update: is this HR process for accommodations as bananas as it feels?

Remember the letter-writer who encountered an utterly bananas HR process for accommodations after requesting one WFH day a week? Here’s the update.

As a recap: my firm rolled out an update to our hybrid work policy that allowed for up to two WFH days per week, but the requirement to work three days in office had to be met first, and could not be prorated for shorter weeks. In other words, a five-day week allowed for up to two WFH days, but a four-day holiday week only allowed one WFH day, and a week in which we worked three days or less required all working days to be in office. Violations of the policy would be flagged up three management levels, and immediate managers did not have authority to override the requirement. I have a standing weekly medical appointment that is difficult to accommodate when working in office, but extremely easy to accommodate when WFH. I asked my manager how to handle it for three-day weeks, since I can reasonably anticipate a handful of those per year due to volunteer activities, and he referred me to HR, which resulted in the clownshoes nonsense from my original post.

When I updated in the comments right after you published my letter, the company had amended the policy so that it would only count as a violation if we accrued a certain number of weeks out of adherence within a rolling two-month period. I also learned that I was far from the only employee raising a hue and cry over the policy, and that at least a portion of why it was so poorly handled for me was explained by the deluge of employees swamping the entire HR department in screaming panic.

Since then, I learned that the reason our policy was so rigidly framed was due to our industry’s regulatory obligations. I work in a tightly regulated industry, and locations where business is routinely performed must be registered with our regulator. Locations where supervisory activity (i.e., my job) are performed need an additional level of registration beyond the baseline. During the pandemic, the regulator had relaxed the rule with the understanding that nearly everyone would be working from home and that filing the home address of every single employee and supervisor of every single firm in the country would be a massive problem for everybody involved. However, they were beginning to tighten up the policy again, and had rolled out requirements for both how many days a year and what percentage of days worked per year would require a WFH or hybrid worker’s home to be registered as a residential place of business. My firm was trying to sculpt their policy so that they had a pool of known employees whose home addresses would need to be registered (such as full-time WFHers) and everyone else whose homes would not be registered and thus had to remain within the limits outlined by the regulator. I don’t entirely follow the math on how our policy fits within the regulators’ outline, but I have a good working relationship with that area of compliance, and I do trust them to be doing their best to balance employee needs, reason, and regulation.

(And as a side note — since we are in a regulated industry and I work in a supervisory/compliance area, the concept of asking forgiveness rather than permission is not applicable. If I simply said nothing and worked from home in excess of policy, it would be detected and the lack of proactive discussion would weigh against me.)

Also, with regard to the incredibly condescending HR “advocate,” I had the displeasure of attending a meeting on a work issue that also involved him. During the meeting, he took it upon himself to explain in small words to one of our corporate lawyers the concept of an “allegation” of improper activity vs proof of said activity (in relation to a scenario in which the employee under investigation had already fessed up and tendered his resignation). So I am quite well satisfied that his attitude was not specifically against me as an accommodation-seeker, but is genuinely his default approach to the world. One wonders what his meetings with his boss are like.

I appreciate your response affirming that this really wasn’t an awesome process but also that I likely didn’t have much protection, as well as the commentariat’s feedback!

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Quill*

    Explaining to a regulator – or a lawyer – their own area of expertise is a GREAT way to not make any friends. So rest assured that HR person is in the hole and still digging!

      1. LW*

        There was a long moment of very weighty silence (in which I can imagine everyone silently asking themselves “Did that really just happen?”) and then the discussion carried on as though he’d never piped up.

          1. Quizix*

            I love getting mansplained the law as a female lawyer. Honestly it used to irritate me, now it’s just mildly amusing. Occasionally I’ll take someone down with legal facts if they’re particularly obnoxious.. most of the time I’ll just smirk and let them go for it! So often it’s half facts or plain incorrect information being spouted too.

            1. Delta Delta*

              Also a lawyer, and that’s what I let people do. I had a newly-admitted male lawyer try to lawsplain something to me, and when I pointed out the model statute he was talking about wasn’t adopted in our jurisdiction he sputtered and said, “well then it should be!” I happen to know the state legislator in his district, so I offered to give him her phone number so he could call and urge her to see if it could be passed, and he said he’d find it on his own. (spoiler: he did not)

      2. Le Sigh*

        I once watched my arrogant coworker explain how to run a company in a pretty regulated industry to our CEO. Coworker had not run a business of any kind, he just had a lot of ideas. I didn’t particularly care for the CEO, but it was certainly something to watch.

        I wish I had a photo of the stink face he made while my coworker prattled on, before cutting him off with a very, very firm “anwyay, moving on….”

        1. Barnes and Noble Bridge Burner*

          It’s giving “Brian Fellow is not an accredited zoologist. He’s just an enthusiastic young man.”

      3. ursula*

        You would be surprised how often this happens. From your own clients, from people with related but non-overlapping expertise, from any old dude.

    1. Clownshoes Nonsense*

      I am a lawyer and have been for many years, which is known through my workplace though I am no longer practicing law. In a recent meeting, a consultant at my office decided to explain something to me “from the legal perspective.”

      I waited until he was finished and then just said mildly, “Since I practiced in this area of law for over 20 years, I do understand the legal perspective.” And then stopped talking. The silence that spun out after that was rather freighted, until the meeting carried on.

      (btw, OP, I’m jumping on your phrase for my user name. It’s so versatile!)

    2. Not just the Mrs*

      It sounds just like my uncle who has never been in the military but has a friend in the national guard. He tried explaining how deployments work to my brother who is a 30 year active duty veteran who had been deployed to the Middle East countless times. I just closed my eyes and shook my head.

      1. Stella*

        Sadly, these things remind me of me. I have learned finally (it took longer than it should have) that other people know stuff. Most of the time they know more than I do! I have to really make an effort to just shut up and listen. It does not come easy to me, but I feel a lot happier and less embarrassed when I can pull it off. Plus, I’ve learned that I actually like listening to what people have to say, and I get to know people so much better by not talking so much.

  2. Amber T*

    As someone who works in a compliance function in a regulated entity… I feel you, OP. Things that seem like common sense flexibility fly out the window when the government gets involved and breathes down your neck.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Any documentation that falls under the umbrella of ERISA STILL requires a notary. It’s madness!

      1. Amber T*

        Oh my goodness please don’t get me started on anything involving a notary. Or just original signatures in general?? DocuSign and other esignature platforms work wonders – please let them do their jobs and make my life a tad easier.

        1. NothappyinNY*

          Docusign is easier, but I am not convinced as safe. I don’t want anyone moving title of property without my actual signature notarized.

          FYI — there is a woman in CT claiming her BF forged her esignature on a large bail bond.

          1. Bruce*

            I’ve signed things on docusign, but wow it seems to just rely on me being me because of my email address… yeesh!

            1. soontoberetired*

              Docusign is one of the safest of the electronic signature apps. If that eases your mind. I am in a highly regulated industry, and it is what we chose to use after a lengthy review of everything that was available.

          2. Observer*

            there is a woman in CT claiming her BF forged her esignature on a large bail bond.

            Is there anything that absolutely cannot ever be forged? Probably not.

            But ink signatures are stupid simple to forge. And notarized signatures are not THAT much better.

            1. Fake Kirkland Coffee*

              This. Any security issues around e-signatures are also a factor of actual signatures. Think about check fraud – anyone can steal a check from your checkbook, fill it out, forge your signature, take it into a bank, and cash it without the bank checking to see whether or not you actually signed it.

        2. KaciHall*

          my office had a notary that worked here because e needed things notarized so often. I was a notary previously(in a different state) and right it was weird.

          I learned after a year that she would notarize documents when one signature was a stamp (the owner of our company was rarely in office) and the other was done outside of the office, usually in a different state.

          if I hadn’t thought notaries were pointless when I was one, I would’ve reported this to the state. probably still should have, but the one time I tried I got the run settings because I probably just didn’t understand.

          1. Goldenrod*

            I am a notary. I didn’t love the stamp I originally received so I went to Amazon to order a cuter stamp. ;p According to the listing on Amazon, you had to upload your notary license in order to buy the stamp. So I was all ready to do so…

            Except…nope. They never asked for it. Anyone can order a fake notary stamp on Amazon, apparently (unless they changed this since then)…

            1. Quill*

              I used to be the person who had to chase the notaries across the building (both right before and during Covid) and the security didn’t seem to be in having the notary, or having the notary witness a signature, but in FINDING the notary and their stamp.

              1. Festively Dressed Earl*

                The extra effort shows you really care. And finding witnesses means you care enough to assemble the Avengers for a snack break.

  3. juliebulie*

    I am feeling really, really grateful right now that I don’t have do deal with any of that nonsense to work from home when I need to.

    1. SD95*

      Me too. I keep to a pretty regular schedule but we’re flexible if needed. Right now the a/c has been out in my building this week so we’re all working from home. I’m in Arizona so there is no way we could safely work in the office otherwise.

    2. Dittany*

      Yeah, me too. Even before the pandemic, the policy at my job was always “Work from home whenever you like, just let someone know that you won’t be physically in the office.”

    3. Katie*

      Right? My sister and I work for the same company. What. my sister does requires a license and the laws just changed that her team has to work in office. So alas she has to work in office while I don’t (even though I work with highly sensitive payroll data all day!). Her data is far less sensitive too…

  4. Elevator Elevator*

    Pretty sure this is my industry – I worked in compliance pre-pandemic and dealt with office registrations (and questions like “if I hold meetings in a rented conference room space once a quarter do we need to register that? And what if it’s across state lines?”), but since I switched areas when I did, I never had to think about how the WFH boom would complicate the decisionmaking on when registration of a private residence is or isn’t required. Yikes!

    I’m glad compliance was able to shed light on the reasoning, and that the company amended the policy to bring back at least a little flexibility.

    1. LW*

      Oh yeah, that sounds about right – and yes, the WFH boom has played merry hell with our registration processes. Just making sure none of our employees were working outside of their licensed area during the early lockdown/full WFH era was a headache and a half.

    1. LW*

      Technically, no! I have no accommodation in place, but with the rule change that gives us a couple missed adherence incidents before the flags go up, I should be all right. I only have a few expected 3-day weeks, and they’re pretty well scattered throughout the year. Fortunately, I actually prefer working in the office and don’t tend to use WFH days aside from my weekly appointment.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        I was going to say, I feel like an easy fix for this would be to allow you to “make up” that day on one of the nearby 5 days weeks (say, you’re off Thurs-Fri; you work from home Wednesday that week and are in M/T … then the following week you JUST work from home Wednesday). I realize this wouldn’t be ideal for everyone but it sounds like in your case you’d be fine with that fix.

        1. Ella*

          Yeah, and it also seems like for people who need more flexibility, the business needs to take an additional step of registering their addresses, which will be a pain for somebody but is absolutely “reasonable” as far as things accommodations require of businesses go.

          1. LW*

            Yep, and for employees who need it, their addresses do get registered. I get the logic of the firm wanting to identify upfront who will need their home office registered rather than having employees “whoops” into it by taking too many WFH days, but this could have been so much better handled.

            1. Festively Dressed Earl*

              To be fair, it’s hard to see how HR could have handled it worse. Although they might take that statement as a dare.

      2. Feena the Cat*

        As an accommodation, could you have your home address added to the registration list, like the full-time WFH people? That way you are in compliance regardless of days in office vs WFH, and can still attend your medical appointments even on 3 day work weeks.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          It sounds to me like they wanted to limit this to the people who were never/rarely coming into the office … and then be able to give away their office space.

  5. a clockwork lemon*

    I’m part of the implementation team for a similar (if not actually the same) rule in a very highly regulated industry. It has been a NIGHTMARE between tight deadlines, minimal guidance from the regulators, and the fact that (literally) six hundred people are furious with us but our hands are totally tied, even when it comes to medical stuff, because certain business activities cannot be done from home under any circumstances.

    It sucks and is (in my opinion) a stupid way to structure a rule like this in 2024 but it’s not an arbitrary internal policy, it’s the law.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Just wondering, have people been told its regulations from the government that is the reason?

      It looks like OP was never told, this is coming from outside and we are doing the best we can. Sometimes a little openeness goes a long way.

      Although nothing will excuse the so-called advocate being a jerk.

      1. LW*

        It was eventually announced to everyone on a supervisory level at my firm… not coincidentally, shortly after the annual employee engagement survey wrapped up. I can just imagine what those responses looked like! Not sure how much of the message went to the rank and file, since I don’t actually have direct reports (I am just the guy who looks over everyone’s shoulder to go “hmmm not being hinky, are you?”) but I hope they got a similar level of communication.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          Where we landed on situations like yours was pretty similar to where it sounds like your firm ended up. Our regulation has a de minimis threshold for how many days you can work from a non-registered location in the course of a calendar year, so we did the math and took the position that nobody was going to get flagged for a policy breach unless they were doing prohibited activity OR went over the safe harbor threshold for days worked from a secondary location.

      2. a clockwork lemon*

        OP says in the update that the reason the policy was originally so rigid was due to the regulatory change. If it’s the same regulation and industry as the one I’m working on, there’s been a slow trickle of updated guidance on exceptions.

        Our HR department has also been horrible about this whole initiative so I’m not surprised that the HR guy was both clueless and a jerk. It got bad enough that Compliance has basically taken over dealing with employees to work through exceptions and accommodations because HR just…can’t wrap their heads around the fact that there’s a cohort of employees in our firm who have stricter rules than everyone else!

      3. Person from the Resume*

        It does sound like the company was trying to enforce the regulation badly, though.

        Maybe it was greater than 50% in office for that to be the official site. Is the regulation checking within each week or is it within a month, a year? That matters with how you need to enforce it.

      4. Delta Delta*

        When I read this update it seemed like if the company started the policy announcement by saying because of regulation x or rule y the company needs to (insert whatever compliance rule here). It would probably have gone over so much better than it did. There might still be hiccups, but at least the reason would be clear(er).

  6. And thanks for the coffee*

    Clownshoes nonsense. Great phrase. So sorry you have to go through this nonsense at work.

  7. cindylouwho*

    I feel like sometimes half the beauty and soothing peace of writing in to AAM is just being told “No, you’re not crazy, the people around you are unreasonable.”

    1. LW*

      Absolutely. When everyone else is telling you crazy things like they’re absolutely normal, having someone as eloquent and authoritative as Alison say “No, you’re right, this is bonkers” is such a relief.

  8. Clymene*

    This is a great example of why it’s so important for higher-ups to explain WHY they are making decisions when they might be difficult or unpopular. Had they explained from the start that this was happening because of these regulatory rules and that the company was doing its best to give employees work from home options while still maintaining the necessary in-office hours, employees may have been grateful the company was trying so hard to give them WFH options instead of being annoyed by the complicated and strict policy.
    Also, though, this sounds deeply annoying and I’m glad I don’t deal with this!

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Yes, and it would have also given them the information they needed to develop potential solutions to the problem (e.g. taking fewer WFH days in some other week in order to stay below the thresholds, as discussed in an earlier thread).

  9. B*

    This seems like a case where a tiny bit of explanatory effort on the front-end by the company would have saved everyone a lot of stress. Just a couple of sentences saying, “We know this may be inconvenient for some employees, but it is required because key regulations about work locations are being tightened after a period of lenience during the pandemic.”

    It wouldn’t solve the problem, but everyone would likely be a lot more understanding if they were told it’s not just the employer being arbitrarily rigid.

    1. MaxPower*

      Maybe, but in my experience you still get a ton of employees who tell you why in their opinion you’re interpreting the regulations incorrectly, and that your compliance department is wrong, and even that the representative from the regulatory body that your compliance department has been working with is wrong.

      Yes, they should have given that explanation because some people would have understood, but it would not have eliminated the complaints and the push-back from employees. It just would have added another angle to the ways that they were complaining.

      1. B*

        Perhaps some will do that, but way fewer, certainly.

        Plus, to some extent, it’s not even just about the substantive reasons for the decision. It’s demonstrating that the decision was made for genuine reasons after serious consideration, not just capriciously because someone wants butts in seats.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          Exactly. Transparency usually heads most complaints off at the pass, yet too many employers shy away from it, usually out of a misplaced sense that transparency somehow detracts from their power and authority.

      2. Industry Behemoth*

        Agree that some people would still complain and push back, no matter what.

        It’d be interesting to see what they’d try to argue next, given the regulatory requirement.

  10. CR Heads*

    This seems much less odd now that we know it’s because of gov’t regulations, but why wouldn’t they just tell OP and colleagues that from the get-go?

  11. Observer*

    During the meeting, he took it upon himself to explain in small words to one of our corporate lawyers the concept of an “allegation” of improper activity vs proof of said activity (in relation to a scenario in which the employee under investigation had already fessed up and tendered his resignation).

    Were any of you able to keep a straight face? This guy a caricature. I feel bad for anyone who has to really work with him and can’t slap him down.

    So I am quite well satisfied that his attitude was not specifically against me as an accommodation-seeker, but is genuinely his default approach to the world.

    It’s nice to get confirmation. Because when someone is THIS bananpants, it’s easy to question yourself. Like “Was he REALLY that obnoxious?! I mean people don’t really DO that, do they?” Then he goes and does one of those things that normal people don’t do, in front of witnesses, so you have perfect confirmation that he’s just a major class jerk.

    One wonders what his meetings with his boss are like.

    Yeah, I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that.

    1. Project Maniac-ger*

      I’m not entirely sure what an “HR Advocate” is, but I’m confident this guy isn’t a good fit for it.

  12. Irish Girl From Boston*

    Sounds like a certian industry that has been in the news a lot blaming regulators for them now going back to 5 days in office rather than go through the process of registering offices.

  13. Ink*

    Why on EARTH did the policy announcement not include “due to regulations”? That seems like it might’ve called the storm a bit if it was common knowledge from the beginning.

    1. Observer*

      Ii agree. I always try to let people know when some kooky thing or just annoying thing comes down the pike.

      I work in the NFP space, and if you have government funders, oh brother! Some of the rules plain make no sense. And sometimes the rules mean that you CANNOT do proper management and still keep within both the law and the regs.

      Which is why I tell my family and friends “If you see a NFP organization doing something ridiculous, please do some checking. Because they might just be ridiculous. But also, there might be some method to the madness aka stupid regulations.”

  14. Katrine Fonsmark*

    I am completely remote so this doesn’t apply to me, but the policy for local employees of my company is one day per week in office. However, if it’s a week where you are off for any part of the week, the in-office requirement is waived for that week. So any holiday, PTO, or even some random weeks when there’s a big event happening in the city where commuting will be difficult. I think it’s a very sensible arrangement.

  15. no one you know*

    Damn, if I was in that job I would be looking for another one right away. We are still in a pandemic and still just as likely to get sick from in office work as before, if not MORE so because of lack of protections. No thanks.

  16. Just me*

    Damn, if I was in that job I would be looking for another one right away. We are still in a pandemic and still just as likely to get sick from in office work as before, if not MORE so because of lack of protections. No thanks.

  17. Happy*

    Hi, LW!

    Just wanted to say that I appreciate all of your comments on this and the original post, and you seem to have a great temperament. It must have been frustrating reading all of the inaccurate assumptions and you responded with great aplomb.

    Glad it seems to be working out more or less okay for you.

  18. Lexi Vipond*

    I seem to remember that the original comments derailed on a discussion of whether ‘every other day’ mean ‘every second day’ or ‘every day not already mentioned’, and that I did part of the derailing, so I apologise!

  19. Lizzo*

    LW, super curious to know your opinion on this: if the company had communicated the rationale for the new policy before announcing the actual policy, do you think it would’ve gone over much more smoothly? Or at least diminished the outcry to a more manageable level?

  20. Bananapantsfeelings*

    I love that you provided a recap! That feels like a great AAM best practice. I’m taking notes.

    I also think you didn’t use the magic words “ADA accommodation”. Is it really “disability”, doesn’t actually matter in implementation, it’s medical, and HR tends to sit up and notice given the potential huge fines/lawsuit/ reputation impact. And let’s be real, most HR folks don’t actually know enough about the ADA.

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