Telecommuting possible as COVID-19 keeps employees home

Posted at 5:08 PM, Mar 10, 2020

CLEVELAND — There is an option for people staying home from work because of coronavirus, but experts warn it could take some planning.

Large companies like Facebook and Amazon encouraged some employees to telecommute in the last several weeks in order to stave off the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

"The law does permit an employer to request that employees telecommute,” said Karen Giffen.

Giffen is the managing partner at downtown Cleveland law firm Giffen and Kaminski.

She said where the employee works is the only thing legally allowed to change.

"The compensation and benefits should not differ,” she said.

As of 4 p.m. on March 10, no large companies in the Cleveland area have asked employees to stay home because of COVID-19, but a local business expert said it’s important for employers to be prepared.

“I think it does make a lot of sense for employers to kind of get their employees to test some of these things in advance so when you’re doing it for real that they are sort of ready to roll,” said Michael Goldberg.

Goldberg is the executive director at the Veale Institute of Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University.

He said companies should do a practice run if they can.

And that is exactly what NASA Glenn’s Research Center did late last week.

On Friday March 6, employees voluntarily stayed home to test the telecommute systems.

In a statement to News 5, the agency said the practice run went well and the IT systems worked.

But Goldberg warns employers to be ready if the practice does not go as planned.

“People are creatures of habit,” he said. “Some people may not adapt well to this sort of environment that they’re not used to using these tools. I mean forcing employees or sort of coworkers to kind of quickly adopt these tools may be really challenging and people may not be able to adapt."

Goldberg said younger employees may make the transition easier because they are used to platforms like Slack, WhatsApp and Skype.

While companies are looking at the option of telecommuting, both Goldberg and Giffen said it’s too early to say if this could change the way American works in the future.