Charter won’t let employees work from home during COVID-19

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger says the work-from-home model will become the norm after this event. (Getty Images)

A Charter systems engineer based in Denver challenged the company’s top brass last week over its refusal to let office employees work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Nick Wheeler sent an email to a senior vice president and hundreds of employees saying, “Coming into the office now is pointlessly reckless. It’s also socially irresponsible,” according to TechCrunch, which first reported the news.

Immediately after his email, Wheeler was summoned to human resources where he ended up resigning from his job. He’s gotten quite a lot of support from contacts on his LinkedIn page who applaud his “speaking truth to power.”

Charter has taken steps to respond to the public’s need for reliable broadband during the coronavirus outbreak. Last week it announced it was offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. Installation fees will be waived for new student households. It also opened its Wi-Fi hotspots across its footprint for public use.

In its prepared statement last week Charter wrote, “As the country works collaboratively to contain this pandemic, broadband internet access will be increasingly essential to ensuring that people across the country are able to learn and work remotely.”

But apparently working remotely doesn’t apply to Charter’s own employees in its offices in Denver; St. Louis; Stamford, Connecticut; and Charlotte, North Carolina. The company did not immediately reply to FierceTelecom's request for comment.

** [After publication, a Charter spokesperson sent this statement: "We aren’t going to elaborate on our internal policies, but here’s what I can say about our company: As one of FEMA’s Community Lifeline sectors, our services are essential. We are working around the clock to deliver uninterrupted internet, telephone and TV news services to our 29 million customers including critical institutions like hospitals, first responders and government facilities. During this time, continuing to maintain our operations, while applying the latest CDC guidelines, ensures we provide these vital communications which help flatten the curve and protect the country. We are reviewing our business and employee continuity plans daily, and will adjust accordingly.”]

In Denver, the city’s mayor announced this week that it was closing all bars and restaurants for eight weeks. And government groups including the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are all advising people to practice social distancing and to not gather in groups of 10 or more.

A portion of a March 14 letter from Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge and published by Gizmodo said, “You may have heard that some companies are instituting broad remote working policies for some of their employees. While we are preparing for that possibility by geography, Charter is not doing the same today. We provide critical communications services and we believe our approach to supporting front line employees is the right way for us to operate at this time to continue to deliver those important services to our customers.”

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While Charter is sticking with its existing human resources practices, most companies have instituted work-from-home policies to protect their employees’ health during the pandemic. AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink have all instituted work-from-home policies.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger wrote in a corporate blog, “As we navigate this global pandemic, the future of work is changing. As the work-from-home model becomes the norm and work itself becomes more distributed, we will continue to build infrastructure and technology solutions optimized for the workplace of the future. This is a ‘black swan’ event that I believe will permanently change the way we work, learn, connect, worship and simply how we live in community with each other.”