A reader writes:
My coworker, “Casey,” has worked at the same company as me for just over two years. Casey has mental health issues with obsessive-compulsive disorder (self-acknowledged and openly talked about) that have gotten progressively worse as time goes on. Casey is on medication and currently in therapy, but it isn’t enough any more. It has gotten to the point where it’s out of control and affecting the lives of others.
Some examples: Casey likes everything to be the same, and so to accommodate this management has amended the dress code to say that if clothes have patterns they must be uniform and even that if anyone wears a ring, watch, or bracelet on one hand they must wear one on the other so it’s the same. Another example is that some people who work here take public transit and there is a bus stop outside of our office. To accommodate Casey we were directed by management to line up for the bus as male/female/male/female, etc.. so the line is orderly.
These are just a couple of examples, but I could go on all day. I don’t want to come across as a horrible person but I am getting fed up with having to change every little thing because of Casey’s accommodations. Casey is a nice enough person and I know it’s a mental illness, but at the same time I don’t see why everyone else has to suffer all the time. I would never purposely do anything to make Casey uncomfortable and neither would my coworkers, but we feel like this has gone too far. People have quit or transferred to other locations to get away from this. Someone was given a written warning for only wearing a ring on one hand and was asked to remove their wedding ring because they didn’t have a second ring, and we were told we will be written up if we don’t comply.
When we bring our concerns to management or HR they just tell us about the ADA and being tolerant. Short of finding a new job, can you recommend any other ways to get management to see why this is a problem?
Whoa. This is not the way to accommodate someone with a mental health issue; you don’t shift the entire burden to other people to manage.
Your company has handled this so badly (lining people up by gender?! telling someone to remove their wedding ring?!) that I don’t have a lot of hope that you’ll be able to get them to see reason. Acting reasonably doesn’t seem to be their strong suit.
But whenever anything ridiculous is happening that you want to push back against, harnessing the power of a group is often a lot more effective than just one person speaking up. So you could give that a shot: have a group of people talk to someone with authority and say that you’re sympathetic to Casey’s illness but are being asked to shoulder an unreasonable burden to accommodate it, and ask that the company consult with a lawyer and/or disability expert on ways to meet their obligations to Casey without making unreasonable demands of other employees.
You could also show them resources like this, which explains that typical accommodations for obsessive-compulsive disorder are things like giving the person control over her own workspace (not other people’s) or allowing the person to use noise-canceling headphones. It’s not typical to give the person control over what other people wear or who they stand next to at a bus stop (which shouldn’t be under an employer’s control at all).
Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes companies do unreasonable things because no one has bothered to push back against it in an organized way, and sometimes just a little bit of group pressure can jog them into realizing, “Oh, people have a problem with this and we need to find another solution.” Other times they don’t budge, no matter how compelling the argument you lay out. I can’t predict what will happen here, but it’s absolutely reasonable to make the attempt.
our company is making us do unreasonable things to accommodate a coworker’s mental health was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.