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I twisted my ankles a number of times when I was younger, and a doctor told me to wear footwear that offers solid ankle support. I complied with his advice, and stopped twisting my ankles.

My boss (both consulting company and client) initially said I could wear boots if I complied with HR, but changed his mind and has said that the question of whether I may wear boots is decided alone by whether he wants to have an executive ask him why I wear boots. It's not so far as I can tell that he believes that it's not a reasonable accommodation; the question of reasonable accommodation does not appear to be in his mental picture.

I'm a bit concerned for this, partly from wearing shoes at work that won't protect my ankles, partly because of a matter of, "If this is the response I get when I wear boots, what will happen when I need his help for a real problem?"

(When I tried to press the point, he brought in both the recruiters and had a meeting explaining that it is a formal workplace with formal expectations, and they did not think to explain that boots were not appropriate.)

How can I address this problem constructively concerning my physical health and my workplaces need for more professional attire?

--EDIT--

After he brought in the recruiters and made it clear, dramatically, that I was not to wear non-dress footwear to work, I sent an email to the closest public email address I could find to human resources, a media relations address, and requested to be able to wear my workboots for as long as it took for dress boots to arrive. As requested, I worked with my manager to determine an appropriate pair of boots, and ordered them before the end of the day.

A week later than I began, to the day, my recruiter came to my desk and explained that I was fired for contacting HR, as my email had then trickled down, and that was visibility that was not appropriate to his highly visible area. I was told not to have contact with my former company except as mediated by my recruiters.

The next day, the dress boots I ordered arrived. They look great. If only I could wear them to work...

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What is the problem presumably he doesn't like the hiking boot style but you must be able to find decent leather boots that offer enough support? Oxford, Chelsea Boots or Doc Martins maybe. –  Neuro Feb 7 '13 at 23:22
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The concern I have is working with a boss who doesn't show a concept of reasonable accommodation. I may be able to work with him to get an approved boot, but I am concerned that I am working with a boss for whom reasonable accommodation is not part of the mental universe. That makes me uncomfortable and nervous. –  user7628 Feb 7 '13 at 23:30
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Provide a certificate from your doctor stating you need them in order to protect yourself. Im unsure where you are but in most places its illegal to force an employee into an area that could harm them. like taking away someones epipen or a diabetics sugar source. –  RhysW Feb 8 '13 at 0:21
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Have you made it clear that there is a medical reason for you needing the boots? He may think you're just trying to find an excuse vs. a legitimate problem (which says WONDERS about his trust in you, but I suspect that's part of your question anyway) –  Rachel Keslensky Feb 8 '13 at 5:23
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The difference here was that your employer was a consulting company and you contacted HR of the firm that you were contracted to. You should probably have consulted with your actual employer's(the consulting company) office instead. –  Chad Mar 14 '13 at 1:56
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5 Answers

Yes, it is a red flag that your boss is very concerned with how the boots will be perceived by executives yet not concerned at all with your health.

In other words, what seems to be missing from your boss's behavior is any notion of "win/win", or "How can this person wear boots while still adhering to our formal expectations".

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or there's a dresscode he can't change or allow deviation from that doesn't allow boots. Worked in one such environment that explicitly prescribed what footwear was allowed, down to the colours (among other things, it even prescribed what underwear we had to wear, even though that'd never be visible). –  jwenting Feb 8 '13 at 7:11
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+1 For emphasizing the win/win approach. @jwenting if what you were saying were the case, the boss should explain the situation and chart some sort of a path (through HR?) for her request to be accommodated or denied by powers that be. Making his own call on it at a potential health cost to an employee in order for him to look good before his superiors is somewhat pathetic. –  MrFox Feb 8 '13 at 14:17
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Yes it's a red flag, but how does that help the asker deal with the situation? –  Rarity Feb 8 '13 at 19:47
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The one Incident

It's definitely not the greatest response in the world. It's pretty hard to interpret from one side of the story but a generally good response for this would have been more along the lines of raising the concerns of corporate image and asking you to help him find ways that allow for proper accomodation of your condition and yet a way of dressing that meets overall expectations. I know from my own battles with physical therapists, that it's not always easy to find great footwear that is also upscale-office looking, but it can be done, particularly if the firm is willing to offer you a stipend or something to buy some truly outrageously expensive shoes... Starting off with a "what can we do?" approach would certainly be more reassuring.

A real solution?

A boss does have a right to ask you to dress a certain way. He also has the right to ask you for verification of a medical condition before granting accomodations.

It sounds like your real problem is that the approach to the problem was not "hey, how can we work this out?" but "do what I say and that's final".

It's fair to feel cut out here... but it's also a two-to-tango situation. You're free to come back with a counter offer, proof of your condition and an insistence that you be granted an accomodation for a documented medical condition. You'll want to do some research and see what else you can do to support your ankles that might fit the company rules better. The company, however, is free to have input in what a "reasonable" accomodation is. It's something that should be discussed and figured out together.

The bigger picture

It sounds like you're asking yourself "is this a person I want to work for?" - my thought is - look at the bigger picture. In my experience, there's a lot of different factors to whether a boss is a decent boss. Someone who is lousy at standing up to corporate pressure may still be a great cheerleader, good feedback giver, or great at some other useful facet of being a boss. Every boss has strengths and weaknesses.

If this is a sore spot for you and something that is on your "absolutely can't live with it" list, then it's time to look for new opportunitites - it's pretty hard to change a boss on something like this. If there's enough other good parts about working for this person, and in this company, then chalk this up a single bad experience and give the situation more time before giving up.

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There are options other than boots to support your ankles. You could choose to get some ankle braces/supports. These can be worn under or over your sock with any shoe.

You may also want to consult with your doctor to see if he still recommends wearing the braces/boots. By the time you reach 21 many of the problems that our body has while growing up correct themselves. It is possible that you will no longer need the extra support. If you do I would get him to document this as a restriction. Very few workplaces are willing to risk the threat of litigation over documented medical restrictions. If they are an exception then I find myself a good lawyer.

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+1 for the second paragraph. I also twisted my ankle a lot as a kid.. and as an adult as well. As it turns out, I have a larger issue with the way my legs developed, leading to shoe inserts (which I can wear with formal shoes) and physical therapy to correct the problems. I'm told I should even be able to wear high heels once I get my legs sorted out. –  Yamikuronue Feb 8 '13 at 16:34
    
@Yamikuronue, and why on earth would you ever want to wear high heels? –  HLGEM Feb 8 '13 at 19:44
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@HLGEM - Please keep those type of comments to The Workplace Chat –  Chad Feb 8 '13 at 19:49
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Under the law, people with disabilities are accorded reasonable accommodations. Disabilities are both visible and invisible, permanent or temporary, and vary considerably as to the effect they have on someone's life.

Some common examples would be the following:

  • Requiring a chair with a high back for someone recovering from back problems.
  • Providing screen-reading software for the blind.
  • Ensuring that areas of the workplace are wheelchair accessible.
  • Allowing an employee to work fewer than 8 hours per day as per the needs of alternative transportation, such as a community para transit.

All of these come under the law as "reasonable accommodations" under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), which also protects employees against discrimination based on disabilities.

The best defense against the kind of employer behavior described is to receive a note from a physician that strongly and unequivocally recommends wearing supportive footwear for such a condition and submitting it to your manager. This effectively forces your manager to adhere to your reasonable accommodation or face legal consequences otherwise.

The standard disclaimer applies that this should not be construed as legal advice; however, people with any sort of disability or condition that requires an accommodation should acquaint themselves with their rights under the ADA.

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This only applies to companies within the USA. Other laws might or might not apply to other countries. –  Ramhound Mar 15 '13 at 18:51
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If a doctor's told you to wear boots for health reasons and your boss tells you not to explain to him that will cause the company to be fully liable for any injury you suffer while not wearing proper ankle supports.

In many countries this would actually be grounds for immediate dismissal of your boss for gross-misconduct!

Most companies take this extremely seriously: suppose you comply with your boss's petty demand and then you break an ankle or injure yourself in a way that makes mobility difficult. The company (the whole thing) is now liable for your compensation (potential lost earnings, pain and suffering, etc) and the fines can get very big.

From the company's point of view your (frankly incompetent) boss has opened up the company to be liable for a potentially massive fine. Most companies take an extremely dim view of that.

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Your judgement about the OP's boss based off of one side of the story is not constructive. Most places would also require a documented medical restriction to deviate from the approved company policies. The OP appears not to have that since the recommendation was from when he was a child. –  Chad Feb 8 '13 at 14:53
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@Keith, Reasonable accommodation doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. For example, if you choose to wear camouflage combat boots with a suit on a sales call, I think it is not unreasonable for your boss to raise a concern. You could wear boots with a different appearance that might be acceptable. Not saying this is what OP is asking for, but reasonable accommodation is a two-way street, hence the word reasonable. –  cdkMoose Feb 8 '13 at 17:39
    
I am looking at changing the boots I wear to be more dress boots, but my employer fully expects me to wear unsupported shoes while I wait for my approved-by-my-manager boots to ship. –  user7628 Feb 9 '13 at 20:00
    
@cdkMoose yes, if the OP is defending their right to wear rainbow coloured Doc Martin's then I'm probably with their boss instead. However there are plently of smart-looking ankle boots out there that will be find for most offices despite not looking quite as smart as shoes. –  Keith Feb 11 '13 at 10:26
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