Employee quits job after being told he can't work from home amid COVID-19 outbreak

Posted at 3:55 PM, Mar 19, 2020

DENVER, Colo. -- A man quit his job after he says he was told he couldn't work from home amid the coronavirus outbreak. Now, the company is making changes.

On Thursday, Charter Communications made changes to its policies to help employees during crisis. The company says it will now let employees they believe "can remain productive outside the office without endangering our obligation to provide critical services" work remotely.

Charter says employees will receive an additional three weeks of paid time off to be used for "any COVID-19-related personal need."

The company also said in a statement, it is working on "increased social distancing" plans in its call centers and operations facilities.

Last week, Denver-based systems engineer Nick Wheeler resigned from Charter over the company not letting him work remotely.

"The science of social distancing is real. We have the complete ability to our jobs from home,” he wrote in an email to hundreds of people at Charter.

Wheeler says Charter wouldn't let employees work from home. He says much of his work was done on a laptop.

“What I do is literally interfaced with systems that are in data centers in other states,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler says he and co-workers recently raised concerns as the outbreak grew. Then, he sent the email last week. It went to 460 people at Charter, including his senior vice president.

"Coming into the office now is pointlessly reckless it’s also socially irresponsible. Charter, like the rest of us, should do what’s necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus,” Wheeler wrote.

“I included everybody because everybody was involved. It’s a pretty serious crisis,” he said.

Wheeler says not long after that email, he was called to his boss' office. He was given the option of using his vacation time.

"I could take my personal leave time and go home and stay home as long as I have leave time, if I was worried about my health,” Wheeler said. “I took my badge off and I offered it to my vice-president because I didn’t feel that was an appropriate response.”

Charter agreed he’d resign.

When asked about Wheeler's situation, Charter said it would not discuss internal police or specific employee situations. The company did provide this statement on Wednesday:

“As one of FEMA’s Community Lifeline sectors, our services are essential. We are working around the clock to deliver uninterrupted internet, telephone and TV news services to our 29 million customers including critical institutions like hospitals, first responders and government facilities. During this time, continuing to maintain our operations, while applying the latest CDC guidelines, ensures we provide these vital communications which help flatten the curve and protect the country. We are reviewing our business and employee continuity plans daily, and will adjust accordingly.”

“If I’m just your average employee and I don’t have any underlying conditions. And I'm just not comfortable in the workplace. There’s not a lot of options if my employer is requiring me to work,” said HR expert Lorrie Ray with the Employers Council.

Even though the coronavirus outbreak is considered a pandemic, it's still the employer's call whether an employee can work from home. She says people should not be afraid to talk to their boss if they have concerns.

Wheeler's concerns were enough for him to leave his position at Charter Communications.

He says right now, social distancing is a job everyone needs to take seriously.

“There's no reason for any of us to be that close to each other in a time of crisis, in a time of crisis involving infectious disease,” he said.

The full email Nick Wheeler sent to Charter Communications is below:

"I do not understand why we are still coming into the office as the COVID-19 pandemic surges around us.

The CDC guidelines are clear.
The CDPHE guidelines are clear.
The WHO guidelines are clear.
The science of social distancing is real.
We have the complete ability to do our jobs entirely from home.

Coming into the office now is pointlessly reckless. It’s also socially irresponsible. Charter, like the rest of us, should do what is necessary to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus. Social distancing has a real slowing effect on the virus - that means lives can be saved.

A hazard condition isn’t acceptable for the infrastructure beyond the short-term. Why is it acceptable for our health?

So why are we still here?"

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