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I'm very non-confrontational and am looking for advice on the best way to approach HR about a possible health/safety problem.

Background: I'm very healthy and get a cold-related cough once, maybe twice a year, and am not allergic to pollen. The last time I missed work for health-related reasons was almost five years ago. I've been working at my current workplace for almost two years, and almost since day one, I've had allergy-type symptoms that I suspect are due to mold being present in the building. My co-workers complain sometimes of a "funny smell" (I can't smell anything but often my nose is stuffed up), when it rains sometimes water leaks in through the door, and we're located in the south east United States in a very humid climate. I've looked for physical signs of mold and have found nothing. None of my coworkers have the problems that I have. These problems (running nose, excessive sneezing) clear up when I go home. I don't think my performance is being impacted, nor that of my co-workers, despite their repeated 'Bless you's, more so, I'm slowly going crazy, and I'm worried that the mold might be black mold. Measures taken so far have had no effect: The carpets are cleaned every six months or so, which does not seem to help; we have several DampRid containers (they absorb moisture) in our room. Having spoken with coworkers, they're not aware of any prior mold testing having been performed.

Problem: In your experience, what is the best way to approach HR about these problems? I would like to have my health problems recognized by HR, though they seem to affect only myself and don't impact my work. I would like my workplace to carry out mold testing and (most likely) treatment in the building, which is not inexpensive in our area (professional testing alone is hundreds of dollars). I've thought about buying air testing kits on my own dime, setting them up, and seeing if I can prove there is a problem before discussing it with HR, but I can see this either being interpreted as 'Thanks for taking the initiative on this problem' or 'Why didn't you talk to us first?' Perhaps I'm being overly anxious and creating a problem where there is none, I'm just so tired of sneezing.

  • Location and do you have a health and safety department. – paparazzo Dec 28 '17 at 21:16
  • We're located in the southeast US and it's a small company, so no health and safety department. I do know my company owns the building however. – YeOldeWorker Dec 28 '17 at 21:20
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    I would go to OSHA. It is anonymous. – paparazzo Dec 28 '17 at 23:35
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    If your company is renting the building, there's no need to confront HR. Just pass along the information and let them get the landlord to handle it. – user8365 Dec 29 '17 at 1:33
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    I think you should test yourself for allergies. I am not saying it is not mold, but with an allergy test you could have more information before presenting your problem to the company/regulatory agencies. – Adam Smith Dec 29 '17 at 1:43
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First of all, see an allergist. You need to make sure what's going on. Remember, your health is most important.

Why would you approach HR at all? They have limited authority to handle anything beyond reporting it to someone else in the office.

You talk repeatedly about your coworkers but never about management. I'd start running it up the chain of command. Talk to your immediate supervisor and keep going up until you get satisfaction.

Document everything!

Whether you choose to go to HR or up the management ladder, there's a strong potential that there could be blowback on you. Get a journal and start keeping a log. Go back, to the best of your recollection, and record when you started noticing things. Then document everything go forward. If you meet with your boss, write down the day and time and with whom and what was said. Keep doing that.

The reason why that is important is because one way or another, it's going to cost your company money to fix it. Someone very well could decide to just show you the exit and think the problem goes away and then claim that your call to OSHA is just retribution. In other words, you need to have a record before they have the chance to start "making a book" on you.

They very well could be grateful for your diligence and nothing happens to you. I may be paranoid, but it's only paranoia until you find out someone really is against you.

TL;DR

  1. See an allergist
  2. Document everything to this point
  3. Forget HR, they're useless in situations like this.
  4. Talk to your immediate supervisor
  5. Document every conversation
  6. Move up the chain of command, documenting.
  7. Call OSHA if all else fails.
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    Why is HR useless in situations like this? "The workplace is making me sick" sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen, which HR would probably want to prevent. Or is dealing with environmental issue outside of the scope of what HR does? – Dukeling Dec 28 '17 at 23:13
  • Thankfully, I don't see getting fired over this at all, more so our company has a history of talking the talk, but not necessarily walking the walk when it comes to improving workplace conditions. Thank you very much for your excellent suggested steps, documentation and medical proof will be a great way to unaggressively show both superiors and HR that there is an actual problem. – YeOldeWorker Dec 29 '17 at 16:42
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    @YeOldeWorker I would warn you here - the "document everything" technique is useful for self-protection if things start to get ugly, but for just that reason it's not as unaggressive as you might think. If you want to keep things low-conflict, you might want to avoid waving around the fact that your documenting everything until and unless stuff gets bad. – Ben Barden Dec 29 '17 at 17:35
  • @dukeling because all HR can and would do is pass the information along to someone else. He can do that himself and there's no need to add an extra step. – Chris E Dec 30 '17 at 14:01
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    The person to talk to is the facility manager who is not necessarily in HR. – HLGEM Jan 2 '18 at 18:59
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First step should be to identify if there is a problem best you can. You should go to HR about your concerns but after you do some due diligence if you're worried about being labeled as overly anxious. Keep a journal of your systems as it rains and as it is dry outside. I worked in Atlanta for a while, and we all noticed that Allergies always picked up during the week long rains. Then talk to HR about your concerns. They should be able to do some sort of initial testing that won't cost them much (besides, the productivity of employees affected by mold born allergies is going to affect their bottom line much more, they should want you healthy).

If you feel that you are getting no where with HR, you could always file a complaint with OSHA.

File a complaint

Details on Mold

  • This is also great, I made this post during a sneezing/running nose attack that made me want to cut my nose off, looking for guidance. Calming down, keeping a journal, stocking up on tissues and having solid documentation before talking to HR is a good solution. – YeOldeWorker Dec 29 '17 at 16:46
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You are pretty clearly allergic to something, but it may well not be mold. If your workplace had bad black mold issues, you would not be the only one feeling it. There's a good chance that it's something unpleasant (for you) but not generally harmful.

That having been said, this is all pertinent information, and if it is mold, any good HR will be glad to have had the heads-up. I'd suggest approaching them like that, at least to start with. You're not confronting anyone. You're aware of information (that you're uncharacteristically ill) that might suggest something (existence of mold) that they would, legitimately, care about. You're sharing this information because it seems like the sort of thing they might want to look into, if true, and thus might want to be informed of.

Now, as you've said, testing and repair is expensive in your area. They might try to blow you off... but you can actually use that. If they sound like they're not taking it seriously, ask if they mind if you bring in some air testing kits of your own, just for your own peace of mind. This is legitimately true, as well. In addition to the frustration of the sniffling, it sounds like the worry about medical implications is what's getting to you, and you probably would find a negative mold test legitimately reassuring. It seems unlikely that they would object to you doing that for that specified reason (ie, managing your own fretting about the matter) and that way if it does come up mold, you have a ready-made opening, and you can bring it back to them with minimal confrontation again.

Now, if HR starts getting super-defensive and hostile about it, this technique stops working, but as long as they're at least moderately reasonable, you can get as far as being able to wave credible evidence at them without having to go confrontational yourself at any point, or do anything behind their back.

If you're more interested in avoiding the appearance of being overly anxious than you are in avoiding confrontation, then this isn't the strategy to use, but if you're willing to present as "anxious, but polite and considerate about it", this should get you a fair distance of the way to accomplishing your stated objectives.

  • its probably not mold You have no basis on which to speculate and it's somewhat dangerous (if OP takes your word for it). – Chris E Dec 28 '17 at 21:53
  • @ChrisE fair enough. Modified to reduce the forcefulness of the statement. Still, if they are actually following my suggestion it wont' be dangerous because they'll be actively pursuing the process of getting it checked out anyway, while also not burning bridges. – Ben Barden Dec 28 '17 at 22:19
  • This seems like a good, measured approach. Best not to burst in, hurling accusations about something you're unsure about. Asking permission to conduct your own tests is a good idea as well. – AffableAmbler Dec 29 '17 at 3:10
  • I definitely don't want to hurl accusations, my workplace is great, I really was just looking for advice on how best to approach this problem. Thank you for your wonderful advice Ben, my HR is definitely reasonable, but if they're unwilling/unable to look into the problem, your advice about asking them if I mind doing my own testing for peace of mind is excellent. The phrasing is peaceable and accomplishes what I need. – YeOldeWorker Dec 29 '17 at 16:52
  • @YeOldeWorker I appreciate what you're trying to do here, but this is a stack exchange site, and thanks (especially thanks for every answer) are not necessary. Instead, it is customary to decide which answer actually solves your problem best and mark it as the accepted answer by clicking on the green checkmark next to it. – Ben Barden Dec 29 '17 at 17:32

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