“Work as usual” after COVID-19 will be different. Get over it.

At least some of us will refuse to return to pre-COVID19 work styles.

Email headline: Need Program Coordinator in Sunnyvale Remote till Covid19
Email headline: Need Program Coordinator in Sunnyvale Remote till Covid19
Screenshot from an email received by Sheri Byrne-Haber at her private email address (typo is theirs)

Even though I have “not searching for work currently” flag switched on at every social media location possible, I still get 6–8 emails a week asking if I am looking for work. Presumably, this is remaining from when I updated my resume the last time I was job hunting. Once you are in a recruiting company’s database, there is no way to shut it all off easily.

Anyways, fully half of the emails I am receiving at the moment (including the misguided one above where the sender thinks for some reason I would be interested in a program coordinator position) are indicating those jobs are remote NOW. However, if you apply, it is with the understanding that you will be expected to park your happy butt in an office chair 100 % of the time after COVID-19 is “over.”

I don’t understand why anyone even thinks this is possible, much less desirable?

1. No one, I mean NO ONE, knows when COVID is “going to be over”

2. All person’ s/state’ s/country’s definitions of “over” are different

a) their family’s finances, and;

b) heading to a job that they know could be potentially dangerous to them, regardless of the precautions they take.

Remember, nurses have been FIRED for demanding masks, so some people aren’t even being allowed to take the precautions they want to. I’ve read *WAY* too many headlines about teachers, healthcare, and meatpacking workers, just to name a few who decided that their finances were more critical than the chance of getting sick, followed by getting seriously ill, or in tragic cases, dying. That is a non-starter for me; it is a trade-off I absolutely will NOT consider.

3. Beware the American company stupid enough to turn down WFH as a reasonable accommodation request

American companies with more than 15 employees who tell someone like me flat-out “No, we don’t do work from home” are acting illegally.

  • WFH for a disability is a reasonable accommodation request.
  • Once a request is made, you have to initiate the “interactive dialogue.”
  • Your alternative is getting into some serious trouble with the EEOC.

Lest you forget, candidates are entitled to reasonable accommodations requests, too, not just employees. In the 9th circuit, contractors are entitled to reasonable accommodation requests as well.

4. You are going to put off some potential candidates with this approach

Testing whether a statement is ableist is as simple as substituting another minority group for “people with disabilities,” then ask yourself, “would I get fired for saying this?”

  1. No women need apply — Yes, fired.
  2. No people of color need apply — Yes, fired.
  3. No veterans need apply — Yes, fired.
  4. No LGBTQ+ need apply — Not always fired, but SHOULD be fired every single time.

So the statement “No WFH after COVID is over” fails the ableist test. It doesn’t even matter if it is unconscious bias, it is ABLEIST. Whether a statement is ableist is based solely on the impact on the person hearing the statement. The speaker does not get points for intent. Ableist statements are the exact opposite of inclusion; it is exclusion. Besides that, why would you want to scare off 9.5 % of your potential applicants just with your email headline? If you are in a field where you have hundreds of candidates for each position, then maybe you can afford that fall-out (and the lousy reputation your company will deservedly earn). If you are in an area where companies are competing for candidates, that is a ridiculously terrible approach. You may annoy people who won’t even bother applying who otherwise would have been an excellent fit for the job. If thosee people happen to have disabilities, they will tell their friends not to apply, either. Trust me, I have a group of friends with disabilities, and we share bad job postings and emails all the time. And sometimes we forward them to EEOC attorneys.

5. What is it about the current situation that doesn’t scream “Hey we actually figured out this WFH thing”

Do you know what terrible things happened? NOTHING terrible happened. The meetings kept happening. The work kept getting done. Yes, there have been glitches with kids being homeschooled, and husbands in pajamas, and cats who act like they are wondering why we are suddenly in THEIR house all the time. Those glitches are more situational (and frankly, humorous) and have less to do with the actual WFH.

America has literally gone overnight

- From a country full of businesses afraid of working from home

- To a country full of employees successfully working from home

Why would anyone benefiting from this transition want to voluntarily return to their pre-COVID days of traffic, paying for transportation, and wearing uncomfortable clothes?

6. Does the employer trust/respect its employees?

If you don’t trust me with a decision like “can I take 10 minutes off to wash dishes and work 10 minutes longer, later” how can you trust me with product decisions that may cost millions of dollars? And if an employer doesn’t trust me with the “WFH effectively” decision, I can guarantee I’m going to lose respect for the employer. Which leads to all kinds of badness (higher turnover expenses and lower profits) that are clearly outlined in the TED talk,

It seems kind of silly to be writing this article, but this topic needs to be discussed more. Plus, the topic is important enough that it needs to be well understood by recruiters and people in a position to influence these decisions. So why am I writing about it? Because the group of people who benefit most from WFH is people with disabilities.

  1. Being able to work remotely reduces the burden of commuting. For some people with disabilities, commuting is merely tiring. For others, commuting on a regular basis may impossible. Just because you can’t commute doesn’t mean you can’t do the job, especially in tech!
  2. Being able to work remotely reduces the effort of preparing for work. For people with mobility issues, preparing for work can take much longer than for people without disabilities.
  3. Being able to work remotely also allows people with disabilities to work around whatever schedule their disability imposes. A few examples of schedule modifications people with disabilities might need include frequent small meals, extra trips to the restroom, or starting early and ending the workday early for physical therapy.

So wake up and join the impending post-COVID new normal. Strip “no remote” and “no WFH” from your recruiting collateral. Reset your assumptions that everyone will happily return to the office after COVID-19 is over. Your legal team will thank you.

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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