Last week the topic of reasonable accommodation came up via HR expert, colleague, and career advocate @bgwalton7 who DM’ed the following:
@bgwalton is a thought leader and definitely someone you should follow if you are trending on leadership, career trajectory or HR and I immediately realized the topic of reasonable accommodations would make a great blog topic. When she talks, I listen.
Over Twitter I asked a few clarifying questions because I wasn’t sure about the specific requests that staff might make. To which she clarified:
Don’t feel guilty
I had focused the most recent blogs on relatively larger topics like career progression and promotions. It is these personal accommodations that are the hardest to make. The requests for the private office, lighting, ergonomic and reasonable accommodations like a VariDesk can be so visible that we feel guilty about these requests. Asking for a raise in salary is a private affair and the outcome confidential so no one knows a request is being made. If a new ergonomic “anything” shows up at your desk, co-workers will notice, and the public barrage of questions will follow. Although we shouldn’t feel guilty, it is easy to feel like we received something others are not.
Transparency around accommodations
So, with a lot of input from @bgwalton7, I am going to address a couple of points:
- How do managers really feel when employees ask for an accommodation?
- The request for an accommodation when you have a doctor’s note or disability
- The request for an accommodation when we do not have a doctor’s note.
Thing 1: How do managers really feel?
How you ask is more important than what you ask for
Keep your excuses to a minimum. If you need something, you need it. It is OK to ask, my advice is to ask in a way that is productive vs. not whiney or filled with excuses. EG: If your significant-other needs 300.00 to get the brakes fixed on the car, it is much better to hear “Can I take $300.00 from the checking account for my car? I need to get my brakes fixed”. Makes total sense, and the ask is straightforward.
The ugly flip-side
“Hey, remember how I helped you out last week when we needed to visit your mom and help her move her TV? You know my car is 5 years old and the brakes aren’t safe, we have the kid in the back seat all the time and with the brakes squeaking. Blah blah blah.” How do managers really feel? “SHUT UP ALREADY and JUST GET ON WITH THE QUESTION. YOU LOST ME AT Hey Remember”. We don’t have to ask with an attitude like we are owed anything. We just don’t need excuses. Your request is just another business request and your comfort is a business investment in productivity.
No questions asked
Reasonable accommodation requests should not be denied or even questioned. Reasonable will depend on the company you are working, profitability and culture, but reasonable will also depend on how you ask. If you ask in such a way that it your request sounds like a big deal, favor or an exception, it will become perceived as such. When we ask in a matter of fact way, with a straight face, it won’t come across as a big deal. If we ask for anything large or small with a bunch of excuses, we are putting the manager in the wrong frame of mind before an answer has been considered.
I know what I am talking about because I am an ergonomic nightmare. I am short, have bad shoulders from fly fishing, bad eyes from tying small flies for fly fishing, and a messed up back from living a sedentary life of Cheetos and Snickers. This is why I am blogging and not working a YouTube channel. I have a face and body for radio because I am a visual and crooked mess.
Whenever I come into a new office, I make a number of requests/adjustments and they have all been reasonable accommodations. Most desks heights are between 28 – 30 inches and designed for folks in the 5 foot 9 to 6-foot range. I come in a just under 5 foot 9 inches short, and so the adjustments start from here.
Our neck works best when my eyes are looking down at the top of the screen. With a large monitor and my laptop screen, I need two different height platforms for the monitors.
Blah Blah Blah
My wrist needs to be level with the keyboard and my forearms need to be level to the ground which means I am using a height and angle adjustable keyboard tray that extends away from the desk. In addition to this, I work best with an ergonomic keyboard which does not have the 9-key. This keeps my elbows from reaching out for the mouse.
My thighs need to be level with the floor or I have undue pressure on my back and even with the chair at it’s lowest setting, I need a footrest. You have heard of alligator arms, I have alligator legs.
The partial solution
I remove the arms from my chairs because even the height adjustable arms lift my elbows up and lift my shoulders towards my ears. I always have the “I don’t know shrug” going on and it doesn’t do for executive credibility. A set of Allen wrenches and a Phillips screwdriver will remedy the armrests which can always be screwed back on.
High maintenance? Yes, but spend 9-10 hours a day at the desk and then go home and work for another couple of hours and your body will let you know you are doing some damage. If we lay in bed for 2 minutes a bit uncomfortable we make an adjustment. Just Google “standard desk height” and you will see what I am talking about. I don’t know this guy but my quick Google search verified the above here.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. If you need more lighting, you ask for it. A $30.00 to $50.00 dollar lamp is a no-brainer. Most lamps will be on the low-end of this price range and this makes it unreasonable to deny this sort of request.
If you want mood lighting or something in fashion setting chrome, you are on your own, but if you get pushback for additional desk lighting because it is legitimately dark for you, you are working in the wrong place or for the wrong manager. Get out.
@bgwalton asked about requests for VariDesks and I know these are very popular. I personally haven’t used them, but the last company I worked with bought so many of these, I suggested we buy them in bulk and try to receive a discount. As I remember, these ran between $400.00 – $700.00 depending on the model.
Trump card, doctors note
If you have a note from the doctor explaining you would work more effectively with a reasonable accommodation, then we just moved into ADA (Americans with Disabilities) territory. Employees with a note from the doctor or that have a disability have rights, and there are laws in place that will protect the employee and ensures the employer makes a reasonable accommodation. @bgwalton7 provided me a simple link to read on the guidelines of the ADA here and it will go into more detail here. At a very high level:
- Company needs to have more than 15 employees
- The term “reasonable accommodation” will be determined by the company. “Reasonable” at Google will be very different from “reasonable” for a non-profit. The resources at each company vary widely.
- A doctor’s note isn’t required. The verbal mention of a medical condition can be enough to become a request for a “reasonable” accommodation.
What the company can do
If you are a person in leadership, HR, management or a lead, I HIGHLY recommend you take a few minutes and review these guidelines. You probably have employees that are asking you for an accommodation which would fall under ADA guidelines which are not recognized as such. The laws are pretty loose in favor of the employee (as they should be) and some requests may not even be recognizable. See page 7 – 13 here. Seriously, even if you don’t read the rest of this post, read this document.
The companies best interest
My advice is that if you need an accommodation, just ask. Ergonomics are a much more accepted talking point vs. 20 years ago. Companies understand that a 400.00 ergonomic work-station is much cheaper than having an employee out of the office. Time missed for physical therapy, carpal tunnel or a pinched nerve add up. If it is determined you need physical therapy because of bad ergonomics, the company suffers at multiple levels:
- The company’s insurance usage went up which can affect rates
- If the employee is out of the office at therapy with lost productivity
- When the employee is in the office, they are not working as effectively as when they are healthy
These requests don’t pop up on the managers radar because of the request. These pop up because of the way the request are made. A whiny request with no confidence is frustrating, lacks professionalism. This is an indication of how you treat customers. A confident request isn’t given as much thought. If you are making $40K a year, we have another 20% for benefits, a computer and screen, desk and chair. This can easily be a $55K expense. 400.00 amortized /depreciated over 12 – 24 months comes out isn’t that much.
Managers are worried that if we a special accoutrement for one employee, all employees will ask for it. If accommodations are made based on medical situations, we shouldn’t have a blitz of employees.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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