The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in many ways—including how we think about our careers and workplaces. A lot of people began rethinking their priorities in life, and asking themselves what they want from a career. Multiple surveys have predicted that a significant percentage of American workers might switch jobs post-pandemic.
If you’re one of the millions who are, or plan to be, job seeking during and after this public health crisis, you may want to ask your future employers questions specifically related to how the company handled the pandemic and what impact COVID-19 had on the work environment. Some you could bring up during a first- or second-round job interview when your interviewer asks if you have any questions. But others might be better to ask after you get an offer (and before you accept it) or during the offer negotiation process.
The answers to these questions can uncover information about how the company values its employees’ safety, how it adapts to change, and how much it trusts its employees—all factors that are important not just due to COVID-19, but when exploring any new employment situation. Plus, if you’re looking for a new job because of how your last employer handled the pandemic, you don’t want to end up in a similar situation to the one you’re leaving.
Additionally, research indicates that around one in 10 people who were infected with COVID-19 could have “long COVID” (a range of long-term health problems stemming from a past COVID-19 infection). That means there are likely to be millions of people needing to adjust to a “new normal” that includes adapting to a new, chronic health condition or disability in the workplace. And if you’re one of these COVID long-haulers, you’ll have an additional set of questions that you might need to ask as you look for a new job.
Here are some questions to ask your prospective employer about COVID-19, tips on when and how to ask them, and guidance on what the answers may reveal, so that you can make an informed decision before you accept your next job. (And if you’re still looking for roles to apply for, you can find thousands of current openings right here on The Muse!)
Questions to Ask About COVID-19 During an Interview or Early in the Hiring Process
Questions you ask during an interview could give insight into how the organization treats its employees and what company culture it fosters more broadly. While the rules are gradually shifting, it’s still generally considered “polite” job search etiquette to avoid questions that focus too much on what’s in it for you when you’re in the early stages of the interview process, and instead focus your questions on how you can benefit the employer and how you’ll add to the organization’s culture. Of course, it’s fair to ask some questions, even in the early stages, to ensure the company and a job meets your goals and needs for a new position—for example, finding out if a position is fully remote or if you’d be expected to commute into the office in the future.
Some questions to ask at this stage—and what to look for in your interviewer’s answers—include:
1. How Have You Created a Positive Community and High Morale Within Your Organization During the Pandemic?
During an emergency or crisis, it’s easy to forget about the need to build a culture of community in the workplace. Community-building activities, like holiday parties, staff lunches, birthdays, retirement celebrations, farewell parties and other events may have had to be altered if in-person meetings couldn’t take place. However, such activities are an important aspect of employee engagement. An employer that took the time and energy to think creatively about how to build and maintain a positive work environment, even when staff worked remotely, is one that truly values its employees.
2. Is Remote and/or Flexible Work Still an Option? If So, Is This a Permanent Option?
This was once considered an almost unthinkable question for most job interviews. Now, with so many organizations offering remote or hybrid work models, it’s worth asking early on in the job search process—not as your first or only question in your phone screen or initial interview, but perhaps before you are called back for a second- or third-round interview. If you’re seeking remote-only work, it’s better to know whether this is an option up front, rather than wasting your time and the company’s time on multiple interview rounds. And if the company insists that all staff must return to the office full-time without a business reason, it might provide insights into the organization's culture and priorities, too.
3. How Did You Handle the Transition at the Beginning of COVID? Was Your Whole Workforce Remote During the Pandemic? If Not, What Determined Who Had to Come Into the Office and When?
This question gives insight into whether the company puts safety first and whether leadership trusted their employees as they adjusted to working from home during a global pandemic. You can find out whether decisions regarding remote work were based on more impartial factors, like the specific nature of each person’s job duties or if they were made as a result of more subjective reasons, like personal opinions of individual employees. You may also gain insights into how the company thinks about work-life balance.
4. How Is Your Company Adapting to the Economic Changes Caused by COVID-19?
This answer can reveal a bit about job security and how the company is adjusting to keep themselves in business. Certain industries including retail (both online and brick-and-mortar), performing arts, restaurants, grocery delivery services, government agencies, and healthcare were radically altered by COVID-19. If leadership hasn’t thought at all about how to adapt, it might be a red flag for the company’s future.
5. How Did You Make Sure That Employees Had All of the Information They Needed About Safety, Work Expectations, and Other Process or Policy Changes During the Pandemic?
An organization that takes some extra steps to ensure their staff are well-informed about policies and procedures during an emergency tends to be well-organized and communicative in “normal” times, too. And if the interviewer says that employees were asked for their opinions about changes, it could indicate that company leadership will listen to input from workers down the line as well.
Questions to Ask During Later Stages of the Hiring Process or During Offer Negotiation
Once you’ve received a job offer or are in the final interview stages, it’s fair to begin asking the “tougher” questions that will give you more insight into how the company treats its employees. These can include:
1. How Has Your Company Managed Work-Life Balance While Doing Remote Work?
With remote work, the boundaries of the 9-to-5 work day can start to blur, and for many, work-life balance was upended during the pandemic. Understanding how the company helps their staff avoid burnout reveals how it values its employees.
2. How Did You Support Employees Who Were Dealing With New Life Challenges During the Pandemic?
For millions of people, COVID-19 has caused disruptions, including illness, loss of loved ones, isolation, and loneliness as well as huge challenges for parents and caregivers with children at home from school or daycare. How such challenges were handled can reveal whether the employer can see their staff as whole human beings or just employees. For example, were parents of small children given any leeway when their children interrupted an important client call? How were staff supported if they had to quarantine or self-isolate?
3. How Did You Ensure Employees Had the Resources They Needed, Like a Computer, Internet Access, or a Quiet Place to Work, During the Work-From-Home Period?
If company leaders took the time and care to make sure employees had what they needed to work from home, it could show you that they think about how different situations will affect their employees and do their best to support them as individuals. But keep in mind, some organizations may not have had the budget to provide resources to their staff working from home. While it can be rewarding to work for a small startup or a grassroots nonprofit, it’s also worth knowing what resources you are expected to bring to work and which ones your employer can provide. If you’ll need resources like a laptop or internet access in order to be able to achieve the goals of your employer, it’s worth asking about this ahead of time rather than making assumptions and then being disappointed later on.
4. What Do You Do When Personal Opinions About COVID Cause Conflicts Among Employees?
There are workplaces where some employees may have strong views about vaccination or masks or could even believe COVID-19 is a hoax. These beliefs can lead to high-conflict situations in a work environment. A company that can ensure the safety of all staff, enforce rules and regulations consistently, and prevent and mediate conflicts shows a regard for a safe and harmonious work environment. Meanwhile, a company that doesn’t put safety first or doesn’t prioritize productive working relationships in these (and all) situations might be one you want to try to avoid, if you can.
5. What Are Your Vaccination and/or COVID-19 Testing Policies?
If or when you return to work in person, it will be helpful to know whether your employer follows evidence-based occupational health measures to prevent infectious disease, just as they would to protect employees from other workplace hazards. If they don’t, you may want to consider whether this is a company you want to be part of.
6. How Does Your Company Prevent Spread of Disease in the Workplace (Such as Masking or Social Distancing Policies)?
Even though vaccines greatly protect people from COVID-19, other measures like practicing social distancing and wearing masks are shown to further slow the spread. To improve your understanding of the risk of COVID exposure that you might face at work for this organization, find out the answers to questions like: How are you controlling traffic in the building? Are you limiting the number of people in elevators? Are there consequences for violating any rules about in-person interactions?
Questions to Ask if You Have Long COVID
An important note: We are not lawyers or doctors and every case is different. So please consider this a general resource to help you get started and, if you need it, seek personalized advice specific to your situation!
Individuals with long COVID may have a whole additional set of questions to ask a potential employer. For example, you might ask about sick leave policies or the potential for a flexible schedule. These questions will be specific to your situation and relate to the health conditions you have and the support you may need. Here’s how to figure out what you might need and what questions you might want to ask.
If an employer is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—and all U.S. employers with more than 15 employees are—then you may be able to request reasonable accommodations to help you do your work successfully, especially if your health issues are severe or permanent.
To learn more, check out this helpful guide or look through this list of suggested accommodations for people with long COVID. Specific accommodations will depend on each individual and their particular health issues, but some examples could include:
- Written materials for an employee experiencing “brain fog” or memory problems
- Flexible hours or part-time work for an employee experiencing fatigue
- A work station located so that it doesn’t require climbing stairs for an employee experiencing breathing or lung problems
Once you receive an offer, it’s a good idea to disclose that you have a documented disability and to ask if you can speak to the organization’s HR department about potential accommodations you’ll need. Generally, it’s better to disclose the disability and ask for accommodations than it is not to disclose in hopes that you’ll succeed without any accommodations, only to fail later on.
Again, your approach will vary according to your specific situation, but you might begin the accommodation conversation like this:
- With a hiring manager: “I wanted to let you know that I’ve been recovering from a health condition. I know I can exceed all of your expectations with a few simple adjustments to my work. Who can I discuss this with in the HR department?”
- With an HR professional: “I would like to formally request disability accommodations for a health condition. Can you please walk me through the process I should follow or any forms I need to fill out? I can provide the medical documentation explaining the reasonable accommodations I will need to be able to achieve the essential functions of this job.”
Asking for accommodations can be a delicate discussion, so try reaching out to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), an employment lawyer, or other organizations that support workers with disabilities, like your state vocational rehabilitation agency, for guidance. And with a new health condition, it can take time to adapt and even to identify what support you need in order to succeed at work—so this might be an ongoing discussion. Working with a health provider who can guide you through this process can be very important as well, and you may also need medical documentation to show what accommodations are necessary.
It’s worth getting as much information as you can about your future workplace before you accept an offer so you can find a role and company that will help you thrive. Your health and the health of your colleagues, community, and family—along with your emotional well-being, ability to do your job, and happiness at work—rely on cooperation, communication, and trust. These questions can help reveal how much of these qualities exist in your future workplace.