Elizabeth Arnott, SPHR
The Fallacy of the Employee Who "Takes Advantage" by Asking for an Accommodation
Updated: Apr 19, 2018
In my years as an HR Consultant and working in HR for various organizations, I have heard more than once the complaint about the employee who is taking advantage of the employer by asking for an accommodation. Why do employers go there? Let's break it down. Here are the various things I've heard from employers:
- "He looks fine to me!" The employee looks like other employees. He doesn't have a wheelchair or a visible disability. The antiquated picture of a disability is just that - antiquated. It's likely that a large portion of your employees have some type of non-visible disability, whether it be Autism, depression, ADHD or something else. Maybe you can tell, maybe you can't. Some hide it better than others. You can't tell from looking at someone if they have a disability, any more than you can tell by looking at an applicant if they are going to be successful in the job you are hiring them for.
- "It's all in her head." Remember when your grandmother told you that you were just imagining your depression and that it was all in your head? She was wrong. There are many conditions that are "all in our heads" - and they are diagnosable conditions that are treated by reputable doctors all over the world. Let's take the doctors' word for it instead of your grandmother's. If your employee asks for an accommodation based on a diagnosed, documented disability, you are responsible to respond and engage in the interactive process.
- "He's a complainer." My work area is too loud. I need noise-cancelling headphones to block out John's whistling. I don't like going to work social functions. Is he being a complainer? Maybe. But maybe it's justified. And even if it isn't, if your employee is requesting an accommodation based on a diagnosed medical condition, you still need to engage in the process. Try working with the employee to eliminate the obstacles and see if the complaints diminish. Perhaps the person is just a negative person, but consider that their concerns may be very real to them and if you try to work with them, they may increase their value to the company by being a better, more dedicated worker.
- "The doctor is just doing what the employee told him to do by writing down a diagnosis." We all know there are doctors out there who will write what you tell them to on a doctor's note or medical certification. But do you really want to be in the business of debating a medical diagnosis with an employee? Will the cost of the requested accommodation be more than your legal fees when your employee sues you for discrimination? Humble yourself. Assume the employee is being truthful and genuinely try to work with them and come up with an accommodation.
- "She's just asking for that because she doesn't want to do her job." Really? How do you know? Did she say that? Why would an employee go to the trouble of spending money to get a diagnosis and tell her employer about a private, possibly embarrassing, medical condition to get out of doing her job? Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? No. Don't assume ulterior motives. Work with the employee. Try to help them succeed. If you do, you might just find that the employee actually does want to do her job, without the obstacles that are in front of her.
I'm a firm believer that most of the time, people are trying to do the best they can with what they have to work with. Stop making it hard for employees to ask for what they need to be successful. If we give our employees the benefit of the doubt, instead of doubting them, we will build trusting relationships that will not only strengthen teams, but strengthen companies.