Seattle employee in chemotherapy denied telecommuting amid coronavirus outbreak

Charlotte Taylor has been using paid sick leave and vacation days after her employer wouldn't let her work from home despite chronic health conditions. (KING)
Susannah Frame

SEATTLE (KING) — Top King County public health officials have urged employers across the region to allow employees to work remotely if possible, especially workers with compromised immune systems.

Despite that, the very same county has denied that request from a longtime employee who has asthma and an autoimmune disease that requires weekly chemotherapy treatments.

“It infuriates me because my life is at risk,” said 55-year-old Charlotte Taylor, who schedules court interpreters for people who don’t speak English. She’s worked at the King County Office of Interpreter Services for 17 years. “There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that I couldn’t (work remotely).”

Taylor made the request on March 5 and supplied her superiors with a doctor’s note.

“Charlotte Taylor has known medical conditions that put her at increased risk for COVID-19,” wrote Dr. Lynne Bateson of Kaiser Permanente. “Patients at increased risk are advised to telecommute/work from home in order to protect them from potential exposure….please allow her to do so.”

On March 9, Taylor received an email from Kathryn Schipper, senior human resources consultant for King County Superior Court, denying the request.

“Due to the nature of your work, telecommuting cannot be considered a reasonable accommodation at this time,” Schipper wrote.

Schipper also listed tasks that would prohibit Taylor from working remotely. They included assisting in-person customers, maintaining, cleaning, and troubleshooting assisted-listening device equipment for people with hearing loss, printing and organizing invoices, and making real-time scheduling adjustments.

“Due to staffing limitations, these duties cannot readily be performed by other Office of Interpreter Services staff. Our office must remain open to the public when the court is open for regular business, requiring adequate staff to be present,” Schipper wrote.

Taylor characterized the listed reasons as “bogus.” She said 99 percent of her work is conducted online and on the telephone, and that people rarely walk in for support.

“I feel let down by my employer,” Taylor said. “I also feel beat up. What am I supposed to do? Risk my life and go into work?”

Taylor has been staying home and using paid sick leave and vacation days, but those days have run out. Wednesday was her last day of paid leave.

Without accommodation of remote working, she will go without a paycheck beginning Thursday.

“I need to work. I’m the only worker in my house…no income means no money, no food, and no medicine,” Taylor said. “It’s not OK. It shouldn’t be acceptable.”

KING 5 reached out to the King County Superior Court Administration for comment but have not received a response yet.

Taylor said she hopes her superiors will change their minds.

“Please reconsider. Don’t allow me to become unemployed because I happen to have an illness.”