The question here is not whether the policy is fine or not.
I'd have to argue that at least part of the question is whether the policy is fine or not.
The job of a manager and team lead is not just to push company policy on employees, but to act as a conduit between upper management and line workers.
When it comes down to management and leadership, this is what is at the core of it. It is not about who is the leader and who is the follower. It is about working together, following one bigger mission and empowering each other. The basis for it is trust and clarity on responsibilities. Ego and power games should be left aside as they are toxic for the success of a project and only hinder people to grow and develop.
The rules for companies started changing even before Covid-19 completely upset the world, as the 2018 Forbes article above shows. Unions have been a major change in how businesses work, and not by simply complying with company policy all the time.
Workers and employers need each other to create economic value, but often disagree about how that value should be apportioned. Because owners of capital are typically much wealthier and often more powerful than individual suppliers of labor, such disagreements have historically tended to resolve in favor of capital.
Unions rose as an effort to correct this imbalance in leverage, and they played a key economic role for much of the 20th century. More recently the power of unions has declined, though the tight labor market in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic aided high-profile unionization drives in services.
Employees aren't slaves. They can't be expected to follow every rule without fail, nor can companies simply make any kind of rule they want. Even though covid deaths are on the downward trend, new cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. It's not hard to predict that the death rate will follow a similar path in a week or so. This means covid isn't over and WFH still needs to continue to used as one of many tools to prevent the spread of this disease.
We all want this to end. Period. Full stop. How that happens is where the differences in opinions come into play.
The medical community says that we need to take precautions seriously, which unfortunately hasn't been happening as much as necessary. This is evident when every time the cases of covid go down, we relax the precautions only to see the cases to go back up. We can't make medical decisions by ego, political desire, market share, budget demands, or profit/loss margins, we need to follow the science, which continues to say we need to wear masks in public, social distance, wash hands, avoid surface transmission, and more. Unfortunately, most of these things are (nearly) impossible in an office environment.
Most offices aren't ventilated enough for normal operations, which means they definitely don't provide enough air flow to prevent covid from spreading, yet even when mask mandates were in place, office spaces were allowed to let their employees not wear a mask at their desk. This was a political move to appease business owners wanting their people back in the office, not a decision supported by science.
Note: People need to quit editing out this next part. It's a valid observation, even if it does invoke "politics". The policy was made because of politics, rather than medical advice, so it's absolutely valid to talk about that. When people bring politics into the workplace, it needs to be talked about at the workplace.
Even Conservatives that didn't want mask mandates thought that wearing a mask to your desk, then taking it off was stupid. They made all kinds of jokes about it. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that they were the ones forcing that decision to be made. They didn't want to wear masks at work, but still wanted to work at the office, so politicians made a "compromise" to make people wear a mask to their cubicle, then take the mask off. Same thing goes for eating in a restaurant. These Conservatives wanted to make jokes about how ineffective masks were, yet they really were making jokes about how they forced politicians into making a stupid decision.
When you open an office door, do you sanitize the handle before or your hand afterwards? Do you sanitize the water cooler handle? Or the faucet or toilet seat? Do you sanitize your desk, keyboard, or mouse after someone else touches them? I seriously doubt it. I seriously doubt most people do. This is why staying out of the office is so critical. It reduces the stress of having to sanitize everything, but not having to be in a situation where you have to sanitize everything all the time.
And stress is a major factor in productivity.
There's all kinds of reasons for people to be at high risk, so even if it's not apparent that Alice, herself, is part of this group, her family might be. Also, asking about medical conditions may not be legal.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from asking questions that could force employees to disclose disabilities.
The law only allows employers to ask about serious health conditions under a few circumstances. Those are:
- If you’ve already disclosed that you have a medical condition and you are seeking a job accommodation under the ADA, or you are requesting medical leave.
Then, employers are allowed to ask for documentation to verify the existence or severity of your health issue.
- If an employer suspects that you’re suffering from a condition that might cause you to be unable to perform your job, or might cause you to be unsafe on the job.
You'd have to ask a lawyer if point 2 would cover inquiring about an employee if they are at high risk for covid infection. There's a lot of guidance from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, so much that you'd have to be a lawyer to come close to understanding it all.
Other employees having a problem with this person's attendance isn't a good reason for, well, anything. Yes, they can have concerns that the company policy isn't being followed 100%, but that's for management and team leads to handle, in both directions. You can simply tell those "concerned coworkers" that it's being dealt with and leave it at that. If they interfere any more than that, that's a different problem and one that lies solely with the coworker making a fuss, not Alice.
The team deciding to work in the office probably wasn't how Alice wanted that vote to go, and now she is letting you know that. It's not the best way to do it, but it's probably the only way left to her, since it's being made fairly obvious that her job is at risk if she doesn't follow the agreement. This is pretty standard. Unless you can make a deal between Alice and the company, you risk losing Alice to another company that will let her WFH, with you losing out on her product knowledge, industry savvy, or whatever you want to call it. Training someone new is going to cost the company time, productivity, and money. Is it really worth it hire a new person rather than keep Alice happy with WFH?
And yes, if Alice gets to continue to WFH against company policy and against the team decision, there are other's that are going to want to do the same. However, if Alice leaves the company because of inflexible rules, you'll likely see others leaving, too. Which scenario is less damaging?