Best way to have this work schedule conversation?
March 25, 2015 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I need to ask for accommodation in terms of schedule/telecommuting at my job very soon due to health issues. What’s the best way to phrase this and how do I bring it up?

I’ve been at my job for over 1.5 years. Due to chronic illness and anxiety (and treatment for both), being in an office 8+ hours a day is too taxing on my body to continue. I want to ask (very soon) for accommodation in my schedule. If they're unable to accommodate me, I will need to put in my 2 weeks notice. (My therapist, partner, and financial situation are all okay with this.) We're a smaller company, but we do have telecommuting employees so the tech is available for it. I have a home-office.

How do I initially bring this up?
Monday would be best. Should I email on a Friday? On Monday AM? Sunday sometime? I’d rather email and ask to set a time, as I think it’s more formal instead of just popping my head in their office. It has to be approved up the chain.

How should this conversation go?
I’m a little stuck on explaining reasoning beyond something like “Due to my chronic health issues I would be more efficient working from home the majority of the time to accommodate it. Here’s how...” Is that enough? How should I script this? (I don't want to say "Or I'll leave," but if they say no, I will need to resign.)

I will include the planned schedule- office in the p. m.(to coordinate with some coworkers’ schedules and to work around my a.m. appointments) and the tech-solutions (computer setup, phone forwarding, etc.)

I’m unsure about how this works under ADA (US)?
I don’t want to specifically bring up ADA, and they are overall aware of my various health issues, but not perhaps “officially” up the chain. I feel that if I HAVE to say “well, you need to reasonably accommodate me under ADA,” if they say no initially, then it’s just asking for a back-and-forth and I’d rather leave.

My goal is to telecommute, look for a new job ASAP and save money from this job. It would be easier when looking for a new job to already have this schedule in place. (Although it’s a valid reason to leave if they won’t accommodate it.) Being without this job would be tight, but doable, and I’d be ready to take that step. Everyone's replaceable, but it's a job with a steep learning curve and it takes months to find someone who will/can do the job (due to the responsibility level and how underpaid it is.) My performance reviews are always positive.

Additionally, if you’re an employee, I’d love to hear how these conversations went with current (or even prospective) employers. Managers, how would you like your employees to approach you with this? If you’d rather not have it public, just tell me to Memail you and I’d be happy to!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd bring up the health issues without naming ADA. (You can escalate later. Just make clear it's your main reason.) Also, be aware that they'll be concerned about fairness to others -- can you point to longer tenure, greater reliability, or some other reason you deserve to WFH in addition to the health issues? Finally, unless your supervisor is fairly seasoned, s/he may not be able to make this decision without consulting a supervisor or HR, so you may want to see if you can find the ability to hang in there past Monday.
(Just my two cents -- no specialized knowledge of HR etc.)
posted by salvia at 9:39 AM on March 25, 2015

Talk to your doctor. If s/he writes an ADA letter on your behalf your employer really has no choice but to comply.
posted by COD at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2015

Do you have a doctor's note for this request? I would make sure to have that in-hand, so that you can cut that part of the conversation off at the pass.
posted by xingcat at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2015

I would frame it not as "Hey, you have to do this under the ADA." I would frame it as, "Hey, I'm having some health issues that are making some aspects of my job difficult, but I think working remotely could be a good solution."

You need to talk about the impact. How will it benefit your performance and thus the company? How will you mitigate certain things that are normally done in person? Do you manage people or report to someone else -- how will you do that remotely? I think the fact that you will provide a schedule is good, although how can anyone really know whether you're sticking to it? When I was approved to work remotely, I needed to include metrics and clearly defined expectations for my job for accountability. That was an HR requirement and not something I proposed initially.

Personally, I would email your boss and ask for a meeting. Then in the meeting, I would explain briefly what the problem is, and then get to the solution: Teleworking. Depending on how the meeting goes, especially if your boss isn't sure or needs to go ask higher up for approval, you can offer to send your boss a memo regarding how the telecommuting will work so he/she has something to look at and send that as a follow-up to the meeting.

When I asked for telecommuting, I focused on how it would help my company, and I hinted that it was necessary for them to retain me. I didn't focus on myself or the fact that I was miserable at headquarters. I made it a solution-oriented thing for the company. I think you have to mention your health issues, but you need to talk about the solution and why it's the best choice for your company.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:20 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Talk to your doctor. If s/he writes an ADA letter on your behalf your employer really has no choice but to comply.

Understand that "reasonable accommodation" =/= telework, necessarily. They do have to provide an accommodation to allow you to fulfill your job duties, but it doesn't have to be that specific one if there is another that would have the same effect. That is, your employer is not required to reallocate essential functions of a job so it depends on how important facetime is to your specific job duties. The fact that your coworkers telecommute isn't really relevant, unless they have the same job duties as you (except inasmuch as it does say something about your office culture and the likelihood of management looking on telework as "real work").

I would present this as a win-win: it would be better for you AND for your company. I would also lead with the ADA request, because it's going to seem rather manipulative if you ask for it, they say no, and then you pull that out. I would present it as a productivity issue: you would get more done from home. And don't tell them you would otherwise quit!
posted by epanalepsis at 11:43 AM on March 25, 2015

I am currently in the process of negotiating to be able to work remotely/telework. I do work for an organization where this is common, but there are some reasons why some higher-ups won't want me to do it, so maybe my experience will be helpful.

Anyway, I think in most organizations/companies, the most important thing is getting your boss on board. When I initially talked to my supervisor, I explained to him why I wanted to work remotely and how I might make it work. FWIW, my reasons are all personal (wanting to be in a city where we don't have an office) so I just told my boss that I didn't think I wanted to live in this city long-term, but that I really wanted to stay with the organization. This is a low-key way of letting your boss know the stakes without making an explicit threat. So in your case you might say "I'm finding that health issues are making it increasingly difficult to be productive working in the office full-time. But I really love my job and I want to find a way to make this work. This is what I propose: [your proposal]."

Give your boss some latitude to suggest other ways to make it work or other ways to alleviate any worries they or their higher-ups might have. And then let your boss be the one to go to bat for you with the higher-ups. If they want to keep you (and it sounds like they should), then this will be worth it to them.

Good luck.
posted by lunasol at 12:50 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a manager who hasn't been directly involved, but it happens plenty around here and have some non-expert subjective observations:

The thing is, it's supposed to be a back-and-forth. Expect that if you say you have limitations and ask for a reasonable accommodation, they will first ask you some contact information for your doctor. HR will write a letter to the doctor asking some questions about your limitations, which they will give you to deliver, get a written answer, and return. I don't think you gain much by having the doctor's letter ahead of time unless you know what questions they want to ask.

It's then an iterative/collaborative process of trying to figure out if they can accommodate you and if so, how. They are not required to do whatever you ask, i.e., telework specifically. They might agree to that, but they could propose an alternate solution. They could decide that given your limitations you just can't perform the essential duties of your position, but given the likelihood of a lawsuit, they'd want to have a pretty good justification for that. They are required to engage in the conversation in good faith. I don't think it can hurt to ask.

In my observation at my particular company, they/we try very hard to come up with a win-win scenario. I have never seen any resentment about it when we accommodate people. But we also are not shy about letting people go if they just can't do the job even with the accommodation. (i.e. we won't keep people on the payroll just because we feel bad. Sometimes we can find them another job description with us that they can do.)

Also, it doesn't matter if you mention the ADA or not. Management is expected to recognize their responsibility to engage in the process even if you don't cite statute at them verbatim and say magic words.
posted by ctmf at 8:06 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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