When I first read an article several years ago about a Google employee living in the company’s parking lot, I thought to myself, “brilliant.” He had everything he needed at the office—food, gym, shower, electricity, etc.—except for a place to sleep. So instead of renting an expensive San Francisco apartment where he would likely spend very little time, he bought a box truck, tossed a mattress in the back, and parked it at work. No doubt he had the best commute time of anyone at the company.
For the record, I still think this was absolutely brilliant. Now, it seems like more and more people agree! Although the box-truck dwelling Google employee actually moved into an apartment during the Covid-19 pandemic when he no longer had the ability to work in the office or use all its amenities, many workers residing in non-movable dwellings decided to do the opposite. They hit the road and started living the #vanlife.
Of course, there were also a lot of people who may not have gone to such travel/adventure extremes, but instead just moved to another location, perhaps even to a different state or country. However, the motivations were still the same – the freedom to choose how and where they would live without giving up their careers. Although some moves were meant to be temporary, some were not. Even in some cases where the moves were perhaps intended to be temporary, they may have ended up becoming permanent.
So, what is one to do when they have relocated in one way or another when many employers are requiring workers to return to the office on either a full-time or part-time basis?
This requirement is quite simply a non-starter for many. Even if they still live only a short walk from their office, there are still a lot of folks out there that would rather find a different job than go back to the office. This is obviously the easy answer. But for others, they may not feel like they can simply up and quit. They may find themselves wondering, is there anything that protects me from having to go back?
The simplest answer is that absent the agreement of your employer, you’re probably going to have to quit or return. Unfortunately, your employer is allowed to dictate your presence in the office regardless of what it allowed you to do during the pandemic. Your employer may have told you they didn’t mind you moving out of state or traveling around the country working in a van. Yet, that doesn’t mean they have to let you continue on that way.
Importantly, one key exception to this rule would be if you have a disability and you need to work from home as a reasonable accommodation. Then, your request to do so may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although some employers may attempt to deny such an accommodation request by arguing it would not be reasonable, it will likely be a difficult argument for them if you were able to perform all the essential duties of your job remotely during the pandemic.
If you have been fired because you could not return to the office and would like to talk with an employment lawyer about the facts of your case, call our office to schedule a consultation. Or, if you have no legally protected reason not to return but also don’t want to quit, never forget about the Google employee living in his box truck in the parking lot for years. It’s always a viable option . . . at least until you get caught.