County Denies Immunocompromised Employee’s Request to Work from Home During COVID-19
As the number of COVID-19 cases grow in the area, King County, WA, has urged all employers to allow their employees to work from home as much as possible to prevent the spread of disease. This goes especially for immunocompromised people for whom contracting the novel coronavirus could be catastrophic.
However, the very same county has since turned around and denied that same work-from-home opportunity to one of their very own. 55-year-old Charlotte Taylor has asthma and an autoimmune disease which requires chemotherapy treatment and compromises her body’s ability to fight off illnesses. Her job is to schedule court interpreters for people who don’t speak English, and she believes there’s no reason why she should not be able to work from home, as 99 percent of her job is conducted online or over the phone.
“It infuriates me because my life is at risk,” said Taylor. “There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that I couldn’t (work remotely).”
King County, however, apparently disagrees. They’ve allegedly told Taylor she needs to be in the office to schedule appointments for people who show up in person to schedule one.
Taylor has worked for the same employer for 17 years and even obtained a doctor’s note to help convince them to accept her request to work from home.
“Charlotte Taylor has known medical conditions that put her at increased risk for COVID-19,” wrote Dr. Lynne Bateson of Kaiser Permanente wrote in the doctor’s note. “Patients at increased risk are advised to telecommute/work from home in order to protect them from potential exposure….please allow her to do so.”
When Taylor presented the note to her employer, however, she received an email from Kathryn Schipper, senior human resources consultant for King County Superior Court, denying the request. It read, in part, “Due to the nature of your work, telecommuting cannot be considered a reasonable accommodation at this time.”
The duties Schipper cited that would preclude Taylor from working from home included assisting in-person customers, maintaining, cleaning, and troubleshooting assisted-listening device equipment for people with hearing loss, printing and organizing invoices, and making real-time scheduling adjustments. She said staff shortages would mean these duties could not be covered by other staff members in Taylor’s absence.
Taylor is outraged at the county’s denial of her request. After all, as she says, this isn’t some sort of game; it is her very life that is at stake. She considers the above duties minor ones that don’t compare to the risk she would have to take to go to work.
At this time, Taylor’s paid leave time has completely run out, forcing her to choose between returning to the office or taking unpaid sick days, which she cannot afford, as she is the only person in her household who is able to work.
Employers, please realize that you hold your employees’ health and even their lives in your hands when you force them to come into work when they could work from home! This type of situation should not be happening, especially for someone with compromised immunity.
During this difficult time with the COVID-19 virus in full swing, please continue to follow official recommendations without panicking. Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water, stay away from others as much as possible, avoid travel, and quarantine yourself if you are ill.