How to Convince Hospital to Let Office Workers Work from Home
March 25, 2020 11:26 AM   Subscribe

My friend has an office job at a community hospital in eastern Pennsylvania. She can do 100% of her job remotely. The hospital leadership refuses to let anyone work from home, no matter their job.

The hospital system has a blanket no WFH policy for ALL hospital employees, no matter their position. (Even marketing must come in!) This directive is coming from corporate HR, apparently backed by all leadership.

Today, they handed out cheap masks to all office workers, telling them they can get one new mask a week. My friend's coworker's husband likely has Covid (symptoms are in line with Covid, but he can't get testing). He is self quarantining but her coworker is required to still come into work. (Friend & coworker's boss knows about possible Covid infection. Boss says coworker must still come into work.)

This is insane, right?! Like, not technically illegal because hospitals are considered essential, but completely outside the spirit of the law. And the fact that it's a hospital system, which seems like it should know better just... blows my mind. (If this is not insane, I'm open to hearing that too. Maybe there's some benefit we can't see?)

Is there anything my friend can do? Going up the chain means going to HR, who decided on the rules. She needs this job, so she's not willing to personally stick her neck out. But, she's open to me and others doing things anonymously... Not sure what that'd be? Calling state reps? Publicly shaming the hospital in a way that cannot be traced to her?
posted by pear to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Polly Mosendz at Bloomberg is looking for tips on companies with bad pandemic practices for some name-and-shame reporting; her contact details are listed on this Ask A Manager post.
posted by terretu at 11:42 AM on March 25 [24 favorites]

If your state has put movement restrictions in place, someone should drop a dime to the local AG.
posted by praemunire at 1:00 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]

Yes, I'd go for journalists and/or social media. In the UK a couple of high profile companies that were trying to make their employees go into work have backed down in the past few days after highly critical twitter storms. Obviously you don't want to share anything that points directly to your friend, but if there's a screenshottable email to all staff or something you/someone with a decent follower count that can share on her behalf online, with any identifying marks removed, that might get traction and shame them into a rethink.
posted by penguin pie at 1:02 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

Most of the southeastern-most counties in Pa. are under stay at home orders for nonessential activities. Your friend should absolutely report her employer to authorities if the area restrictions are being violated and to the media.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 1:22 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

Workers may be redeployed to help out during the crisis. Like maybe non-patient care providers will be asked to help screen visitors. That happened in Ontario during SARS and I believe is happening again now. But for work that can be done offsite emphasize that you need to protect the healthcare workers. I can't really judge from what you wrote if the decision is bad or not.

If working from home isn't generally a thing there then maybe there aren't adequate safeguards for protecting data remotely which is a huge and legitimate concern. Or they may be waiting to redeploy staff as noted earlier.
posted by biggreenplant at 1:26 PM on March 25 [8 favorites]

If you are able to communicate the evidence of this decision without outing your friend, also try contacting the state hospital association.
posted by mccxxiii at 1:40 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

I'm a nurse working at a Bay Area hospital. I can confirm that everyone is still coming to work and that "non-essential" (I hate that term) employees are being redeployed/reassigned to other crisis-response roles.

I work in the operating room and since we've cancelled most of our elective/non-urgent surgeries, we routinely have more staff reporting to work than we need to run the unit. Yesterday I was redeployed to another unit to help out, and the person to whom I reported in order to find out where I was going was the CFO of the hospital.
posted by jesourie at 1:42 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

I work for a hospital in a non clinical role and am working from home. A lot of our staff (mostly clinical, but some others) have been redeployed to other areas/hospitals, but anyone who can is able to work from home with the knowledge that if necessary we will be called in to help. We did help out screening visitors/staff at the beginning, but our system is now using clinical and hourly staff whose areas are slow (outpatient clinics and OR, mostly) to cover those duties. What helps is that my system had the IT infrastructure in place already to allow us to use a Remote Desktop system, comply with HIPAA, etc. They did push out new HR policies to cover work from home quickly, since previously WFH was strictly on a case by case basis and there were no hospital wide policies in place. If HR isn’t on board at all or IT resources aren’t able to make it work, your friend may be out of luck, but maybe publicizing and emphasizing to leadership that their staff going to work may get sick and add to the burden the hospital is facing will help?
posted by MadamM at 2:42 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]

Many "essential business" decrees in states don't indicate whether staff that is essential, it is a blanket statement to the entire organization, so the legal recourses won't get you far. Businesses are interpreting this widely, in any case.

I contract at a firm that was deemed essential, but the Sales teams still had to work in the office, which had nothing to do with their essential infrastructure work. Only complaining through journalists, senators tweeting did they get that effort to relax their policies.

So work with local politicians, news etc.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:49 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

I should add that my hospital is run by a county Department of Public Health. Clinical and non-clinical staff are employees of the DPH, and every DPH employee is considered a mandated disaster response worker. Private hospitals may have different requirements.
posted by jesourie at 3:36 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

If hospital leadership won't listen to office staff, maybe they would listen to their doctors. I'm sure the doctors would have something to say about it if they found out they were being unnecessarily exposed to office staff with symptomatic family members at home.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:13 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

It’s possible the hospital doesn’t have the equipment and security in place to allow WFH. The hardware and software are expensive and can’t simply be dropped in place at a moment’s notice. If the OP’s hospital had never allowed WFH, they’re unlikely to be ready to allow it now.

There may also be regulatory hurdles they would have to overcome as well. HIPPA violations have real-world consequences.
posted by lhauser at 7:09 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]

So as far as I can tell hospitals are all over the place with this some more flexible than others. Hospital systems are very isolating in terms of figuring out what is going on. But I can tell you that it's complex. I don't think somebody in marketing with pretty much zero health background should be on the front lines or moved into clinical roles. But, Lots of people in hospital systems have nursing backgrounds regardless of their current role, which could be a concideration. For example my previous director who had a CFO position at one point was a nurse.

The hospital system I'm employed with is doing a varied approach. Some staff aren't working at all until reassigned, some staff are coming in even though they probobly don't have to, some staff are 100% work from home. This hospital system did have remote work in place prior to this situation.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:54 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

To echo WFH my friend is 5th in charge at a group of area hospitals. In that if he got Corona it would be C-suite then him in line of priority. Don’t pass go, they get priority over everyone. He can work from home but to give you an idea he received a special iPhone directly from the CEO of a major mobile carrier. I’m guessing it is secure and hard to come by, and probably procedures for getting it only exist with large government contractors. I’m sorry I don’t know more details (he’s very non-tech in consumer electronics). In any case if HIPPA or your national equivalent leaked, even if you don’t directly deal with it, the consequences would be horrible.

At the same time these procedures and why they’re enacted should be explained. I would suggest going to your boss or sympathetic superior and explain there are probably good reasons not to work from home but an explanation would help morale. Hospital administrators often get too focused on running a hospital they forget they have a business too. Plus they’re dealing with a lot right now. Beyond the obvious they’re dealing with having to inform public policy decisions. Setting up an infrastructure for working from home will likely require regulations and policies that are at the bottom of the list.
posted by geoff. at 10:15 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]

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