What would be a good way to navigate this situation?
First is to understand/appreciate what is going on.
The first HR response to you (or me, or anyone) is generally what their policy is, and that they cannot make exceptions. This is a normal part of dealing with HR, generally there is a combination of poor staffing and underpaid low level HR people that are the 'first responders' in most companies.
Other answers have mentioned:
- contacting HR again
- quitting and/or resume looking for a new job, and
- contacting legal.
Here's the order I would tackle them in - if you haven't already responded to anyone:
- First contact your manager who signed the promise to you.
Forward HRs response with this prefix: "At your request, I created the HR ticket informing that I will do WFH for six full months' but their response was that I'm only allowed one month, and I need to start coming in. How do you want me to proceed?"
This message must be in writing (email counts, keep a copy for yourself - printed or BCC to a personal email account) because you may need to prove it happened.
I've had a number of times when the manager said, yeah don't worry it is approved you don't have to come in I will handle it.
NOTE: Be sure they (within a couple days) send you an email that says it is all handled and specifically says you can work from home until X.
In my past there was one case where answer from HR to me (an answer about 3.27 hours of PTO) was stupid. My managers response was, "That's not just stupid, but it is morally and legally wrong. Let me know when and you just take a full afternoon off, without putting it into the time system. Do you agree that will make it right?" I did agree.
Why contact the manager first?
In general, you contact your manager before replying to HR to give him/her a chance to correct it, if they want to... it's a courtesy to them – and it keeps HR from digging in its heels. In this case you have something in writing, so that's less likely to happen. Regardless it gives the manager a chance to work it out with HR, without it exploding into a big deal.
At this point you need to make sure you have a copy of everything that has transpired – your signed modification, the rejection from HR and any communications done below. A copy that is accessible to you even if they turn off your company access.
- Step two is where it can get ugly.
Definitely restart your job search and/or contact the previous company to see if that job is still an option.
If your manager folds:
If your manager says, "Well, I'm sorry I thought HR would allow that"
Or if your manager says "After we did that, they made a new policy, I'm sorry"
Attach the signed copy of the work agreement to the HR ticket, with text that says something like:
"I'm sorry, I guess you didn't realize that this is already a special case and it has already been approved. I was asked to send this in just to have it documented. Please reference attached to view my signed job modification that allows six months instead of one. My manager said I needed to inform HR, I'm sorry that I didn't attach this to the original ticket."
Reminder, you'll want a new copy of the HR ticket – if you cannot print it, then forward an email to the rejecting HR person's email address and BCC your personal email account. If you cannot do that create a new ticket with the text and the same verbiage from above.
- Contact their legal department, if they have one.
Many firms use outside council and if you don't know who that is, you'll have to decide who to contact – the head of HR, the President, the CCO, the CFO, and the CEO are all good choices (in that order).
It should be obvious taking a new position with another company is probably a better path than doing step #3. When anyone asks you why you left you have the paper trail showing they went back on a promise – and I'd hire you in a second based on that fact: you wanted to stay rather than leave, and you made a reasonable request.
But sometimes the hassle is worth it if you feel wronged enough to put up the fight.
It should also be obvious that if it goes beyond step #1, you may be involved in an (openly or secretly) hostile work environment, where someone is watching you carefully.
(Maybe "hostile" isn't the best word, but I couldn't think of a better word for close observation for the purpose of catching you make a mistake.)