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I am a junior software developer in a governmental organization that has the ability to give its employees remote access to their workstation so they can work from home, but uses it sparingly and generally reserves it for more senior developers due to concerns over data security. Recently, the COVID-19 epidemic has been officially declared a pandemic, and areas near my city have confirmed multiple cases that are spreading quickly. My workplace seems to be dragging its feet on the issue and making us come to work as usual while many other private organizations have already sent their people home. In essence, they are waiting for the first confirmed case to pop up inside the specific building that we work in before they close things down.

I have relatives at home who are very much at risk from this pandemic due to their age. I cannot in good conscience allow COVID-19 to enter my home and risk my family members' health. As such, I've already made my decision and I have talked to my manager about providing remote access to me and allowing me to work from home, but I was turned down because the office hasn't yet decided to close up and that this decision out of their hands.

I am currently planning to stop coming to the office in order to protect myself and my family. I have consulted with an attorney and I've determined that that puts my employment and my relationship with my manager at risk, because I am in an at-will employment state in the US and technically a pandemic doesn't really protect me from being fired. I don't want that to happen, but I am prepared to accept that outcome. However, is there an alternative solution to this problem that I am not considering?

This is in the US, by the way.

UPDATE: We are now allowed to work from home. I was told that the decision for that would likely be made sometime in the middle of next week, so I started taking my PTO, and then that same day that I took off, we got the temporary policy change from the upper government people the next day. I'm not important enough to have affected that process though since I'm a junior so I guess it was just a happy coincidence. But escalating the request and taking PTO until the decision is made seems to have been the best and most diplomatic option. Thank you!

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    Take time off instead of just being a no show? – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 11 at 23:37
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    Have you tried asking to take unpaid leave? – Patricia Shanahan Mar 11 at 23:38
  • I think asking for leave would be the most obvious option, and one I am considering heavily, but I don't know how much time off I can realistically take without just becoming a no-show in the end and coming under the same risks. I feel it would be a gamble on how long it would take for my city/state to go into lockdown mode. – beepbeep Mar 11 at 23:44
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    Better than being outright no show I would say. – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 11 at 23:49
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    Instead of stopping coming to the office, have you considered stopping coming home for a couple of weeks? Maybe you could get a room somewhere. Or if your home has two bathrooms, maybe you could quarantine yourself in one area of the house? – Stephan Branczyk Mar 12 at 8:58
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However, is there an alternative solution to this problem that I am not considering?

Government employees are usually hard to fire. As a matter of policy, it is usually difficult to fire government employees as the process is lengthy and complicated. As a result; your chances of getting summarily fired for making requests is extremely low.

Managers in government are also disempowered in enormous ways. In your case, the manager probably wants to help you but just isn’t allowed to do so.

So what you want to do is escalate your request. Ask his manager. If he can’t approve it, ask their manager. Go all the way up to the general manager if you must. They have the power to authorize these things.

I work for a government agency. My manager couldn’t approve this kind of thing. His manager can and would approve it, but if he didn’t, I could easily go and get it approved at a higher level.

You have not yet exhausted all possibility of getting your preferred option of working from home.

EDIT: I am interestingly now in this situation myself with a stubborn government. Shall see how this works here.

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    I have found government employees who are AWAL from their position are actually pretty easy to fire. I would caution the author from simply not showing up for work. – Donald Mar 12 at 5:22
  • @Donald plain AWAL, yes. Going over the chain of command? Aggressively seeking a different decision from a higher level? No. My argument is basically that he has not fought this hard enough. – Matthew Gaiser Mar 12 at 5:25
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    Well the author specifically indicates they plan on simply not showing up for work. If they are not showing up, and they are not working remotely, they will most likely be considered AWAL. – Donald Mar 12 at 5:26
  • @Donald I am assuming the 2nd last sentence is the real question here. – Matthew Gaiser Mar 12 at 5:29
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    @dwizum made that change. – Matthew Gaiser Mar 12 at 13:40
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Yes if you have the ability to work from home, it might be possible. Talk to your boss.

There are two interesting things to consider:

  1. US Congress (House and Senate) are drafting bills right now to mandate 7 days sick leave, and/or 2 weeks sick leave for employers to give to their employees. This is no matter what they currently have in place.
  2. A lot of government sites are looking to force telework for everyone.
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Difficult.

Let’s say Coronavirus gets bad. And to help things your boss suggests: Everyone comes in every second day but works 12 hours. So people sit further apart (good), travel on public transport when it’s empty (good) and travel only half as often (good). If everyone focuses on their work for a change, you get almost as much work done as normal.

And you decided not to play but just stay at home.

If I was your boss, you’d be fired.

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    "Everyone comes in every second day but works 12 hours" - Isn't the maximum allowed workday 10 hours in the US? – Morfildur Mar 12 at 9:37
  • @Morfildur well... I see dozents of posts, where people saying they working 70+ hours per week. So, if it is even illigal, people still working that much. – Andrei Suvorkov Mar 12 at 11:26
  • OP is in the government. Managers generally are not all-powerful overlords there. – Matthew Gaiser Mar 12 at 14:54
  • 60 hours in two weeks. Many people would take that (temporarily, same salary, to handle a medical emergency). – gnasher729 Mar 12 at 15:42
  • @Morfildur - It depends on factors. However, there are people who work only 4 days a week, which requires 10 hours a day for a standard 40-hour workweek. Likewise, there was a time, where I was only legally allowed to work 32 hours a week. – Donald Mar 13 at 20:27

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