“It’s not fair!” Handling staff complaints on who gets to work remotely.

Dear HR,

We are beginning to integrate employees returning to the workplace as COVID-19 restrictions are eased. We have made an exception for one employee with a disability, who will continue to work remotely. A few of our employees have voiced their displeasure with this arrangement. They think it is unfair for them to return to onsite work while one of their other co-workers continues with remote work. Without disclosing personal health information, how can I proactively handle this situation for the remaining onsite staff?  

HR Answer:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sets clear guidelines on accommodating employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By explaining the accommodations and various leave policies available to all employees with serious health conditions or employees caring for someone with a serious health condition—employers can create an atmosphere of understanding, which can help reduce employee complaints.  Although this accommodation of telework may seem unfair to other employees, it is essential to let your staff know that during this pandemic, some employees may also qualify for emergency paid sick leave under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). It is important to remind your entire staff that because of federal privacy rules, management is not at liberty to provide details concerning other employees’ situations.  

To address the complaint directly, start by asking the employee who is concerned about the perceived unfairness why they want to work from home. If the employee reveals that they have a condition that places them at a higher risk for COVID-19, you should amend the situation through the same interactive process that led you to provide remote work to the other employee. However, if the employee does not disclose a medical need to work remotely, they are not entitled to remote work as an accommodation under the ADA.  

If an employee continues to press for details about why certain other co-workers can work remotely or why these co-workers are receiving any special workplace accommodations, it is recommended that you follow the EEOC enforcement guidance on ADA disclosures. Below is a statement offered by the EEOC:  

“[Name of company] has enacted this arrangement for legitimate business reasons to comply with state and federal laws to protect the health and safety of all our employees—which also includes federal regulations pertaining to an employee‘s right to privacy in regard to disclosing any information on an employee‘s health condition.       

Need more help on this topic? 

Cardinal Services has specific information on COVID-19 workplace issues, including guidelines for staff returning to the workplace. Please visit our dedicated webpage for more information. If you have additional questions or need further guidance, call us at (800) 342-4742 or email us at hr@cardinal-services.com.