Not working from home

Working from home: What if your employer says no?

Elizabeth Schlager

Some jobs in nature are not possible to do remotely, but many others very much are, and many workers want to jump on the home office train. This begs the question, if it is possible to work from home and can my employer say no? With the current coronavirus outbreak and measures that have been taken, this question is on the rise. Does your employer have the right to refuse you working from home if your state is in lockdown or has stay-at-home policy? Especially those in the blue-collar low wage sector, or key essential industries ?

Many people may find themselves in a struggle: Even it is advised to reduce gathering to 10 people or less: Should I still go to work? We are here to give you all the answers you need.

Is it mandatory to work from home?

Right now, there is no federal law that requires your employer to offer the possibility of working from home. There is also no official instruction to telework, which leaves it to companies themselves to consider other official advice, the spread of the virus and their technical possibilities and needs to offer working from home.
If your state is under lockdown and only allows people in “essential” jobs to go outside, you should not have to visit your office, but wait for your employer to take official measures. If you are unsure if your job is considered “essential”, please consult your manager directly.

There is, of course, a large intersection of the incentives a company has to take part in remote working, and also the standing company culture. For example, Twitter was the first employer with a company wide working from home – policy since March 2. Since then, many other major companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google have followed.

Can I ask to work from home?

If your state is not under lockdown, there is no law that requires your employer to offer working from home. Yet, you are still allowed to ask. When asking your employer, try to emphasize that working from home is not self-indulgence, but a public safety measure. State that you do not want to be a vector for coronavirus and unwillingly infect and endanger your co-workers and their families. Try to emphasize that it is more about negotiating to minimize the risk for everyone, instead of focusing on wanting to be safe.

Find out more on coronavirus and work here:

 What if your employer says no?

Since there is no official order for all people to work from home, there is only so much you can do. You can, however, make your employer aware of your personal condition if you find yourself especially at risk. Should you be a high-risk individual, going to work can be dangerous and this is something that is paramount to communicate.

You are at high risk because you belong to:

  • People aged 65 years and older
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised including cancer treatment
  • People of any age with severe obesity or certain underlying medical conditions, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease might also be at risk

Some companies work around this quite well, offering virtual meetings, one-on-ones and feedback sessions from home. Since this is all luck of the draw, you have to take your fate into your hands if you feel like you are at risk, or putting other vulnerable people at risk. Discuss this in detail with your employer. This might work out, or you might be offered to take unpaid sick leave.

Are you paid the same when working from home?

If you are normally working on site and because of new measures transition to working from home, doing the same job, then there is no reason to assume you won’t be paid the same as before. If telework is being provided as a reasonable accommodation for a qualified individual with a disability, or if required by a union or employment contract, then you must pay the same hourly rate or salary. This is different than contractual working projects done from home right away, since those are set up a certain way from the get-go.



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