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A while back, the company announced a "Two days in the office" policy after working mostly remotely for the past two years.

So every week, we are expected to work three times from home and two from the office.

I'm a team leader and one of my employees (let's call her Alice) almost constantly fails to come to the office. Every time, with a different excuse. Each of the excuses is legit on its own, but at the bottom line, she is not showing up week after week.

Sample excuses:

  • Her car broke down
  • Her daughter is not feeling good
  • She is waiting for a technician to fix her oven

and so on.

She is doing her job and tasks, but:

  • She is not complying with the company policy
  • Other team members are not comfortable with this situation where one of the team members is dodging the "back to office" policy.

When I talked with her about it, I mentioned the above problems and mentioned again how important are the days in the office for the team building and the smoother collaborative work. During these talks she agrees, she understands the need and benefits of coming to the office and says she will come next week. And the next week she is not showing up cause XYZ.

Other than getting HR involved with this, are there other options/suggestions?

  • Policy is set by the company, not the team.
  • The question here is not whether the policy is fine or not.
  • The whole team tries to come to the office on the same days.
  • The days were agreed upon with the team.
  • She is doing a moderate, inconsistent job.
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    May 19 at 7:59
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    Where is this? Answers may differ based on the location this takes place.
    – SQB
    May 19 at 9:26
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    @JoeStrazzere It's a bit of an indictment on us. The question tries to be very clear on the scope, and to be honest most of the answers (excluding the top one) don't address the validity of the premise. May 19 at 14:30
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    Are other members "uncomfortable" because it negatively impacts their work, or are they just jealous and would want to stay at home too?
    – Mołot
    May 19 at 16:34
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    @JoeStrazzere this is an issue of the answers, not an issue of the question.
    – Neinstein
    May 20 at 4:48

14 Answers 14

219

As COVID-19 status was getting better, the company announced a "Two days in the office" policy.

Let's get something straight, COVID did not get better. Countries relaxed their mandatory measures, but at least where I live, COVID still kills a Jumbo Jet full of people per day. I know people who are afraid of flying because they remember TV coverage of a crash of a plane 15 years ago on another continent. If a jumbo jet crashed every day killing all on board in my country, no HR policy would get me to fly. And I would seriously question any back to office policy from HR if there is no benefit to me physically being in the office.

COVID now only kills the weak, chronically ill and elderly. And Alice might be none of the above. Or maybe she is, you probably don't know her medical history. But she might have family she lives with who fall under those categories. My team at work is 12 people strong and half of them got COVID since January, having successfully avoided it for two full years with the counter-measures. None of them reported it as feeling like just a flu. And they were all healthy and triple vaccinated. So if you are vulnerable and you still cannot afford to catch COVID, listening to people saying it's got better while in reality more people than before contract it is mind blowing.

If I were you, I would assume she has a good reason to not show. It might not be a valid reason according to your policy (you did not mention any exceptions), but I would assume it's a good enough reason to her. People who are just lazy skip days at work, they don't find excuses to work from home. And Alice probably knows that openly admitting she won't follow the policy will get her fired. So she doesn't. What else can she do?

So be prepared for her to leave. Either being fired or being fed up with a stupid policy she cannot (from her perspective) comply with.

Find out if it is your duty to report to HR and then do that. Don't get tied up in this. She has her issues and you have yours. You cannot fix hers, but that doesn't mean you have to cover for her, either. If it's your duty to report it, have a final meeting, tell her you have to report her if she doesn't show up for any other reason than an official sick day and then follow through with it.

You might lose a good employee to a company with a better WFH policy. That should be something you should report to HR, too. If Alice is a good worker, someone with a better policy will hire her.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    May 17 at 8:54
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    Decent answer but death is not the only negative outcome of infection. There are many people who have been debilitated for years (maybe permanently) by this disease. Unfortunately, these risks don't magically disappear because people are tired of worrying about them.
    – JimmyJames
    May 18 at 14:43
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    To be honest, I think this answer would be better without trying to guess to understand the rationale of Alice (which you kind of hint at anyway). Too many people here get triggered by COVID facts they dispute. May 19 at 3:04
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    @jwenting I'm not sure that's correct. There's vast ignorance of this issue. Many people remain unable to work. These long-term effects are associated with asymptomatic (or mild) cases as well.
    – JimmyJames
    May 19 at 14:21
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    There is absolutely no indication in the question that Alice has any concern about catching COVID-19 if she comes into the office. A good answer would recommend asking her about concerns that should be accommodated, setting clear expectations to comply with job requirements, and explaining the outcomes for non-compliance.
    – erickson
    May 19 at 15:31
156

I'm not going to question the decision to make them come into the office. I'm going to assume the company was entitled to make that decision, and that you simply have to deal with the fallout.

I don't think the solution needs to be elaborate at all.

Simply make them nominate at the start of each week what days they are coming into the office, if that option is available, though it sounds like certain days have already been decided.

Explain that if they have an unplanned absence from the office that they are NOT to work from home, and to take unplanned leave. You then follow whatever procedure you would have done pre-pandemic for employees that don't attend work (doctors note etc.)

You should also encourage any employees that have some sort of problem coming into work to discuss with HR who will be able (hopefully) to deal with this in a proper manner.


I don't think it's necessarily bad for a team leader to query policies that they disagree with. But until the policy is amended, they should adhere to the policies mandated.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 17 at 0:54
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    This is an appropriate take on it that focuses on following company policies and requiring employees to take responsibility for their actions. Whether the policy is great or not is a separate concern - and maybe in some [other] cases can influence the approach but this one is high visibility among team members as well. It seems to be favoritism to allow this Alice to proceed this way. May 17 at 2:49
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    @GACy20 I don't know if the OP should really give Alice special permission to violate company policy (it doesn't sound like they have the authority to grant exceptions). May 18 at 9:56
  • Being able to work from home rather than in the office is a good way to increase employee productivity and reduce sick leave calls. For example I was to go in today but have severe back problem, making it impossible for me to drive out to the office. I can however work from home where I have a special chair and stuff (which the office lacks btw). If I didn't have the option to work from home I'd have to call in sick despite being quite capable of doing my job (albeit maybe at slightly reduced productivity because of the painkillers).
    – jwenting
    May 19 at 11:05
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    @jwenting I agree. But that's not what the policy says. May 19 at 11:19
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Talk to HR, but not about the employee.

You need to speak to HR, your boss, or whomever set this policy and get clarification on the policy.

Ask them what should be done when an employee fails to show up to their "in person" days.

Ask them if there are any circumstances that would allow for an employee to be exempt from the policy or work under a different policy. If there are, find out the process to enact such an exemption.

Once you have this information ( preferably in writing ), you need to sit with Alice and present it to her. Make sure that she understands the policy and what the expectations are. If she feels like she falls under one of the exemption situations ( if they exist ), then you direct her to follow the established process for being exempt. Remind her of the consequences ( per the policy ) of failing to adhere to the policy.

After that, you simply follow the policy. If she fails to show up, for whatever reason, you follow through with the policy and leave it at that.

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    I’d recommend presenting this new definition of policy to the entire team instead of just Alice. Everyone will benefit from the increased clarity.
    – Rohmer
    May 17 at 2:23
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    Excellent approach. You sound like a [competent] manager yourself well familiar with proper procedures. The comment from @rohmer is a nice addition. May 17 at 2:50
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Other than getting HR involved with this, are there other options/suggestions?

This is what HR is for, if you don't go to them then it's you as well not complying with normal policy. As team lead you don't really have much else except keep eating excuses until it bites you.

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    seemingly, first they need to actually tell Alice the expectation and that she isn't meeting it.
    – Tiger Guy
    May 16 at 19:26
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    @TigerGuy OP states in question they already had a 1:1 with "Alice". So, I would assume she's well aware of what she's doing.
    – Fildor
    May 17 at 11:24
  • @Fildor I think he means HR needs to tell her.
    – Kilisi
    May 17 at 22:55
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    @Kilisi, no. The manager does this. In my management model, HR gets involved when you decide that Alice needs to go.
    – Tiger Guy
    May 18 at 14:08
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    @GregoryCurrie, In my business, HR has exactly zero feedback mechanism to people who report to me. They are a staff organization. Line organizations (or other staff organizations) are responsible to set expectations, monitor, and provide feedback to employees. If I am not doing that according to the wishes of HR, HR should talk to my boss. In this case, if the manager told Alice, "you need to be in office 3 days a week," then when it doesn't happen they enter the feedback and eventually consequences phase.
    – Tiger Guy
    May 18 at 20:34
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The situation seems clear to me. No matter what are the excuses, at the end of the day, she is directly violating company policy.

The policy should also involve consequences and actions in case an employee violates it. Read these, or if you are unable to find it, send HR a generic query about it. Ask specifically what should you do if an employee does not show up for in-office days.

Knowing the answer, have an 1-on-1 meeting with Alice. Tell her that you see a pattern, and ask if there's a specific reason behind the regular "no-show" days. Explain to her the consequences of violating the policy. Be clear about both your obligations and your room for movement in such cases.

As you said, your role as a team leader is not to impose a "counter-policy" for Alice, it is to make her comply with it. If she and/or you disagree with it, or feel like an exception is in order, you should contact those higher in the management chain who can issue such exceptions.

If there are no legitimate reasons for an exception, it's up to you, and to the strictness of the policy, how to deal with the situation. Does it allow you, as a team leader, to enable additional home office days on request? If no, it's a clear cut. If yes, you can use this power to help Alice accommodate, but you should also make it clear for the team that this option is available for everyone.

If after this all she still continues to not comply with policies, you should follow up with doing what you have to. This is probably a report to HR. After this, it's up to them to handle the situation.

Also, I personally don't find most of these excuses valid. A broken car can be solved with public transport, if necessary, and doesn't happen often. The appointment with a technician can, and should, be rearranged to a home office day - a broken oven is not an emergency. I'd let the sick daughter pass, though technically before covid days, she would've needed to take a day off.

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    Good answer. My comment would be to paragraph 3. "Tell her that you see a pattern, and ask if there's a specific reason behind the regular "no-show" days" while stressing you are not having the discussion to go over each and every individual excuse, but rather to discuss what has become clear as an overall failure to follow company guidance. (i.e. You don't want a rehash of the 25 reasons given so far, but rather the underlying reason for continual no-shows.)
    – CGCampbell
    May 17 at 14:21
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    "A broken car can be solved with public transport, if necessary, and doesn't happen often." You're assuming the car broke down in a safe spot, which is not a given. Nor is everyone as able to use public transportation (with a reasonable commute time), depending on where they live. "The appointment with a technician can, and should, be rearranged to a home office day" Not every appointment can be made purely on the customer's agenda. "though technically before covid days, she would've needed to take a day off." WFH predates COVID and WFH for a sick child was common then as well.
    – Flater
    May 19 at 15:16
  • To be clear, I don't think the answer is wrong, but the claimed invalidity of the individual excuses makes a whole lot of assumptions that are in no way guaranteed to be correct.
    – Flater
    May 19 at 15:18
  • @Flater I just mean that these all are situations that were occurring before covid, and we're handled properly. I think the child is OK, though sick days do exist for a reason. A broken car only happens a few times per year, and it's the responsibility of the worker to solve commuting anyhow, so while this may be a vis maior one day, it's definetly not for the next day. And I really don't think there's any excuse for not showing up due to shecluding a technician fixing a non-essential appliance on an in-office day. If it really can't be reshecluded, it's a PTO event.
    – Neinstein
    May 20 at 4:43
  • @Neinstein: Staying home for a particular appointment (delivery, repairman, ...) are likely not enshrined in or protected by the company policies, but these sorts of things are, in moderation, generally accepted in a WFH-friendly workplace, hence also why OP is not able (nor seemingly willing) to specifically forbid an additional (allegedly unplanned) WFH day for such a reason. The issue here is one of lack of moderation of using what is considered (by OP) to be a valid reason to WFH on a given day.
    – Flater
    May 20 at 7:49
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There are people who work better at home than in an office setting, because they are not distracted by the surrounding environment, with phone calls, chatter, background noise and so on.

You don't mention if the policy states that the team has to be on site as a whole in those two days, or each employee can pick two days in the week to be at the office. It is also not mentioned if those two days were set in agreement by the team or they were forced on the from above.

You could try checking with your employee on the following points:

  • where does she feel more productive/effective?
  • how does she feel about going back to the office?
  • what is something that can be done from the company side to make her transitioning back to the office go better? (e.g. being flexible on which days of the week be at the office? Provide noise cancelling headset?)

At the end, if you want to start a dialogue with her on the topic of "going back to the office", you don't want to set up a barrage of "why you didn't come?" questions, that would simply put her in defensive mode.

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L.Dutchs Answer has really good points. I would expect that no one wants beloved perks removed, and if work from home is something Alice values, she won't be happy if it gets removed, or at least shortened. Especially if the back to office policy is something enforced from above. "Come back to the office, because we tell you to!". Is no good reasoning.

That said: Alice is no saint either. Home Office is something that requires more trust than work in the office, because you can't "see the employee working". And Alice currently does everything to destroy your trust. Telling you week after week "I'll come to the office next week", and then not delivering is concerning.

First of all, you need to decide what your goal is, and what you are able to accept. Do you really need all your teammembers the office? Or is it a "nice to have"? If Alice doesn't change, would you consider firing her because of that? Or can you draft a special agreement with Alice?

You need an honest discussion. Not you ordering her to come to the office "because management told you so", and she telling you "yeah, I'll come next week". Try to understand her situation, and then decide if you can accomodate her or find a compromise. All those stalling tactics need to stop.

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    It doesn't seem like the OP set the policy, I would guess that they cannot void or grant excemptions or compromises to the policy either.
    – nvoigt
    May 16 at 6:48
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    I'm with @nvoigt on this... my manager? Given the choice would have us in the office one day a week. Instead, we are now in a 3 in the seat situation as well and it's not his decision. The employees that are working remotely full time (contractors) are exempt because they were hired that way. If I didn't show up, week after week, I'd expect to get fired for not doing what I was hired to do - and yes, that includes being in the office. If I don't like it? I can find another job.
    – WernerCD
    May 16 at 20:42
  • @nvoigt: The OP might not set the policy, and the OP might not be able to grant official, permanent exceptions. That still does not mean that the OP has to actively enforce HR policy. Most managers have enough to do, and quite a few managers have reasonable freedom in prioritizing their own work. The OP says that Alice is doing a moderate but inconsistent job. That is typically not a highest-priority problem. The company isn't going to keel over tomorrow because of that.
    – MSalters
    May 19 at 16:07
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As a team lead, you are the interface between the employee and the company (i.e. higher-ups, policies and so on). You are the only person who is interested in the wellfare of the employee as your main objective (or at least you should be) - unhappy employees tend to leave companies, happy employees do good work.

In cases like this, you have two possibilities:

  • Ignore the problem, and just let it slide. This has obvious benefits (happy employees) but also obvious drawbacks (if it's an important policy, it will bite you or the employee later and make you and/or the employee unhappy; and it obviously must not impede the actual work they do).
  • Talk with everyone involved and figure out a solution.

For me, I found that picking my battles is very important to my own happiness as a team lead. So my first task would be to figure out how important this is - both for upper management, for the local/project team, for the employees themselves. At this stage I also decide whether I ignore the importance for the upper management (but then I'll be aware that I have to "eat it" later when something comes form it). Obviously there are policies which you do not ignore. Some policies have a potential to land you in jail if you ignore them, or at least have you lose your job and possibly destroy your reputation. So be wise about this. As you specifically asked not to talk about the value of the policy of your question, I'll not go further into this.

If this very important first step turns out so that I actually do want the employee to abide by the policy, then I escalate thusly:

  • First, inform them in a neutral manner. If they got the info through a public email from HR already, I would forward it to my team members with a small note that they can ask me if anything is unclear - some people ignore all public mails by default, especially if your company is "spammy" in this respect.
  • When problems start to occur, I friendly remind them, maybe as a harmless bullet point in a team meeting, without naming names.
  • If someone still fails to meet the policy, I'll friendly remind them personally.
  • If it still happens, then it's slowly getting personal - I directly and friendly asked them, and by ignoring the policy, it's now my own request that's under attack. So this would be a point where I talk with them in the regular one-on-one I have with every team member. I'll be interested in why they don't conform to the policy, and first and foremost get their point of view. Is there an objective reason? Is there something I don't know which makes it very hard for them to comply with the policy?
  • At this point I'm very much still on the side of the employee. I'll do my best to help them to comply - removing obstacles as I can, giving tips and so on and so forth.
  • There is a junction here: if I judge now that it is futile to get the employee to do it, I'll go to my other stakeholders (HR, upper management...) and try to find a solution; I'll represent the employee like a lawyer, I protect them from harm and so on and so forth. My employees know that I do that, I am completely transparent about the process with them.
  • If I judge that they have no good reason, and they don't do it even with my help, then I'm off to my manager and/or HR (and in my country, also with an employee representative) - disciplinary actions are something that you don't want to wing as a random teamlead, but can have significant impact on your company if done wrong, so you need to lean back here and let do the people who know all about it their job.

As far as I can tell, you have "kind of" talked with your employee, but have not gotten past the stage where they are giving excuses. This means more work for you. Try to get their trust somehow, and dig down to the root cause. If she has a new valid reason week after week after week, this still means that there is a problem with priorities. What if such a reason impacts her work (instead of just this policy) week after week? What if she has an important meeting or event and misses this just because a car broke down? Maybe their private life is in chaos right now and they need to take a step back, and do more backoffice work for some time where it just does not matter whether they are present or not.

Or maybe they are having a nervous breakdown each time they even think about leaving the house due to the pandemic issue but are afraid to tell you about it. Nothing you can do to force them to come will help the situation whatsoever. You have to figure this out with her.

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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.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lidijaglobokar/2018/09/20/the-two-way-street-of-leadership/?sh=38443a725b02

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.

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/09/unions-workers.asp

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.

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

https://www.phillyemploymentlawyer.com/blog/boss-can-cant-ask-health/

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.

https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

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?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – DarkCygnus
    May 18 at 17:39
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Your question is missing a fundamental premise. The premise is that everyone in the company is expected to come to the office twice a week, and your entire team had decided on 2 particular days that you like. This isn't "we feel like coming in, so let's all come into the office", this is "we have to be in the office these 2 days for our job responsibilities, and not doing so is going against our job responsibilities".

For the moment, take your mind back to 2018, when everyone had 5-day in-office work weeks and nobody questioned it. Going to the office was simply something you did, and if you didn't do it for an extended period of time without a very good and valid excuse, then you would be called into a serious meeting. Your current situation is like that, the only difference being that instead of 5 days in the office it's 2; the other terms are the same. It is Alice's job responsibility to be in the office for those 2 days, at least most of the time, unless she has a very good reason or takes PTO (or sick leave, if your locale has that).

Now, as an example, you say that Alice took a day of WFH to wait for the repairman for her oven. This would be fine if Alice was in the office 5 days per week; oven repairmen don't always work on weekends. However, by saying that Alice needs to stay home to wait for the repairman, Alice is saying that she was unable to book the repairman on any day except for a day she was supposed to be in the office, which implies that the repairman only works 2 days per week, a patently absurd claim. When Alice told you this, you should have asked her: "You know you're supposed to come into the office that day, why did you book the oven repairman that day? Why didn't you book it a day you can work from home?" The fact that she didn't think that she had to come to the office that day and double-booked herself to have to be home on an office day shows her sense of responsibility (or lack thereof) to her job.

Here's the bottom line: If your company is requiring everyone to be in the office twice per week, that's a job responsibility, and the employees have to abide by it. Things happen once in a while, it's true, but if something is consistently happening on particular days for particular people, that's a pattern and lends itself towards something that is not simple coincidence. You should decide: On balance of probabilities, do you believe Alice is an extraordinarily unlucky person to never be able to come to the office, or do you believe she is trying to lie to you to stay home? If you decide the latter, then you should have a serious discussion with her, and likely with HR, about what can be done about this.

I'll make an additional note: nvoight pointed out, correctly, in their answer, that Alice may be, or may be related to, someone who is at risk of serious complications of covid. If this is the case for Alice, then your company needs to make a decision:

  1. According to public health experts all over the world, the covid vaccine is "safe and effective" (their words). It is very effective in particular at preventing serious complications, hospitalizations, and death, as has been stated by US President Joe Biden on many occasions (unsure if this is relevant for you, but if your company is American it may be). Based on this recommendation from the public health community, your company may decide that it is up to Alice and her relations whether or not to get vaccinated to protect themselves from serious illness, but in either case Alice must come to work, or she will be terminated (with cause, if your locale makes a distinction between "with cause" and "without cause"), no exceptions.

  2. Your company may conversely decide, based on ample data from scientific studies all over the world as well as anecdotal evidence such as that in nvoight's answer, that the vaccine is not sufficiently "safe and effective", even with regards to protecting against serious infection and hospitalization, and that Alice and her relations are not sufficiently protected even if they are vaccinated. In such case, your company may want to make an exception or accommodation for Alice, to exempt her from the 2-days-per-week policy. In this case, you may want to consult your legal department to determine what evidence you are allowed to collect from Alice regarding this situation and whether it's worth it or not. There are a lot of decisions to be made to enact such a policy and it would be a good idea to kick the ball off with HR and/or legal to get the ducks in a row.

In any case, as it currently stands, it seems to me that Alice is trying to dodge the policy for one reason or another, and you should determine if that situation can be rectified, either from Alice's end by stopping to lie to you about her reason for not coming to the office, or by your end either by making an allowance for Alice to continue working from home, or by terminating her.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 17 at 0:38
  • I've just checked my calendar and I'm pretty sure it's not 2018 any more. May 21 at 19:33
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Ignoring the rights and wrongs of the policy I would simply send them a short email/call them in for a quick meeting when they're next in. Thank them for their work but say you've noticed they haven't been able to make it into the office much recently. Assume best intentions and that her reasons have been legitimate, but re-inforce that the company policy is now to attend the office twice a week and ideally on the same day as team members. You don't want to make a big deal out of it, but just draw attention to the fact it has been noticed

If she still doesn't respond to that, or raises issues of why she feels she should still work from home, you'll need to decide how important it is to keep her as an employee vs keep your other team members happy, and whether you want to involve HR or not.

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  • 1
    It sounds rather like "when they're next in" might never happen though. May 16 at 14:47
  • I took the almost in"(almost) constantly fails to come to the office" to mean there were still rare occurrences when they did come in. And if not, do it as an email. May 16 at 15:48
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Her choice may have tax implications for the company

If you are in the United States, whether she is coming into the office might have tax effects. Workers generally pay city taxes on the higher of where they live, and where they work. If Alice does not live in the city where she works, she may be operating under a different tax rate than the company one, something which companies regularly adjust for. For the companies I worked for in Pennsylvania during the pandemic, fully remote workers, which for a time was all of us, were having their taxes removed based on their city of residence, which was legally considered to also be where they were working from. As we've moved back into the office, we've been told that we need to keep the company informed of our working location because there is a threshold of time at which the company must consider us primarily at home, or primarily at work, and changing the rate at which the company is expected to tax us.

Therefore, her decision is not necessarily just a personal one, or one of company policy, but a matter of your company not getting investigated by the local tax office for discrepancies, particularly if they have been listing the workers as primarily at work, and it is shown that they are aware that some of their employees are not actually there.

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-3

Firstly, this is not a valid excuse:

She is waiting for a technician to fix her oven

As a team lead I am going to assume you have the power to engage in disciplinary action.

If a person really schedules something optional like that on their work-from-office day then you should request that they take that time off as PTO and arrive to the office once the errand is finished.

People have lives, I get it. But it is much better to have a person be fully out instead of half-assedly in. It is a clear detriment to your team's morale and ultimately an act of aggression against your duties as a team lead.

It sounds like even the valid errands need to be managed better:

  • Her car broke down? Enforce PTO
  • Her daughter is not feeling good? Enforce sick time
  • She is waiting for a technician to fix her oven? Enforce PTO

You could also start to systematically request proof when things like this happen: have them supply a receipt from the mechanic, have them provide a doctor's note, and have her provide a receipt from the oven technician.

Ultimately, you need to make it a chore for them to disobey the company policy. There must be repercussions or else you're actually just a stupidvisor; functionary.

Also,

She is doing a moderate, inconsistent job.

Sounds like the perfect person to make an example of.

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-5

Renegotiate her contract or make a special agreement.

I renegotiated my contract to work from home permanently, while being in a different country. I was working from home almost all the time over the past ~2 years, so the transition isn't actually a major change. I proved to be quite skilled and valuable to the company, which also granted me leverage.

If that colleague/employee of yours doesn't want to attend the workplace (as much), just talk to her and ask if she wants to adjust her contract (or have a special agreement), so that she can work from home more without being in conflict with the company's policies. The benefit you expect from her attending the workplace personally may be of negligible value, especially given that there may be a drop-off in value per person. If there are 100 people, 90 of which attend the workplace, going from 90 to 91 is worth less than going from 10 to 11, and that is worth less than going from 3 to 4. Also the contribution to the "social life" at workplace varies for every person.

Remember that dissatisfied employees are more likely to quit, and satisfied employees are more likely to stay. If you, as a company, employer or manager get what you want in terms of work, you got almost everything you wanted, and clearly the most important part of all.

Don't worry about precedence too much - there are people who like to go to the workplace often. When it becomes a problem, deal with it once it emerges. I'd personally rather chop wood.

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