My Doctor Says I Should Work from Home. Can My Boss Say No?

After working from home since late March due to COVID, my employer informed all employees on August 18th that we were expected to return to the office on August 24th.

If we decided we needed to continue to work from home, we would do so with a 20% cut in hours as well as a 20% cut in salary.

Because I have Multiple Sclerosis, I told my boss I would need to talk to my doctor before making that decision (my boss knows I have MS).
I immediately got in contact with my physician and was advised to absolutely continue working remotely due to my compromised immune system.

When I told my boss, I explained that I did not want to cut my hours. I am productive at home and have been even more accessible to our clients and other managers while working from home in hopes of going above and beyond during this “new normal.” Unfortunately, my boss was not flexible and my request to work my normal hours and receive my normal pay was denied. I explained that I have a note from my doctor but that fell on deaf ears. I was told effective August 24th, my hours and pay would be cut.

My job is about 90% computer and phone calls with only about 10% being “in person” if a client comes in. But even then, I’m not in the front office/reception area so all I do is wave at clients as they walk by.

So my question is whether or not this is allowed since I am a salaried employee with a doctor’s note saying I should continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

Doctor’s notes aren’t magical and, contrary to popular opinion, companies don’t have to automatically do everything a doctor says. What it should do, however, is trigger an Americans with Disabilities Act interactive process.

You’re not asking to work at home because you think it would be more fun, you hate your commute, or it’s worked so far, so why not now? You have a legitimate disability and your doctor says it is not wise for you to go into the office right now.

Assuming there are 15 or more employees in your company, your business is subject to the ADA. So, here’s what you do: Call up HR and ask for ADA paperwork.

Now, your boss should know that ADA should be considered when an employee with a known chronic illness asks for an accommodation, but many managers don’t receive proper training or they deal with these things so infrequently that they don’t really understand what is at stake. Give your manager the benefit of the doubt.

Get the ADA paperwork and tell the HR manager that you would like to go through the interactive process to come up with a reasonable solution.

In the past. it would be pretty easy for your company to argue that being in the office was an essential function of the job, and, therefore, it would not be reasonable to have you work from home. But, since you’ve been working from home without problems (and even with increased productivity!) since March, they won’t be able to successfully argue that in court. (I hope! I’m not a lawyer!)

Be prepared to demonstrate that you’ve been productive from home and will continue to be so. Also, if your boss is generally not a jerk, ask what problem he expects to solve by having you in the office. He may say he wants everyone in the office. That is swell (and generally his right, as the boss), but you’re not everyone. You’re someone with a serious condition that affects your everyday life activities. He can allow you to work from home while requiring your coworkers to be in the office.

And, by the way, if you ask specifically to go through the “interactive process” unless your HR manager is completely incompetent, she’ll know that you know what you’re talking about. That gives you an advantage.

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5 thoughts on “My Doctor Says I Should Work from Home. Can My Boss Say No?

  1. Working in a “professional plantation” with whipcracking overseers — especially an “open office” plan(tation) — is a severe risk to my mental health. I just say “no”. Upfront. Every time.

  2. Like EvilHR lady says, just use the ADA paperwork, all the procedures and paerwork is right there. Now if the worker doesn’t like that limitation as listed under ADA, they have a choice to comply with request to work in person. I like the use of the ADA, because all the paperwork is specific and the requirements for qualifications are right there. There’s no hazy interpretations.

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