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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Telecommuting Dreams

Hi I love your blog, so I am submitting a question/situation that I hope that you can help me with.

Telecommuting is not looked upon favorable even though Congress is trying to change that. The reason I am asking about telework/telecommuting is because I would like to do it when I am pregnant. I did it for 2 ½ years before accepting this position within the same office. As part of the acceptance, I had to give up the telecommuting part.

It was because I was a paid “intern” and interns couldn’t do that. Now my boss says oh no it’s because it is not appropriate for the work. All of the work is conducted via the server. I have a laptop for work that docks into a docking station, phone card, all in one printer/copier/fax/scanner and cable internet (wireless system) installed at home. I also have software on my computer that lets me receive calls on my computer (messages and faxes). She has let me do it to work over 400 hours of OT this past year. She just doesn’t want it to be used for regular hours.

My last pregnancy, this same boss let me telecommute for 2 days a week. This was at 26 weeks. However, she said I can only do it for three weeks. Not sure why as my dr had written a note for till the end of pregnancy. So I had a medical excuse. I commute an hour each way and the drs felt it was too much. At the end of that 3 weeks, I decided I needed to totally go out and asked my dr to write the medical note. He readily agreed. I ended up delivering at 35 weeks. Every single pregnant woman in the district/agency has been allowed to telecommute with a medical note during pregnancy.

My husband and I want a third child. Then this one will be it. How do I get my boss to let me telecommute during pregnancy. A medical note would be no problem. Due to the nature of why it would be high risk, my primary care dr would actually want me doing telework from the beginning. My ob and perinatologist would agree to a medical note as well, but in the second trimester. My fine points are that I am the only person in the office that knows how to upload, change, add solicitations to the website.

Pretty much everything with my job can be done from home with the exception of me being physically present in the office. It would be a win win situation and I just need for her to see that. I want to be able to still contribute. Only I will have to do it from a different location. An hour each way to and from work will make my perinatologist’s blood boil (last time she told me I had no business commuting back and forth and needed to be on bedrest). I am a higher level grade, a GS 11. Our office is also short handed. I guess if she tells me no, that I could bring an EEO complaint as all the other pregnant women in the District were allowed to work from home during and after their pregnancies. I would rather not do that. I will if I need to.

So how do I present it to her as a win win situation. She gets to keep an employee that has a lot of knowledge (I have gotten the highest ratings on all of my performance appraisals and performance awards each year). I still get a paycheck without using up all of my leave (which there is only about 8 weeks of due to this medical problem and would be taken when the baby is born). I am willing to accommodate and do what I need to do. She is a very old fashioned person. She is 56 and getting ready to retire in a year. She doesn’t understand computers or technology well. She has never said that I didn’t do a bad job on telework, just that she doesn’t want me to do it consistently. Actually she says I do a good job on it and present constant evidence of what I do while at home. She says she is not one of those people that can be focused and do work from home. I am one of those people. I work best from home! So any help that you can give me to arrange this with her and so that it works for both of us would be greatly appreciated.

Here are the facts of the case as I see them:

1. Your boss doesn't like telecommuting employees
2. You knew this when you accepted the job
3. You want to get pregnant and telecommute while pregnant
4. You can effectively do your job from home
5. Other women have been allowed to telecommute during pregnancy

I like telecommuting. I work from home from time to time and find it to be quite effective. But, not for everyone.

Your problem is your boss doesn't like full time telecommuters. Unfortunately, you knew this when you took the job, so it's not like it was a big surprise to you. Some bosses don't like it at all. They feel like if they can't see you, you must not be working.

I'm a big fan of results oriented work, rather than time clock punching. Some managers cannot separate out the two. They are utterly convinced that if you are not right where they can see you, then you must be watching Oprah. (This is false, you are actually watching HGTV and spray painting regular household objects to turn them into Christmas decorations!) Now, I will say that my neighbor telecommutes full time and she confessed that she has procured a board that she places across her bathtub. This allows her to sit in the bathtub, with her laptop, and work in luxury. I told her I hope she doesn't get electrocuted. I suspect your boss fears just such a set up and that nothing productive can be accomplished covered in bubbles.

So, how do you convince your boss? I suspect at this point you can't. You've shown her all the evidence. You've put in overtime from home. Other people do it successfully. You've done it successfully in the past. She does not like it.

Pregnancy isn't automatically covered by the American's with Disabilities Act. Your high risk pregnancy might be. Depends on how much it affects your life in other ways. Even if it is, telecommuting is not required as a reasonable accommodation under ADA unless it is the only accommodation. This may be your best tactic. If your doctors insist that you must work from home or not work at all, after the second trimester, (I think your OB and Perinatologist are going to pull more weight on this issue than your primary care doctor--don't push your luck) you may be able to accomplish your goal under "reasonable accommodation."

It will be difficult for your boss to argue that it doens't work with the organization because other women do it. (Of course, that begs the question, are men allowed to telecommute? Most pregnant women do not need special accommodation during pregnancy, other than a dedicated bathroom stall, and the more protections we make around pregnancy the less desireable young female hires become. Pregnancy, to me (a currently pregnant employee, I might add) should not automatically result in special accommodations.)

With your doctor's note and the other people in the department who do so, you may be able to go over her head.

However, have you thought about transferring to a new position? I don't know how government jobs work, but I imagine you could look into that. Look for a boss that is more favorable to such arrangements. I know I've mentioned this before, but you knew she didn't like telecommuting when you took the job.

Frequently, we accept obligations and then get all huffy when we have to meet those obligations. It's like marrying someone because you are so sure "he'll change." This is one of the dumbest things people do and they do it all the time. (Sure, he drinks now, but once we're married he'll settle down. Or, sure, she's whiny and clingy, but once we're married she'll feel more secure and stop whining.)

Good luck with your pregnancy and your job. I hope you can work something out.

UPDATE: Stella Commute gives a much better answer here. She obviously has more experience in this matter than I do.


Stella Commute said...

I think she may be in a good position to negotiate this, but she should absolutely leave PG out of the negotiation. If she brings that up, the boss will be thinking "I'm going to go to all this trouble and extend myself and then she's going to decide to stay at home after she has the baby and I'll be the sucker then." Plus it takes what should be a simple negotiation into the realm of protected classes, and that puts an edge on it that belies the simplicity of just getting a remote work arrangement.

Things that might could work:

- Writing a specific proposal that details all her job duties and how she'll do them from afar, thorough communication plans (how telephone, email, etc will be handled, hours that she commits to work, return call expectations, etc.), and provisions for a trial period. The proposal should also state that the arrangement can be canceled by either party with some reasonable notice without anyone being able to file a grievance.

- Including with that proposal the federal government's guidelines for remote work (which state specifically that supervisors should allow it whenever possible)

- Sitting down with her manager to go through the proposal and talk calmly and rationally through the manager's concerns

- Obtaining another job offer that allows full-time telecommuting to have as a back up. It can be a useful goad in situations like this

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Wally Bock said...

I think both you and Stella gave great answers, Evil. I have two observations.

The writer seems to me as approaching this as a win/lose negotiation. Stella's recommendations are more win/win. I'd pay special attention to the Federal guidelines because they give the boss an opportunity to look good and that's often a good thing.

It would be good to change the tone a bit. The writer seems to be saying, "All the other kids get to go to the park!" instead of laying out a reasoned case for why this will be a good thing for both her and her boss and the agency. The fact that she and her husband want a third child is irrelevant to any negotiations.

And, in dealing with bosses of all sorts it's wise to head the advice of Machiavelli: "Never wound a king."

I have another observation as well. We have only one side of this issue. While it may be true that all of our writer's work product winds up on the server, but that doesn't mean it's where all the work happens. A lot of work happens in office conversation and sharing. I'd like to know more.

Anonymous said...

While it may be true that all of our writer's work product winds up on the server, but that doesn't mean it's where all the work happens. A lot of work happens in office conversation and sharing. I'd like to know more.

Yeah, I get really tired of the suggestion that the primary reason bosses dislike telecommuting is because they're distrusting assholes.