Advice on asking for work accommodations

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May 28, 2020
I am currently on short term disability, but my time is about up and I need to go back to work. I want to ask for some work accommodations to help reduce my symptoms. But I'm really nervous and not sure how to go about it. I also jabber when I'm nervous and don't want to overshare too much about my condition.

Basically I work at an architecture firm and am usually on the computer all day. Some days we need to go walk buildings or construction sites. I have horrible hand pain and using the computer for long periods is very painful. Standing or walking for over 30 min is very difficult. PEM can have me in bed the entire next day. And I have baaad general fatigue so I need to nap every day. And make sure I go to my appointments and PT, etc etc 😵‍💫

So I want to reduce my hours to 30 a week. Working 3 hour shifts with a 2 hour break. 9-12, 2-5. I also want to remain working from home so I can sleep or do my PT routine or go to an appointment. I also purchased an expensive accessible mouse that should be able to be expensed, but again I'm scared to ask for too much.

I don't know how to bring up that I'd like to reduce my hours and work from home. Do I "demand" it? Like, "hey I can come back to work on xy date but i can only work these hours to accommodate my medical needs." Or do I ask? Do i spell out each thing like:
-Cannot work on computer for more than 3 hours
-cannot walk or stand for more than 30 min
-cannot lift more than 20 pounds
And then tell him (my supervisor) my idea of 3 hours shifts so that I'm always available at those times?

The most frustrating thing for me right now is that my supervisor is really big on growth and at this point in my life I don't want to grow. I just want to be the efficient team member. I'm not trying to be a manager. I don't want to take my architectural exams. I'm tired. I'm content being a helper, not a leader. But every time I spoke with him its "what are your yearly goals?? What extra curricular events do you wanna do???" None. I want to reduce my pain and stress. I want to do my job well and go to sleep. I feel like saying "hey I'd like to be even more useless to the company" is an invitation to just be let go. Sigh.

If anyone has experience doing this I would really appreciate the advice. I want to be confident and not cave if he tries to negotiate (he's a really nice guy but I'm a spineless people pleaser). I'd rather find a new job that fits with my needs than be miserable at my current job because I didn't stand up for myself. Thank you <3
Edit to add that I'm considered an hourly employee, so there shouldn't be an issue with my salary if I lower my hours
Hi kait,

I really feel for you in this scenario! I've negotiated a little with previous employers as to how much I could do because of my health, but not quite to the same extent as in your case. That said, I was a manager for many years, and hopefully can weigh in a little usefully on what might make your employer feel inclined to accommodate your needs.

If you think your manager is the kind of person who will try to negotiate, then it's definitely good to be assertive - but I'd think about it in terms of framing what you're asking for as beneficial to them. I'd express that you really love your role (this may help side-step any advancement ideas too), and that the way for you to deliver your absolute best is to work within the parameters you outlined above. If you approach it from the sense that these restrictions will allow you to provide the greatest quality and productivity for your pay, then it makes it more difficult for them to say no. Your idea to give a clear proposal of what your days could look like (as you said: working 3 hour shifts with a 2 hour break. 9-12, 2-5) seems really great to me, as this means he doesn't have to do any calculating to figure out how best to structure things on your behalf. As for your yearly goals, there's nothing wrong with saying that you want to continue to do what you do to the best of your ability, and support others in your team as they progress. Perhaps that will align with his desire to push things forwards!

If you're inclined to jabber in a pressure situation (nice way of putting it - I'm exactly the same!) then I'd perhaps think through what you do feel comfortable sharing before you go in there. This can also be approached in terms of the company's benefit; for example, you can say that by sticking to those parameters, you can be certain that a knock-on effect won't impact the following day's productivity. I think it's good to use correct terminology for your health issues, so if it's fibromyalgia/ME, then say those specifically, and explain clearly what PEM is. Explain that you have identified what you can manage without triggering PEM, and that your proposal is outlined by the points at which it becomes a barrier to doing your best work. In essence, you're asking him to help you ensure that the company gets the best value for their money - I hope that this would be a fairly bomb-proof argument!

These things are indeed intimidating, and of course we can never know how someone else is going to react. But it's also amazing how empathetic people can be when given a clear route to make things work for everyone. I really, truly hope your manager gets it right away, and can collaborate with you to strike the right balance. Good luck 🤞🤞🤞
I was able to get FMLA to be able to work at home 3 days per week. You might be able to also for reduction of hours etc. Your doctor should be able to help you with completing the forms etc.
Best of luck
Thank you so much for this advice! It was so helpful! I followed it and felt very confident with my approach to asking for accommodations. Then, two things happened...I got an email from someone in HR with a long form for my doctor to fill out. My supervisor, who I always considered very personable and caring never responded to me. Not even an acknowledging my email. He never responded 3 months ago when I requested an extension on my leave....maybe he's intentionally staying out of it for HR reasons, but he's always been so chill. He knew I was having some difficulties and couldn't get help. Its kind of putting me off of returning to this job. Like, super impersonal response.

The second thing is that yesterday, I found out I also have thoracic outlet syndrome, and a surgery could help reduce my hand pain - one of the big reasons for me needed accommodations. So now I don't know what to do! The surgery is scheduled for a week after I would restart work, and could require up to 4 weeks of recovery! So I'm stuck again about what to do. 😅😫
I'm glad we helped you find your confidence. I'm sorry your supervisor is being aloof - it can be disconcerting, but I think it's best we just focus on knowing that people can't always relate to what they've never experienced themselves, and that can make it difficult for them to know what to do. I really hope that he comes around over time.

The second thing is that yesterday, I found out I also have thoracic outlet syndrome, and a surgery could help reduce my hand pain - one of the big reasons for me needed accommodations. So now I don't know what to do! The surgery is scheduled for a week after I would restart work, and could require up to 4 weeks of recovery! So I'm stuck again about what to do

Well, if you're going to go ahead with the surgery, I guess it's best to tell your work what's coming - it's going to be a downer that you're going to miss more work, but the prospect that it might enable you to enjoy fewer restrictions moving forwards is another plus for them. My understanding is that the FMLA system protects employees pretty powerfully there in the US, and the only way that an employer can retaliate without legal risk is if they have documented proof that an employee is lying or faking their condition. Randomly, I've written quite a few articles about FMLA recently (I'm a copywriter, not an expert!) Obviously, the hope is that your employers would be compassionate and respond on that basis, but from a legal standpoint, they will likely be being careful in the steps that they take. Do you have any kind of free Citizens Advice Bureau over there in the US that you can turn to if you want any legal advice on where you stand? Your doctor may be able to advise on that too. I really, really hope it all works out for you. Well done for dealing with something so scary head on.
Hello 👋🏼
know the prob well. There’s a form from Centrelink for doctors to use: verification medical condition, SU684.
this will help you and your doctor let Centrelink know work hours and activities you a capable of. Your doctor will have it or be able to access it, and probably knows all about it. This form can be reproduced and updated for Centrelink as your condition improves or worsens.
I probably should have explained my solution for you better. When I wrote it I was time pressed and just wanted to help. Anyway... the SU684, from your doctor will help with your work situation as tangible evidence of your condition and working capacity. Once your supervisor has a good grip on your work capacity, you should both be able to get together and discuss your work conditions and need🤝
Now, If you decide your work hours need to be reduced to a point where you will need to ask Centrelink for assistance, or work wants to lay you off or cut your hour, the form will be really helpful to you because 1: Centrelink will accept the form as legitimate evidence of your working abilities and 2: Centrelink won’t assist you for a period of time (by memory 6 weeks?) if you have left paid work, (even if it’s just A FEW paid hours) without a Centrelink approved reason. This form IS a Centrelink approved reason.
Finally, be positive as it will reflect your willingness to do the right thing for your company, team and importantly your supervisor! You have good reason to be positive now that you can see you have options.
You are in a tough situation and the options might not be ideal, but they are still options.
I hope I’ve been clearer and helpful💖
I recently found the Job Accommodation Network webpage. It has good examples of accommodations for various symptoms.
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