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is this HR process for accommodations as bananas as it feels? — Ask a Manager

As a recap: my firm rolled out an update to our hybrid work policy that allowed for up to two WFH days per week, but the requirement to work three days in office had to be met first, and could not be prorated for shorter weeks. In other words, a five-day week allowed for up to two WFH days, but a four-day holiday week only allowed one WFH day, and a week in which we worked three days or less required all working days to be in office. Violations of the policy would be flagged up three management levels, and immediate managers did not have authority to override the requirement. I have a standing weekly medical appointment that is difficult to accommodate when working in office, but extremely easy to accommodate when WFH. I asked my manager how to handle it for three-day weeks, since I can reasonably anticipate a handful of those per year due to volunteer activities, and he referred me to HR, which resulted in the clownshoes nonsense from my original post.

When I updated in the comments right after you published my letter, the company had amended the policy so that it would only count as a violation if we accrued a certain number of weeks out of adherence within a rolling two-month period. I also learned that I was far from the only employee raising a hue and cry over the policy, and that at least a portion of why it was so poorly handled for me was explained by the deluge of employees swamping the entire HR department in screaming panic.

Since then, I learned that the reason our policy was so rigidly framed was due to our industry’s regulatory obligations. I work in a tightly regulated industry, and locations where business is routinely performed must be registered with our regulator. Locations where supervisory activity (i.e., my job) are performed need an additional level of registration beyond the baseline. During the pandemic, the regulator had relaxed the rule with the understanding that nearly everyone would be working from home and that filing the home address of every single employee and supervisor of every single firm in the country would be a massive problem for everybody involved. However, they were beginning to tighten up the policy again, and had rolled out requirements for both how many days a year and what percentage of days worked per year would require a WFH or hybrid worker’s home to be registered as a residential place of business. My firm was trying to sculpt their policy so that they had a pool of known employees whose home addresses would need to be registered (such as full-time WFHers) and everyone else whose homes would not be registered and thus had to remain within the limits outlined by the regulator. I don’t entirely follow the math on how our policy fits within the regulators’ outline, but I have a good working relationship with that area of compliance, and I do trust them to be doing their best to balance employee needs, reason, and regulation.

(And as a side note — since we are in a regulated industry and I work in a supervisory/compliance area, the concept of asking forgiveness rather than permission is not applicable. If I simply said nothing and worked from home in excess of policy, it would be detected and the lack of proactive discussion would weigh against me.)

Also, with regard to the incredibly condescending HR “advocate,” I had the displeasure of attending a meeting on a work issue that also involved him. During the meeting, he took it upon himself to explain in small words to one of our corporate lawyers the concept of an “allegation” of improper activity vs proof of said activity (in relation to a scenario in which the employee under investigation had already fessed up and tendered his resignation). So I am quite well satisfied that his attitude was not specifically against me as an accommodation-seeker, but is genuinely his default approach to the world. One wonders what his meetings with his boss are like.

I appreciate your response affirming that this really wasn’t an awesome process but also that I likely didn’t have much protection, as well as the commentariat’s feedback!

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