I currently travel through London in order to work at my boss’s home office. If you’ve ever commuted on London trains in rush hour, you will know that they can become very crowded- not necessarily the best thing when there is a virus that is carried by droplets in air. I currently spend around an hour commuting each way to and from my workplace office in which close contact with strangers is unavoidable, and this make me very uncomfortable.

In addition to this commute, I work in an office where I am concerned I will either catch COVID or give it to my boss. I prefer to wear a mask in the office due to frequent close contact with my boss, poor ventilation and my “cuddly commute”.

Even though I may be going remote in the next 1-2 weeks, I feel strongly against further time in the office. Is it reasonable to highlight how I feel considering how long is left and the fact that I’ve only been in the job for the last two weeks?

ADDITIONAL CLARITY POINTS (added after original post):

  • All other staff are working remotely
  • I am the junior developer- there is only one other person in the department, who gets on mostly in isolation
  • I don’t have much room to change my work hours (by half an hour at the most, which isn’t enough to see a difference in the number of people on public transport.)
  • It’s only myself and my boss in his cellar office, where I am a “code monkey” (which isn’t helping my sanity or how stereotypical my role is)
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 20, 2021 at 9:20
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    Question: how at risk are you? a younger person has less risk... people with, say, cancer drugs or immune suppression treatments for transplants have a lot more risk. Irrational fear aside, the full picture matters on a virus with a large chance of being minimal. Otherwise, you can have a much stronger argument of why you're more at risk than average and shouldn't be traveling.
    – WernerCD
    May 20, 2021 at 19:22
  • Clarification please - can you commute by something other than the train? Would that help in the transport component?
    – Criggie
    May 21, 2021 at 22:49
  • For those interested in how the story ended, I negotiated/chatted to my boss and I will be fully remote (with a day or two exception) from tomorrow :)
    – user105492
    May 25, 2021 at 14:34

5 Answers 5


Yes, it's entirely reasonable to ask, if you've not done so already.

It's up to your boss to give you a compelling reason for you to travel that far and work in their home.

As a compromise, you could ask to work from your own home for a couple of days a week and see how that impacts your work performance. If there's no issues, then you can use this a leverage to expand your time at home.

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    Alternatively, ask for a slightly flexible schedule, if the job allows. London transport is very cuddly on peak times, but take the tube at 10:00 (sometimes even at 9:00) and there is plenty of space for social distancing. May 19, 2021 at 16:33
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    @user541686 reminder that vaccination is not immunisation. You can still catch it and more importantly you can still pass it on. No-one should consider requesting to work from home as "quite unreasonable".
    – fdomn-m
    May 20, 2021 at 8:56
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    @freedomn-m: reminder that it doesn't need to be immunization. You can still catch a cold and you can pass that on too, and it's fine. And reminder that the vaccines reduce transmission too. BTW, even disregarding vaccines, you only have a reasonable excuse as far as it concerns you (or your loved ones) getting sick. But for transmitting it to other members of the public, it's above your paygrade. It's literally the job of relevant health experts & authorities to assess the risk to others and instruct you on that. You don't get to create new societal rules & use them as work excuses.
    – user541686
    May 20, 2021 at 9:38
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    @user541686 sorry to be blunt but your living in the past, in the modern world, with the internet speed and population we have working from home is significantly advantageous to both involved parties. It means you dont have to commute every day to work, and your company doesn't have to provide you a desk and office space. It doesn't necessarily have to be the entire week as well, many people come in 1-2 days a week, and different departments can set certain days which they meet for meetings etc. and the rest of the time is virtual.
    – B-K
    May 20, 2021 at 11:30
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    @towe I disagree that wfh should become the new standard. I believe strongly tho that remote working (which is different to wfh) should become a first-class option (which is different to "the new standard"). Different people have different preferences and should be able to make up their own mind on the day subject to their team constraints; flexibility is key, not mandates one way or the other. May 20, 2021 at 12:40

Snows answer is good. I just want to outline a potential risk.

You have only been there 2 weeks, so a lot may hinge on your performance in that time which isn't very long. You were aware of the commute before you started, COVID-19 didn't just spring up by surprise.

So, if your employer has any little issues with your performance so far, it's not going to impress him trying to change the terms of employment which are already going to change in a week or two. There must be a reason he needed the extra time (he's running the risk of contracting COVID-19 from you). You may be better served in the long term just working the extra week as normal. Drama from a two week employee isn't always taken well.

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    Really important points here
    – Fattie
    May 19, 2021 at 13:20
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    I dare to disagree - if you show you will give up personal safety (and that of your close ones too!) for your bosses feeling of 'all asses in chairs' false productivity, it will only get worse. This is a time to set boundaries for the rest of the time at the company. May 19, 2021 at 19:52
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    @TomášKafka unsure what you mean, the OP is already set to go remote in a week, so obviously the boss is fine with remote, probably needs a week to set up infrastructure or something. Did you read the question?
    – Kilisi
    May 19, 2021 at 21:15
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    Is this really a personal safety issue? OP didn't mention that they were high-risk or anything and officially, it's safe to commute on trains. How come OP gets to decide it's not safe for them?
    – Calvin Li
    May 20, 2021 at 0:24
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    I'm not sure about London, but elsewhere in the UK public transport has got considerably busier in the last few weeks, and certainly since any in-person interview or trial run before starting. I.e. "you were aware of the commute before you started" probably isn't true. In my case, a few weeks ago I would often have a whole train carriage to myself. Now maintaining 2 metres from other passengers for the bulk of the journey is only just possible, and with more passengers come more mask-refusers
    – Chris H
    May 20, 2021 at 6:30

It sounds like these first weeks in the boss's office are to bring you up to speed on the job and show the boss you can do it. In that case I would phrase the request to "start remote working as early as possible" rather than as a new request.
Ask the boss what you need to achieve / master so they are confident you can work productively while remote and make the effort to show them you are competent enough to do so.

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    I think you nailed it. Confused why you're not voted higher.
    – user541686
    May 20, 2021 at 11:27
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    @user541686 time to answer is often weighted far greater(simply by human tendencies) than it should be in determining the top answer.
    – TCooper
    May 20, 2021 at 16:55

You shouldn't be in the office, and don't need to be "reasonable".

That includes not needing to "compromise" by working x days in the office instead of all week, or any other ideas that involve travel or office presence.

While individual context and power relationships vary - so you should obviously phrase your part in the discussion diplomatically - it is not actually on you to request to work remotely; it is down to management to justify your presence - which (without any further context) is against UK Covid Guidelines:

You should continue to work from home where you can. [...] Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

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    Indeed, this is the correct answer. In the UK, your employer has an obligation to perform a health and safety assessment and control the risk: hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/risk-assessment.htm. It sounds like they aren't doing that. May 21, 2021 at 13:27
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    The context of an employer asking an employee to work in person for the first 3-4 weeks to get up to speed and trained on specific details of the organization is a justification. Some think it's a good enough justification to be in line with the guidelines, some disagree. I don't think it's as clear-cut as you make it out to be, and I'd recommend against telling others they don't need to be reasonable in requesting a change in the agreement.
    – Aubreal
    May 21, 2021 at 15:53
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    @AlexandreAubrey I placed "reasonable" in quotes because that is not what is being described here, and agree (and was careful to put) context matters and that they should be diplomatic. But the default is that without a clear justification the OP shouldn't be in the office. Management has not supplied any such justification that has been conveyed here. Being new doesn't count as justification - it does count as contributing to the power relationship I also mentioned. May 21, 2021 at 17:01

Where is the new information to change the arrangement you had made? All of the additional info you give was already known before you started. Apparently it wasn't important enough to you to raise your concerns before employment started.

Of course, you can make the request, but don't be surprised if it is turned down.

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    The new information may just be that until the OP actually tried it they didn't know they would feel so unsafe. May 19, 2021 at 19:23
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    @MartinSmith I was not aware how busy the trains would be as I had not been on public transport for the past 18 months
    – user105492
    May 19, 2021 at 21:14
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    It's also possible or even likely that Boss hasn't left the house much either and doesn't know how much has changed out there in recent weeks.
    – stevegt
    May 21, 2021 at 2:04
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    This is from last week: bbc.com/news/health-57119579 If you had the same information more than two weeks ago, good for you: it was not widely common. On top of that: raising these concerns one month ago in the UK, then you would have not been surprised having it turned down, there was a general euphoric mood, encountering a nay-sayer I am sure you would patronize him saying "Apparently you raise imaginary concerns before employment starts".
    – EarlGrey
    May 21, 2021 at 13:49

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