Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm asking this question using a pseudonym to protect my privacy.

I have been suffering for a number of years from a sort of medical condition that wreaks havoc upon my sleep/wake routine. After being checked for a number of different illnesses over the years, the doctor thinks that I suffer from a pituitary disorder, but I don't have a formal diagnosis. If I'm not mistaken, this is a somewhat rare illness.

This illness causes a number of symptoms, but by far, the worst is that sometimes I can't sleep well at night and suffer constant drowsiness and fatigue; when I do sleep well at night, I still tend to suffer drowsiness and fatigue, but not to the same extent. I see my doctor regularly and take my medications every day, but so far, I still must manage debilitating symptoms, sometimes on a daily basis.

I spite of this, I am a talented, passionate software developer. I love working on the computer and solving problems for a living.

Up until now, I have managed this problem by hiding it from my employers and doing my best in spite of it. However, I feel that I could be a better developer, not to mention a happier one, if I could have my condition acknowledged and appropriate accommodations made.

Here are some accomodations I think I might like to have:

1) I would like a well-lit work area. I especially tend to fall asleep in the dark. However, I've been told that I absolutely must share work space with co-workers who absolutely insist that all lights must be off and all window blinds down.

2) I would like to be able to telework odd hours occasionally. The reason is that sometimes I wake at odd hours of the morning and feel extreme drowsiness during the work day. If I were allowed to telework, I could do my work when I'm awake.

3) I would like to have a couch or small bed in my work area where I have the option to lie down on when extreme bouts of fatigue and drowsiness happen. I can hardly imagine management consenting to this and I think it would cause jealosy amongst my co-workers.

I believe I can very well forget being accomodated in my current environment, especially given that I've been here for years quietly concealing my illness.

I'm thinking of taking up a new job at a new company. I think it would to inform them that yes, I am a talented and passionate software developer, but I do have a medical condition and I would like to have appropriate accomodations made for me to perform at my best.

How might I go about doing this?

share|improve this question
5  
I would attempt to get a formal diagnosis. If you can present that to your employer they may have an obligation to make accommodations for you. You may not get everything exactly as you want but I bet they will try and make things better for you. –  Chad Dec 28 '12 at 19:46
4  
Instead of asking for a nap area for yourself, consider asking about a nap room for everyone's use. While you may use it more than others, many people occasionally need such a thing and that way you're asking for everyone's benefit, not just your own. –  Monica Cellio Dec 30 '12 at 2:42
add comment

4 Answers

I'm thinking of taking up a new job at a new company. I think it would to inform them that yes, I am a talented and passionate software developer, but I do have a medical condition and I would like to have appropriate accomodations made for me to perform at my best.

Well, for your first two questions, you can absolutely get a feel for what the position of your potential employer is during the interview without even needing to mention the medical issues.

  • "Does your development team work in well-lit environments? I have found in my past I am considerably more productive in well-lit environments and my productivity is killed by dark environments."
  • "How flexible are your work hours? I sometimes find my best coding times are at odd hours in the morning/evening and am wondering whether this sort of flexible work is accepted at your company."

You might even consider asking about working from home (as this would allow you the ability to set all these factors, too, obviously). If you ensure flexibility with this as a priority in your job search you may be able to avoid all the problems you are currently describing.

Your third specific question (couch/nap area) is much more touchy as you indicate. I suspect most larger companies will have difficulty in accommodating this request without knowledge of your medical condition. You could approach it (again with a question) along the lines of

  • "I have a medical condition which requires me to take short naps to ensure my productivity remains high. Normally, I deal with this by _ or _ - do you foresee this causing any problems?"

Make sure to actually have suggestions and multiple ones. Just saying "I want to be able to take a nap on a couch/bed in my work area mmmk?" is not likely to be received well. But if you suggest things from the perspective of, "I've sometimes taken short naps in my car or in a chair at my desk or in the medical office" it gives them a much better place to go from and shows you are interested in working with them instead of just demanding something.

This whole process likely gets easier the smaller the company is, too; so keep that in mind when looking for jobs. Large companies often have harder times making exceptions to all this sort of stuff while smaller companies/departments often have less policy/bureaucracy.


This is all said without acknowledging possible legal factors (we aren't lawyers). If this is a diagnosed disability or something similar your employer may be under a different obligation.

share|improve this answer
add comment

It might be best (and easiest) to start fresh with a new company that will be willing to make the accommodations you need. The point you brought up that you've been there for years concealing this issue will cause some issues in requesting accommodations. Many people would make the assumption "if they were fine up until now, they'll be fine moving forward, why make any changes?" and you will have to build a case with evidence of how this affects your work output.

I've got chronic back pain due to scoliosis, which is an invisible issue much like fatigue, I was working at a place where my boss was sceptical of my situation, and was very visibly becoming spiteful of my need to work from home. I quit and started looking for a new job and I was very clear in the next interview that I need to be able to work from home as required, and that I am flexible for my work hours, meaning if I cant make it in the morning, I will work evenings etc. Having doctors notes and reports to support this is great, but not required if you're honest and communicate your needs properly. If you really are a talented and passionate software developer, then most places will be more than happy to make the accommodations if expectations are set up front. Happy developers == good product.

I asked a question here last week about how to present my disability in a way that wouldn't make my peers resent my work arrangement. The answers I got back included that communication is key - tell your co-workers about your issue and how you feel and ask the people around you if they wouldn't mind you having a lamp or light source at your work station.

Sleeping at work isn't the best solution, even for fatigue, and if you're working at home you have to be available for your co-workers to contact you. Its a tough situation to be sure. I've found those artificial sunlight desk lamps to be very effective, and they aren't too disturbing to other people in the room because its focused light. Best of luck to you!

share|improve this answer
add comment

Accommodations and Diagnosis

So, I can't speak for every country, but the situation in many cases changes remarkably when you have a formal diagnosis. The top of my list of things to do would be to not stop pushing for an answer that can be written and signed by a doctor, since until that happens, it's mostly a matter of opinion.

Protections against conditions and disabilities varies by location, but it's worth getting to know the laws in your area here.

Stay or Go

It's hard to say from an outside perspective, whether you should stay or go. If you say, you are working somewhere where they know you and your history. How much credence your current employer will put on your medical needs has a lot to do with your qualities as an employee. If you have a good boss, and a good track record, you have a good chance of advocating for change.

OTOH - in a new job you have a clean slate. They don't know you, they don't know if they can trust you, they don't know much at all. How you start this tough conversation will have a lot to do with the new company's perception of you. There's some things on your list that you may be able to get, regardless of your condition - flexible hours, work from home and well-lit areas are all pretty common desires, and may be available in a different office. However, if you are in a situation where you're falling asleep at work, and may not get a good review from someone who doesn't know the history of your hard work - then it can be problematic to change jobs when you are trying to resolve a medical condition.

Points while changing jobs

It's a tricky call to figure out how and when to bring this one up. I'd probably do it with HR somewhere close to the job offer - maybe even after, but before I formally accepted. I wouldn't want perception of my condition to impact the hiring process in a bad way.

Either way - accommodations

1) Well-lit area

This is not at all weird, and most normal people would want this. I'd think if this was the big issue, you could go right to management now and demand it. Working in total darkness isn't recommended for a number of reasons, and you don't need to have a condition here to speak up.

As a political thought - if you choose to stay, you may want to talk one on one with any colleague in the shared space who's opinions you don't know from direct statements. Often when a status quo gets going, no one wants to go against what "everyone" wants, even if "everyone" is a vocal minority. There's a difference between keeping quiet and agreeing with the status quo and you may not be so much in the minority.

2) Telework, off hours

So this is really 2 desires - being able to work from home and being able to work odd hours. In many software jobs, both are acceptable, but you'll want to talk to management. Different teams are different, and is has a lot to do with the priorities of the group in terms of communication, as well as any security/network driven concerns on whether it's possible to do you job remotely. I say that knowing that even if your company has the capacity for remote connectivity (like a VPN) sometimes software development in particular can be limited due to the need for specialized capability (configuration management, test systems, etc).

Another one that is worth a conversation with management - just be sure you are clear that you want to work remotely at odd hours and what you think you can get done with that power. Be aware of what you would and would not be able to do with this permission, for example:

  • If you could come into the office, but not work remotely, does that help at all?
  • If you were up and working remotely, would you then sleep through the day?
  • How often would this happen? How often would it be OK with management?
  • Are there options where you can be profoundly helpful? For example, is there work that is easier to do with no one around?

Having this thought out can help when you have to discuss the nuances of this arrangement.

3) I would like to have a couch or small bed in my work area where I have the option to lie down on when extreme bouts of fatigue and drowsiness happen.

I love the idea of suggesting that this is a shared resource, since it reduces any animosity and gives others a reason to get behind the idea, but I'd recommend that you advocate for something like a "privacy room" with a cot, a door that locks, and possibly other amenities. Here's a bit of reasoning:

  • Good for all sorts of issues, including ones where the person making use of it does NOT want to be around others - illness with contagious symptoms, nursing mothers, migraines (noise, smell, sound can be triggers), etc.
  • Publicly napping can create an image in the workplace of excessive casualness in a way that going away for 1 hour and coming back looking more rested does not.
  • Avoids the potential for office inappropriate joking around.

Again, like the telework, you probably want to be ready to negotiate conditions so that they are fair for both you and the employer and other colleagues - how long would you need to rest? What can other people use it for? Who will clean it? What can you do to make up time?

General Note:

At least in the US, a company is obligated to provide an accommodation only if it is reasonable and poses only a minimal burden on the business. How that gets interpreted is a legal issue, but the obvious common sense is that things like telework and a rest area are only going to work if the company has the means to offer the capability. If you have a small space for working, and there's no place to put a couch or a secondary room, then you're out of luck. If the cost of standing up remote work servers is too expensive, you're out of luck...

In many cases, an ethical company will make a counter offer, and they are within their rights as long as it actually meets your needs, so it helps to make sure you understand your own needs and limitations ahead of time. It also helps to scout around and have ideas for reasonable options that would work for you, and pose little impediment to the company.

share|improve this answer
    
As someone who has both had a problem develop while employed (so I needed to change some things) and had the HR conversation at the start of a new job, I agree with this. Well, except the part about it not being normal to like the dark. :-) –  Monica Cellio Dec 31 '12 at 18:57
    
I love the dark... but I can't think of that many jobs where one doesn't want enough light to be able to read paperwork! :) –  bethlakshmi Dec 31 '12 at 19:33
    
Well sure, everyone should have a desk lamp that can be turned on when needed. :-) (I'm not calling for pitch-dark or anything, but the vast banks of overhead lights are, ahem, unhelpful. I once considered bringing in a big beach umbrella for my workspace.) –  Monica Cellio Dec 31 '12 at 19:48
    
I've seen plenty of modifications for that effect and never really thought it odd... but blinds closed, no overheads is a bit more dramatic than anything I've ever heard of. If the overhead lights are really that awful, you'd think it would be worth the expense of finding a better light source. –  bethlakshmi Dec 31 '12 at 19:57
    
And I love the pirate hat! –  bethlakshmi Dec 31 '12 at 20:01
show 1 more comment

Jake, I'm sorry that you are having this challenge.

Every employee has their own challenges.

Given that you are an asset to your team and you are talented, it's absolutely not unreasonable to bring these recommendations / requests to your employer.

If you are an easy person to work with, and other people like you, and you complete your work, your requests are completely reasonable and very easy to accomodate.

share|improve this answer
2  
While I agree they are reasonable doing so before getting a formal diagnosis could be dangerous. If the company wants to limit its liability they could terminate his employment before it is officially a medical issue. At that point it will be the OP's burden to prove he was discriminated against. Once he has the diagnosed condition it becomes the companies burden to prove he was not. –  Chad Dec 28 '12 at 21:45
1  
@Chad: Not sure about which country mr Baxter is from, but I find it very unlikely they will fire him upon this. Yes, true if this where some random replaceable dude at the factory - but these accommodations - turn on the light, work odd hours and bring in a couch seems like a very minor effort. Heck, seems happy with mr. Baxter and for almost free they can get him even more productive. Win-Win. –  Petter Dec 29 '12 at 23:47
    
@Petter - Maybe but it could signal some liability to the company or future expenses that they may not want to incur. And while they would not discharge him for this, a determined employer can find justification if it wants to. Getting the diagnosis protects the employee from this type of action. So while it is unlikely, it is not unthinkable or even uncommon. –  Chad Dec 30 '12 at 2:14
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.