There have been a few questions lately from people that are being forced to go into the office, where they feel it is unsafe, or they have a moral obligation to stay at home.

In almost every instance, there is one, or a few answers or comments, that simply say "You should stay at home".

What these answers discount is the very real chance that such advice can lead to somebody losing their job. As many countries are teetering on the edge of recession, this potentially would have a significant impact on someone in the long term.

I do want to identify that there is, of course risk to a person's health. And that maybe users cannot in good conscious recommend a course of action that they feel is unsafe. However, even when things are going well, taking a step outside the door carries an inherent risk. How we evaluate this risk will depend on our own personal circumstance. What you consider a no-brainer may be a tough decision in a different economic and personal situation.

I do want to also identify that there is a certain moral obligation to stay at home. However, there are quite a few questions where an employee is asked to do something immoral. In those circumstances, saying: "Don't do it", is really a non-answer. The question is usually asking how they can avoid doing the immoral behaviour without jeopardising their job.

Someone being concerned about their health and concerned about keeping their job do not have to be conflicting. It is possible for people to have two concerns at the same time.

I believe we should make an assumption that those that ask such questions are looking for answers that would allow them to keep their job.

There are places in there world were travelling to work is now illegal. It would make sense to provide answers that take this into consideration, but it's worth noting where the OP is located.

There are even more places where there are government recommendations not to travel to work. It's worth noting that government recommendations generally do not trump obligations under law.

An example of this is in the UK, where currently (27th March) the government is recommending that people work from home where possible. Advice from employment law experts state (www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus):

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they're afraid of catching coronavirus. This could particularly be the case for those who are at higher risk.


If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.

Last reviewed 25 March 2020

(Valid reasons are supplied by the same website).

There is almost certainly the option to go to court to fight for unfair dismissal. It's really a question for legal experts to predict what the potential outcome would be, but I do want to point out that not many people would like to go through that process.

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    I'm not a big fan of these answers. It boils down to doing the moral thing for everyone at great risk of harm for yourself. This is a weighing everyone in this situation has to make, and we shouldn't be judging them for choosing their family's future, especially with the monumental amount of uncertainty at the moment.
    – Magisch
    Mar 27, 2020 at 5:20
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    If comments are recommending this, flag them (answers don't belong in comments regardless of validity). If answers are saying this and nothing else, I'd say they'd warrant downvoting. Are you seeing these answers also being highly upvoted?
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 8:14
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    Your question seem to skip entirely that in many countries (and so far the questions have been from said countries) there is legislation, or at the very least government recommendation to stay at home whenever possible. This is not just a question of one's personal morality at this point, but often national safety. Although I've not seen answer saying "Stay at home, life will be amazing.". Instead those always outline that this may lead to loss of job, but that it's always secondary to health.
    – Aida Paul
    Mar 27, 2020 at 9:04
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    @TymoteuszPaul Government "recommendations" count for very little. Obviously if there are laws in place to prevent people going to work, that's a different story. But even then, how the situation is approached can lead to different outcomes. I do not agree that "health" always comes first. It's up to the personal situation of the OP. Mar 27, 2020 at 9:57
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    @GregoryCurrie And because people think that they count for very little, the initial recommendations will eventually be turned into mandated and enforced lockdown. Rent can be figured out, so can grocery money, mortgage and other payments needed. But getting sick and possibly dying, or causing others to, cannot be postponed to a later date.
    – Aida Paul
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:00
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    @TymoteuszPaul saying "Rent can be figured out, so can grocery money, mortgage and other payments needed" is easy.. but it doesn't offer anything particularly useful.
    – motosubatsu Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:14
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    @motosubatsu For some people, it's also not true. Mar 27, 2020 at 12:16
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    @motosubatsu mostly because the workplace is not the place to into details of how you can use various government/charity outfits to help through financial struggles.
    – Aida Paul
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:16
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    @TymoteuszPaul Neither is it the place to give people whimsical platitudes, but it's absolutely the sort of place where we can advise people what sort of provisions are in place for workers.
    – motosubatsu Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:18
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    @TymoteuszPaul We all suffer loss at some stage. Hopefully we are all able to offer objective and meaningful advice regardless. Mar 27, 2020 at 12:25
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    @TymoteuszPaul Oh come off it.. that's a straw man and you know it. I'm not downplaying the seriousness of the situation in any way. And frankly I resent the implication that I'm somehow being cavalier with people's health. You know what also kills people? Poverty, homelessness that sort of thing. All I'm advocating for here is that we give people real actionable advice to best navigate this.
    – motosubatsu Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:27
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    @TymoteuszPaul That you would dismiss the very real concerns of many people as "temporary financial hardship" is breathtakingly naive at best and downright insulting at worst.
    – motosubatsu Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:32
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    "The question is usually asking how they can avoid doing the immoral behaviour without jeopardising their job." - sometimes doing the right thing requires courage. Similarly, if you feel that going to work jeopardizes your health or family's health, have enough courage to do what is right for you, then deal with the job situation later. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no free lunch. Mar 27, 2020 at 12:47
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    @GregoryCurrie - in the questions I see, the OP claims to be worried that it's unsafe to go to work, or have family members that need care. At least they feel that the risk is significant. Should we assume they don't know what they are talking about? Or should we guess that it's really an "I want to do what I prefer, but I don't want to suffer any consequences" question? Mar 27, 2020 at 13:09
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    @JoeStrazzere Not at all. But if quitting work was an easy choice to make, they would have done so already. Obviously they are looking for potential solutions that allow them to retain their jobs (and possibly know their legal rights). The questions are quite open-ended. "I want to do what I prefer, but I don't want to suffer any consequences" makes it sounds like those that want to provide for their family are selfish in some way. But I think that's a miscategorsation, and we probably shouldn't just blindly assume that of the OP. Mar 27, 2020 at 13:19

3 Answers 3


In almost every instance, there is one, or a few answers or comments, that simply say "You should stay at home".

There are often stupid answers to questions, which is why we have the voting system. Feel free to downvote any and all answers you disagree with.

Morality and social responsibility etc, are locale and even individual relative.

In such a fluid environment, I don't see much more that we could or should do beyond what we already do.

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    voting system tends to break in HNQ, where we can get even poor quality answer upvoted by multiple clueless passers by if it looks entertaining to them. And COVID questions are practically doomed to get hot nowadays...
    – gnat
    Mar 27, 2020 at 15:33
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    I thought you just clicked close on everything... you read some of them first? But that aside, I've never seen the HNQ as a problem. I just assume moderately intelligent adults are reading the answers and making decisions.
    – Kilisi Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 20:20
  • now you have a problem with HNQ ritght there, in your answer since it seems to be based only on assumption that voting system works. And this assumption fails on HNQ
    – gnat
    Mar 27, 2020 at 20:25
  • Voting system does work well enough, everything in life is a compromise at some level.
    – Kilisi Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 20:28
  • oh, from this perspective one indeed can say that voting system works well enough - as in, it generally serves its purpose. It's just that purpose of HNQ is to entertain and voting system works well enouth to serve it. Though this is different from purpose of regular questions, which is sharing the knowledge / helping askers - which kind of makes one wonder why you suggest to downvote stupid answers. When your single downvote is easily countered by tens or hundreds entertained upvotes, this approach looks like just a useless waste of rep points
    – gnat
    Mar 27, 2020 at 20:54
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    You can't hoard rep points and then cash them in at some point, they're not actually worth anything except to the individual
    – Kilisi Mod
    Mar 27, 2020 at 22:35
  • "Feel free to downvote". Ok. Mar 28, 2020 at 0:29
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    @dan-klasson see... it works.... well done
    – Kilisi Mod
    Mar 28, 2020 at 0:31
  • @Kilisi Jokes aside. That's not what the voting system is supposed to be for. But it is what the voting system is constantly being used for. Mar 28, 2020 at 0:37
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    @dan-klasson perhaps, not something that worries me or anyone else except a tiny minority who think they own the place I guess. Ironically the same people who were dismissed without thought and jumped up and down talking about suing and mutinying.
    – Kilisi Mod
    Mar 28, 2020 at 1:08

If the question is not fine

If the question asks "what should I do" or "how should I handle this", I'm inclined to say it's a problem with the question more than the answers.

Such questions are difficult to answer objectively and are rarely useful for anyone else (or they need more focus, since they often lack the specific goal the asker is trying to achieve) and should generally be closed.

In some cases you may be able to edit the question to make it on topic, but it may not be entirely clear what the OP wants to know (in terms of on topic questions, that is). It may also be too late to make such a significant edit, which would be when it already has a few answers addressing the original question. In such cases, closing this question and creating a new one would be a better option (although it's up to the original author to decide to ask a new one, or you can create the new one yourself).

Instead of asking which decision to make, questions with more objective answers would be asking:

  • how to make the decision, for example:

    What risks are there to [going to work / staying at home]?

    Although in this case both of those would be obvious, or maybe something like:

    Is it legal to force me to go to work?

    This would be a legal question, but I would expect someone in HR to know the answer (although I'm not 100% sure about this).

  • for more specific details about one element of the decision

  • after making the decision, how to best go forth to get the best possible results, for example:

    How can I insist on working from home while minimising the risk to my career?

    How can I raise concerns about going in to work?

(I personally think the best type of questions start with "How can I", although not all on-topic questions can be phrased in this way, and it doesn't guarantee that it's on topic)

If the question is fine

If the question asks for one of the above, in general the answers that recommend a different decision are non-answers and should be deleted. However, these answers could be useful if they address the possible factors that would go into the decision, and especially the factors that might've led OP to the decision they already made. If, for example, there's a question asks how to raise concerns with going to work, while still going to work, one possible risk to simply staying at home would be losing one's job. An answer wanting to recommend staying at home should explain why losing one's job is not likely, or how to evaluate how likely it is, or for who it might be a worse option to go in to work.

The best such answers generally present a different decision as an alternative (potentially while still answering the question as asked) instead of insisting the question asker do what they recommend. The slight phrasing difference between "Don't go to work" and "You might want to consider not going to work" might seem minor, but often these answers are phrased a lot more objectively: they don't give an opinion, but they present a possible alternative and give the factual pros and cons of this option. Presenting the pros and cons allows the asker to weigh these up themselves and make an informed decision. Trying to make the decision for the asker implies you know how the asker weights each pro and con, which you don't.


Have to agree - I've seen more than one instance of lazy "well just stay at home" or "just burn PTO" type of answer that sweeps under the rug the very real prospect that approaching it in the cavalier manner suggested in the answer will have significant and lasting negative ramifications for the OP.

While there's a very reasonable and strong argument that people need to be as considerate of others well-being and safety as possible (and I don't disagree with the sentiment) there has to be a balance - keeping others warm by setting yourself on fire is never a good idea.

Taken to it's most extreme extrapolation if everyone "just stayed at home" we'd all starve!

This is an unprecedented situation on a global scale, people are scared, not just of the virus itself but of losing their livelihoods, of not being able to keep a roof over their heads and food on their plates. There's a great deal of confusion about what people can and should do, and the situation is changing rapidly. This makes it all the more important to give solid, actionable answers that give a real breakdown of the options, as much as is possible in this chaos.

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