A reader writes:
I work as a development director for a nonprofit for a specific region. I have been in my job for four years and have been very successful in my role.
I have worked primarily from home because I write a lot of grants and reports, and my office doesn’t have private spaces or designated work spaces. I do go into our small office one half day each week for team meetings, but the rest of the time I have always worked from home or am out visiting clients, attending conferences, etc. The only other office worker on our local team (most of our staff does field work) does the same as me — goes in for half a day and the rest of the week is working from home.
We have a policy that if you are not working in the office, you must have a workspace with a door, etc. I always follow this guideline.
My CEO is very concerned when people work in different locations if they have connectivity issues. I was working remotely one day at a friend’s vacation home and the internet did not allow me to join a team zoom meeting. After not being able to join that meeting, I was told I had to take a vacation day for that entire day. I did because I just didn’t want to argue about this.
This week, I worked at another friend’s home in another city but this time the internet connectivity worked fine and I joined all the zoom meetings, etc. If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state, they would not have known.
Well, today, the third day that I have been working from my friend’s home, I got an email from my manager that I was supposed to have had this request to work from a different location approved before I did so. And that they would tell HR to make all of my days this week be designated as vacation days on my timecard and I would lose three vacation days from my accrued vacation.
Is this acceptable? I simply want to quit, but I can’t because I need the money and would prefer to line up a new job before quitting. I feel like my employer does not trust or value me when I have been a high-performing employee for four years. My location had zero effect on my work.
Do I have the right to refuse to accept that decision and insist that I not be required to use vacation days for the three days I already worked this week?
Your employer does have the right to tell you that you can only work remotely from your home and that you can’t work from other locations. We can debate whether or not that’s reasonable, but they do have the right to make that their policy. (Some things that would make it reasonable: if there’s a higher incidence of connectivity issues when people are other places, and if your work has strict confidentiality requirements.)
But the way for them to handle that is for them to tell you that, proactively. If they’ve never said this was prohibited, then they’re wrong to say they won’t count those days as work days and will deduct them from your vacation balance. Your manager should have contacted you and said, “This is the policy. We’ll make an exception this time since it sounds like it wasn’t clear, but going forward you cannot work remotely from anywhere other than your home (or your local area, or whatever they want their policy to be) without prior permission.”
And you should approach it that way from your side now. Go back to your manager and say this: “I hadn’t been informed of any policy prohibiting us from working from other locations. I’ve only been told that remote work spaces must be private and have a door, and I’ve followed that vigilantly. If this won’t be allowed going forward, I will of course comply with that but I don’t think I should be held to a policy I wasn’t informed of, especially if it means losing valuable vacation days when I did X hours of work during the days in question.”
If they dig in their heels, you might point out that you’ve always gone above and beyond and been lauded for excellent work, and this is highly demotivating. If you’ve ever done even a small amount of work while you’re on vacation (checking emails or returning a call), this is a good time to mention that, and note that they’re removing any incentive to be flexible that way in the future.
If they still won’t budge, legally you probably don’t have any recourse. The legal requirement is that you get paid for the days you worked — but the requirement is only that they pay you, not that it can’t come from your PTO. (Caveat: if you happen to be in California, that would change things. In California, if you work during a vacation, your employer must count that as time worked and can’t dock your PTO for it. It’s possible a small number of other states might have similar laws; I haven’t found anything, but it’s worth you checking for your state.)
But that’s just about what’s legal, not about what’s reasonable. A reasonable employer won’t hold you to policy you’ve never been informed of, and it’s worth talking to HR if you don’t get anywhere with your boss.