promptly since medical needs may arise at any time.

      1. Observer*

        I love it.

        When you get a response, take that to the DOL and to whatever agency is in charge of covid response. I can just see their reaction to a company trying to keep SYMPTOMATIC people from getting tested and treated.

    5. Phony Genius*

      I wish this information about HR restricting access to doctors was in the original letter. It certainly sounds worse than anything that was in the above. I’d love to hear Alison’s take on this.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’d love to hear Alison’s take on this.

        Before we do that analysis, mind if I set up an Expletive Bingo card first?

    6. CircleBack*

      I can understand if they wanted you to just reach out to them and not your supervisor. If you have a reasonable supervisor you shouldn’t need to & it creates a mess in a lot of ways, but a lot of offices are trying to control the rumor mill around potential covid exposures by limiting who gets reports of symptoms.
      I have a feeling that’s what they come back with after clarifying since their original implications of waiting to talk to your doctor (?!?!?!?!) are bananas. You own your health, not your employer.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m unfamiliar with the privacy laws of anywhere but the UK, but isn’t there anything about not being forced to provide private medical info to a non healthcare person?

      Because that’s what your HR is saying to do, go to them for medical advice instead of your doctor. Which is not only bat guano but here it would violate at least one major law.

    8. Librarian of SHIELD*

      There is absolutely no circumstance where your workplace should be dictating when and how you interact with your health care provider. They cannot forbid you from speaking with your doctor, what the actual hell is wrong with these people?

      Start job hunting.

      1. Observer*

        Start job hunting.

        That is an EXCELLENT idea, even in this economy. These people are off the charts.

      2. tangerineRose*

        I keep hoping that there is only 1 HR person behind this, and maybe that person is letting power go to their head, and maybe, just maybe, the people at the top of the company will say “What?!!!” and decide that they’re better off without this HR person. Because this is insane.

    9. Cat Tree*

      Wow. I realize that not everyone had the ability to push back or risk losing their job. But if you have any way to survive financially without this job, it might be worth the risk to just see the doctor anyway. Delaying treatment could literally be life or death. It’s such an outrage that you have might have to face the decision of risking your job or risking your life.

    10. Groundhogs Again*

      That’s not legal. Any chance you’re willing to share what state you’re in? In general-
      1) US employers can only dictate who provides medical assessment and care when it’s a workplace injury it it’s a non-emergency situation, and when their provider of choice is, in fact, available.
      2) depending on the state you may have the right to see your own Dr even if the injury happened at work and have the employer reimburse you.

    11. On a pale mouse*

      Maybe they mean for quarantine purposes? I.e. “we won’t pay for / excuse absences due to quarantine unless the quarantine order comes from our doctor, because we don’t trust our employees not to forge doctor notes / see sketchy doctors who write medically unjustified notes”? That would make at least a little more sense. It would still be completely crappy, just typical-bad-employer-crappy instead of WTF-even-is-this-crappy. If it isn’t that then I don’t even know what the heck they are thinking.

  29. Elbe*

    There’s been a trend at some places where the employees who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously are effectively getting more benefits than people who are doing what they’re supposed to. There are workers who repeatedly come into contact with the virus due to unnecessary socialization, and they’re the ones who get to WFH and have more sick days… while other workers pick up their slack.

    It is a problem, and I can’t think of a great solution for it. There’s no (reasonable) way to monitor workers to see how careful or risky their actions are, and what percentage of their illnesses could have been avoided. There’s no way to know if they got COVID at a crowded bar or at the store. Aside from putting guidelines in place at the office, employers do have to trust their employees to a certain extent.

    The LW’s company is handling this horribly. It’s completely illogical. If they wanted to cut down on missed work time, the best thing they could do is let everyone who can work from home. There are a lot of legitimate, unavoidable reasons why a person (single or with a family) may be exposed or get sick. They’re trying to control a situation they just have no control over, and in the process they’re making it even more difficult on their workers.

    1. JustaTech*

      Let everyone who possibly can work from home do that.
      If there are positions that *must* be done on-site and in-person, break those people into shifts, and do something like 1 week on-site 2 weeks off-site, so if an entire shift has to quarantine because they’re exposed, you haven’t exposed the other groups.
      There are ways to make this work. Randomly punishing people (and telling them that they have to ask HR permission to see their doctor!) is not going to work.

    2. anon for this*

      Two managers at my workplace were socializing outside of work, inside, without masks, one gave COVID to the other and then they both infected their employees. They both work in positions that require them to be on site. I really wish there was a way to prevent people from being so stupid (I cannot imagine socializing indoors, without a mask, with anyone) but I honestly don’t know what it is,

    3. armchairexpert*

      I mean, that’s kind of always true. People who engage in risky lifestyle choices (I’m thinking anything from heavy smokers to people who love sky diving) could arguably be off work more often than people who put their health above everything else.

      (I hope I’m wording this correctly to convey that there’s no moral weighting to any of these choices. And I realise that they’re not always even ‘choices’, per se)

      But as soon as you go down the path of trying to discourage your employee’s lifestyle choices out of work, you’re in trouble. And that includes ‘people who don’t mask’ or go to parties, even though it’s frustrating. It’s not just that there’s no way to monitor people to see how careful they are. It’s that we absolutely shouldn’t do that, evne if we could.

  30. mehkitty84*

    OP if you live in the US you could submit an anonymous complaint to your state OSHA organization. They will come out and investigate and even take action against your employer if they aren’t abiding by COVID guidelines. For example, in Michigan there is MIOSHA. A lot of what you stated goes against the MIOSHA standards in place that employers must follow for its employees.

  31. Lauren who has a family*

    I am a single, childless person and I still have a family. Full stop. So if I was in that meeting and heard something like “of course we’ll make exceptions for people with families”, I would assume those exceptions apply to me too since I also have a family (even though I’m guessing that was a veiled and obnoxious way of saying coupled/married people and/or parents).

  32. Greg*

    At the heart of this ridiculous policy is an attitude I’ve noticed among many people (although they’re usually not this blatant about it): an assumption that if you get Covid, or even if you just get exposed to it, it’s somehow your fault. I yield to no one in my frustration at people who openly flaunt safety measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. But I also know that many people get exposed even as they do their best to stay safe. And the truth is, every Covid case is a (potential) tragedy no matter how much you think the person “deserves” it.

    I don’t know if it will help the OP to push back on this point. But I hope everyone will push back on it every time they see someone employing it.

    1. GreenDoor*

      Yes…it sounds like they’re playing into blatant stereotypes that if you’re married and/or raising kids you are surely responsible in all ways, but if you’re single you just like to party and be irresponsible.

      This whole edict is just like assigning single people all the late-night and weekend work because they don’t have “importan” things to do, the way people raising children do.

      1. More anon than usual*

        Didn’t you know? Until you settle down and get married and have kids, you’re not a proper grown-up yet. Raise your hands, all my fellow single and/or childless peeps who have been stuck at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving, or otherwise been classed with the grandkids instead of with your own generation.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        They are also playing into the blatant stereotype that your health and safety is more important if you have children than if you do not. I do understand that it is necessary to allow many employees with children to work from home because of the lack of childcare options, but to force single people who do not have to interact with the public to risk exposure to cover their public facing job duties and also forcing them to use leave and work from home at the same time when quarantining when married people are not required to do the same … that’s just really offensive.

  33. Phil*

    I glean from the letter that this a school or education related company. What is it about education that seems to generate all these loony practices?

    1. Greg*

      Yes, I remember there was that (quickly rescinded) policy at Florida State University where they told employees they would be reinstituting the policy whereby anyone who wanted to work from home needed to prove they had childcare lined up, and working parents were like, “There is no childcare, and there is no in-person school, either.”

  34. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    I was coming here to say that this may not be HR’s policy. This may be the COMPANY’S policy, which HR has the unfortunate burden of enforcing (even if they don’t agree with it and have said as much).

    That said, the whole thing about clearing it with HR before *talking to your doctor* is bats**t bananapants. UNLESS they meant that you needed to give them a heads up as soon as you begin to show symptoms not so they can approve you going to the doctor (because, lol), but so they can get started on any workplace contact tracing and order enhanced cleaning.

    1. Observer*

      That’s not what the OP said, though.

      This “We were told that Human Resources would tell us when we could see a doctor. When I was quarantined in January I had already contacted my doctor and supervisor before emailing HR and was notified that I should ONLY reach out to HR in the future.” doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I do not understand this either though. I mean, yes, make sure to reach out to HR, but you obviously would want to reach out to your manager too since she will need to know what is going on. I understand insisting that you reach out to HR and not just the manager, but only HR? That is still really weird.

  35. Firecat*

    I can’t say I am at all surprised. I worked at a hospital that announced they would be disciplining staff who had to quarintine for testing and got a negative test.

    1. pancakes*

      What?! How are so many people who are piss-poor at making decisions about this stuff in charge of making decisions about this stuff?

  36. Scott*

    Alison, I feel obliged to correct what you wrote about discriminating on the basis of parental or marital status. You wrote “In some jurisdictions (but not federally), it’s illegal to discriminate based on “family status,” which includes whether you are married or have children.” The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) prohibits discrimination against a federal employee on the basis of marital status, being a parent, and other factors. While CSRA is not enforced by the EEOC it is enforced by the Merit Services Protection Board and the Office of Special Counsel.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s for federal employees — it’s not a federal law covering American workers in general. (The federal govt has a bunch of its own rules that apply to its internal workforce.)

      1. Scott*

        Ahh, I see how I misinterpreted what you wrote. I understood “not federally” to mean not for federal workers. My apologies!
        FWIW, I am a federal worker and an EEO Counselor so I probably read articles on discrimination in the workplace with that mindset.

  37. Cassi*

    I’d really really love to see someone have to quarantine, be told they will work from home but use sick time, and then respond that if that’s the case they’ll just use their sick time and not work. Like…. have they considered this obvious response to their ludicrous policy?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I believe returning to your regular work after your sick time with that work not covered or covered poorly is your punishment for exploiting that loophole.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        That’s the consequence any time you have to miss work, whether for sickness or a vacation. If I am taking leave, I am taking leave. If I have to use my vacation leave for quarantining, I am having a staycation and not working. Sick leave is different, admittedly, because it should only be used for illness or medical appointments, but I am not going to work while taking it. And honestly, OP may not have had COVID, but she did have symptoms that led to the quarantine and to her seeing a doctor (which apparently HR was angry with her about), so she was actually sick for part of it. So for the time she was experiencing symptoms at least, she should be able to take sick leave and not work.

  38. Kim*

    My god, I’m still stuck on the fact that they changed LW’s duties to customer facing in order to spare other people, based on those people’s family status.

    I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant and still have to work in an office, which could be (partly) WFH, but they make all of us come in 100% of the time. I also have to interact with the public. Recently we tried to push back, because these interactions are unneccesary. My employer’s response was that I could be excused, but that just means I have to arrange for a coworker to go in my place. Instead of, you know, avoiding these interactions in the first place. Now I feel bad and I can’t help but feel that this builds resentment.

    LW, definitely try to get this insanity in writing and take it to the press/a lawyer.

    I wish you best of luck with these absolute idiots.

  39. Achoos*

    The mention of “semester” makes it seem like it could be a higher ed setting. If so, don’t be afraid to activate the alumni. Alumnis making a fuss on social media can make magical things happen.

  40. Blue panda*

    I’d love to be surprised, but even with all the legal leave protections I get (not US), it is common practice and largely accepted under the guise of “equity” to require solo employees to make up for accommodations made to their not solo colleagues. Some employers have the literal legal right to remunerate based on “family status” (perks not base pay, but it all makes a difference). Solo employees typically have less access to leave as well since they don’t have an accepted family network. I’ve only heard of 1 successful lawsuit along these lines, because you are considered a horrible person if you stand up and say this isn’t fair.

    In the old days marriages of convenience were common between colleagues of some govt departments who needed to access the provisions only available to married people. We’re certainly COVID rules being the catalyst for marriage for many. No doubt marriages of legal convenience will also rise.

  41. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    There is a reason they told you guys about this “policy” in an unrecorded zoom meeting and not in a written format. If they try to take disciplinary action in the way they threatened, that will be in writing most likely and the employee should definitely see a lawyer. If you are lucky enough to get something in writing, save it, send it to the press as an anonymous tip, and report the policy to any organization you can think of who may have the power to penalize the company.

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