employer demanded a doctor’s note when I asked to move my desk 3 feet

A reader writes:

I work in a large, windowless room with eight other people. Up until recently, we had wooden dividers that gave each employee a bit pf privacy, but allowed us to have each employee’s desk arranged so that it faced out to the fairly open common area.

A couple of months ago my supervisor insisted he wanted cubicles for our office instead of what we currently had, so he eventually found a way to convince upper level management to provide them from another office that had closed. They are attractive, but not all that functional. In addition to that, the problem everyone has with them is that instead of having each of our desks face out into the common work area, as they did before, each person now sits in the far back corner of the cubicle opposite the entrance, facing the corner two walls! It reminds me of when I was punished as a child and had to go sit in the corner. Of course, the boss has a large office with windows, and he is clueless about the impact on staff morale this is having on all of us.

On top of this, I am an adult survivor of childhood abuse, and as a result, I have issues with mild claustrophobia. I have been on my current job for over 2-1/2 years with no problem, until now, and did not see it as an issue until recently. After the cubicles were installed, I set up my work area so that my computer faces the side instead of the back, so I can see out of the cubicle into the open area. When he saw it, my supervisor immediately ordered me to move my computer back to the corner. I was subsequently forced to disclose my problem with claustrophobia (without telling him the cause) and asked for the concession of having my computer on the side instead of the back (a distance of three whole feet). Instead of being understanding, he sent my request to his boss, who sent it to her boss, who called me out of the blue about it! I admitted my problem, and the background it came from, and asked for the concession. This person demanded the name and phone number of my therapist! I told him (truthfully) it was 15 years ago and I have no idea where she is now. He next asked me a bunch of questions about the extent of my claustrophobia and demanded that I go to my personal physician – who is NOT a therapist – and get a doctor’s excuse for my claustrophobia.

I feel like this is an invasion of my privacy and, frankly, none of their business. It’s not like I asked for an office with a window for heaven’s sakes! I just asked to move my computer three feet.

My question is: Can they demand an excuse from my doctor? This would involve me having to disclose the claustrophobia to yet another person – my doctor, plus having to take my leave time and pay a pricy insurance co-pay for something I don’t think I should have to do. What do you recommend?

Can they, legally, demand proof of your need for an accommodation? Yes. Should they? Of course not.

Similar to the recent question about an employer monitoring an employee’s bathroom breaks, this reeks of a company that puts a dysfunctional need for control above results. And apparently it’s not just your manager who has this problem, as evidenced by the fact that your manager didn’t just handle your request himself but instead felt he needed to check with his boss, who in turn felt she needed to check with her own boss, who in turn felt this was precisely the sort of thing worth spending his own time on. Seating arrangements.

And the fact that a manager three levels above you thought that it was appropriate to ask for the name and phone number of your therapist (and as if a therapist would be willing to answer his questions about you!) speaks additional volumes about the severe boundary problems you’re facing.

Get the doctor’s note, and then start working on getting another job.

And if between this and the bathroom post, it seems like I’ve been too quick lately to recommend leaving over this type of thing, it’s because these are the sorts of things that are indicative of deeply-rooted, awful management … which won’t just impact your bathroom breaks or the direction you face when sitting at your desk — it’ll impact you in all kinds of ways while you work there, big and small.  And you cannot change that on your own, particularly in a case like this, where it’s not just one terrible manager but at least three levels of management above you. The only long-term solution is to go work somewhere that understands what a manager’s job is and how to do it.

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly O

    It is so frustrating when it seems like the whole culture of an organization is built purely to keep people down. I realize it may not be perceived that way by the higher ups, and most of the time they may not even care, but there are so many small things that would make a huge difference that just go undone, or sometimes the complete opposite action done.

    I feel for the OP. I thankfully don’t have the same issue, but I do know that sometimes my little cube can feel more like a cell than anything else and I can’t imagine what that’s like for someone with that kind of issue to deal with. Eventually the job market will change, and hopefully those who allow this kind of behavior will see the error of their ways.

    I mean, realistically I don’t think some of them will realize anything is wrong, and they’ll just start over with a brand new crop of people, and keep wondering why they can’t hire good people anymore. That’s the saddest part to me – so many red flags, so many opportunities to think “you know, maybe there is something here” and yet it goes unnoticed.

    1. Lillian Wight

      You’ve hit on the best part: when they start to wonder why they can’t hire good people anymore and why all the good folks move on so quickly. The problem is they won’t ever look at these ‘little’ things as the root cause.

  2. JT

    “Why are people so weird?”

    Good question. I’ll guess it’s insecurity multiplied by bad examples in their own work experience.

  3. Mike C.

    No, these managers aren’t unaware of what is going on or how people feel about it. They know exactly how people feel and they just don’t give a damn because they are sociopathic jerks that care for nothing but extracting every last bit of productivity they can while economic times are bad.

    There’s simply no other explanation. These are the type of people that get off on treating perfect adults like indentured servants and seek to exert control over them in every way they can. Tell me OP, what else are they saying to you? Are they being unusually strict about dress codes or start times where they weren’t before? How about lots of unscheduled overtime?

    I used to work at a place like this, and let me tell you – the day I quit without notice I was congratulated by every coworker of mine and I had never felt so good in my life. When my start date was confirmed I clocked out, bought some cake and came back to pack up.

    AaM is correct – the only solution is to leave, and the year I spent looking for a better job was worth it on that day. You are a human being and there is no reason that you or anyone else – no matter how much you make or what your job position is – should have to put up with this sort of treatment.

    Always, always remember that!

    1. Samantha

      I don’t think it’s so much extracting productivity but rather power. You aren’t really going to get much more productivity by changing the configuration of the cubicles but it seems more like a power move – they are doing it just because they can.

      1. Really?

        Really. I don’t even know what to say here. There’s too much disgust.

        However, if it were me, my Irish would be up and I certainly would not even move the pc and be quite indignant back to the supervisor as to why a) they care where the pc sits as long as the work is getting done and b) why they think asking such personal medical questions was within their legal boundaries. When they start the threats, you can easily come back with how this smells like harassment – innocently phrased questions like, “Are you harassing me about the placement of my pc, or is this a new policy? If you now require a certain placement, please send me a memo explaining the new departmental policy.” Sure you may not have a legal leg to stand on, but I doubt they’ll push you around as much anymore. Most companies won’t want to bother with the bad publicity and risk of lawsuit, frivolous or not. Sure, they’ll be pushing you out the door soon if you stand up for yourself, but that’s ok – no way you’ll be turned down for unemployment for being terminated for “not having your pc in the correct place on your desk.” I’d love to see that one come across my desk! The burden of proof is on the company for unemployment benefits. So if it’s not in the employee handbook, there ya go. If it suddenly is, then maybe there’s a civil/workers rights issue.

        I’m actually a little sick to my stomach for you. Good luck, OP.

        p.s. I guess my secret career desire is “I shoulda been a lawyer” or maybe “professional agitator.”

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The problem with implying a legal threat when you don’t have legal grounds to really do it is that the company is likely going to know that you don’t have any legal grounds … and will instead just see you as a problem employee from that point on, meaning that life will probably get harder at work, rather than easier. So while the principle of this kind of approach feels good, it won’t necessarily play out the way you’d want it to!

          1. Really?

            I look at it as just a phrasing, not an implication of legal threat. Usually once someone realizes they shouldn’t be asking these types of questions (as in, “why are you asking about my personal medical history with regards to a desk setup?”), they take a step back and reassess. And yes, as I stated in my post, of course they’ll see you as a “difficult” employee from here on out, but they look at the OP that way right now anyway, I would bet. So no reason not to stand up for yourself.

            At company group sessions where the new health provider was going over our new information, I noted that men’s sexual health issues were covered but not women’s, and with whom should I address this matter? (They would cover Viagra but not birth control pills. Seems silly actually, because paying insurance for children would have to cost them much more over the years than monthly birth control.) Within two days, we received company wide notification that birth control pills would be covered. I was still there for 12 years afterward. Notice I did not imply any legal threat. Just allowed the correct perception to be absorbed. Sometimes people need to know you’re not going to take their shit.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Ah, but I see that as very different than insisting on getting a new policy in writing (basically, your relationship with your manager is over from that point forward) or throwing around words like “harassment” (which in a workplace context has a specific legal meaning).

      2. Mike C.

        Power is a big part of it certainly, I can’t deny that. However, what these idiots think will improve productivity and reality are often two completely different things.

    2. Jane Atkinson

      Unfortunately, Mike C, I think you may be right.

      At one time, I would have thought that you were exaggerating, until I discovered articles like this one.

      AAM is right. There’s only one way out and it’s out of there.

  4. Anon y. mouse

    Good heavens. That’s just ten different kinds of inappropriate behavior from your managers. Really, asking to speak to your therapist?! That’s just the icing on the WTF cake here.

    Job hunting is hard right now, but it’s not impossible. If you can write a good resume and cover letter you’ll be ahead of 95% of the people out there. You can do it.

  5. Hannah

    In general, I don’t feel bad for any windowless cube dwellers, as I am one myself. My cube isn’t my dream serenity spa, but lets me get my work done which is the only point. That said, I keep my computer faced towards the (still windowless) aisle instead of the corner, because I agree that facing the corner makes it worse. It’s weird that management would take issue with that.

    I’m sympathetic to the OP but I’m just thinking that without knowing about her past, she might be coming off as awfully whiney to her coworkers/bosses. Perhaps management reacted poorly because they already had it in their heads that she was being difficult. Maybe this will blow over if she is careful to make it clear that she is asking for some flexibility, not just complaining and starting dissent.

    1. Natalie

      Labeling someone as whiny or difficult for daring to rearrange their work station is ridiculous all by itself.

      1. Marie

        “Labeling someone as whiny or difficult for daring to rearrange their work station is ridiculous all by itself.”

        Agreed.

  6. Hannah

    I also meant to mention they may be asking everyone to face their the same way so they can monitor their computer usage.

    1. ImpassionedPlatypi

      There are programs for that. They shouldn’t have to actually be able to walk by and see the screen.

      1. Jamie

        Absolutely. If you were going to hire a truck driver would you follow him as he drives through town to see if he’s driving properly – or would you run a DMV check? Same thing.

        If you want to monitor internet usage manually you should know people smart enough to have jobs tend to be smart enough to minimize a screen when they hear footsteps.

        I just think this is ridiculous that the OP even had to have official conversations about this.

        From an IT perspective if you need an accommodation which is significant enough that there are costs involved – maybe that’s something that needs to be verified (moving the computer if it would require new cable being run, or an additional access point, etc.)

        But moving it a couple feet over? Seriously? Unless when you moved it, your workspace is now encroaching too close to someone else, then there is no reason to care.

    2. jennie

      The first thing I thought of is that management suspects a productivity or porn problem and figure monitors being visible will solve that. Of course there are other ways to track usage, but enforcing all monitors facing out levels the playing field cheaply and easily. Management probably sees this as a reasonable request and thinks people who object have something to hide.

      Also, the letter writer seems overly defensive. I agree that the managers didn’t handle this well, but asking about the reason for the policy would probably be a better starting point than getting personally offended right away. There’s a lot of agressive language like demanding and forcing and ordering in this email, so if that’s not the way things normally get done at this company, I’d guess the OP is being overly sensitive or maybe there’s something bigger going on here.

      1. Dawn

        I agree. There may be a reason why they want the PC in a certain spot. Having the screen visible makes it harder for someone to surf the ‘net all day. I once had an employee who moved everything around so her screen would not be visible to anyone walking by. I didn’t think anything of it until I heard from her cube neighbor that she was spending an awful lot of time on the internet. And every time someone came into her cube she quickly minimized the window.

        I think management could have handled this much better, though. If there’s a reason they want the computers in a certain place, tell the employee the reason rather than sending it up the food chain and making it look like no one knows their ass from their elbow.

        Who knows, though, maybe they are just being complete asses because they can. Definitely not unheard of.

        1. Vicki

          If the real issue is “we don;t trust you to get real work done unless we can see your screen”.. that’s a different problem. But it’s still a problem that glaringly says “Run! Run Away! Go Now!”

      2. Katie

        A manager calling and requesting an employee give them the name and phone number for their therapist so they can verify a health problem–a therapist who notably IS constrained by law and is legally not allowed to reveal information disclosed in private sessions to a person’s employer, unless a crime has been committed–in my opinion warrants aggressive language. I don’t think this is OP being “overly sensitive.” The managers at this company sound completely ridiculous, raising such a stink over *where people sit.*

        If you’re that concerned about an employee watching porn or something, there are better ways to monitor their usage, and if you’ve got a specific concern about a specific employee, address that individual about the actual problem. Orwellian seating arrangements and prying into a person’s private treatment for their mental health is, in my opinion, completely ridiculous, over the top, and absolutely, 100% terrible management.

        No matter how you look at this, it’s just bad, bad, bad. I don’t understand how anyone can defend the behavior of management.

    3. Helena

      Another possible restriction on desk position: fire or earthquake codes. But if that’s the case, why not just say so?

  7. What the?

    Ok, clearly the management at this organization are a bunch of tools. That’s pretty evident. However, and this may not get the popular vote, I get irritated when I hear people try to play the medical diagnosis card because they don’t feel comfortable with their work arrangement. She’s not under treatment, no meds, no therapist and hasn’t sought treatment for 15 years. You can’t self diagnose – your claim has to be substantiated by a medical professional. So if the condition is that severe where it is disrupting your ability to work, then you need to see a doctor. It’s not that complicated.

    1. Samie

      Yes, but Claustrophobia isn’t necessarily something that happens enough to see a doctor about, much less medicate. Other people refuse medication because it only makes it worse. I myself have anxiety that can get pretty severe, and I refuse to take medication because it makes it worse. However, I have other coping mechanisms to deal with it. And, if like the OP, that means moving my PC three feet, I’m moving my PC.

      Emotional disorders, especially those caused by trauma, are not something a doctor can ‘fix’. Any medication, meditation or other techniques are coping mechanisms. The goal (ideally) for many therapists dealing with a patient who has an emotional disorder is to get them to the point where they do not NEED medication, or therapy. Where they can cope with their disorder on their own. So not seeing a therapist in 15 years is legitimate, as well as not having medication.

      Sorry, between having anxiety and being a psychology student, I feel the need to defend the OP for being on neither meds nor seeing a therapist at the present time.

    2. KellyK

      The thing is, it’s not disrupting her ability to work unless she’s put in a bad location. A doctor or therapist isn’t likely to say, “Oh, you should be on meds for your claustrophobia” based on just that. They’re more likely to say, “You should talk to your boss about moving your desk.”

      It’s the sort of accommodation that a decent employer would make without the whole run-around.

      Even if someone isn’t claustrophobic to the extent that it requires medical treatment, an employer that doesn’t care that they’re uncomfortable and stressed by an arrangement that can easily be changed and that hurts no one is a jerk.

      It’s not that she needs treatment on a regular basis; her employer just wants her to “prove” that she’s claustrophobic. It’s a lot like requiring a doctor’s note when someone stays home with a bad cold. “Too sick to go in to work” doesn’t necessarily mean a doctor’s going to tell you anything useful other than “rest, take OTC meds, drink plenty of fluids, come back if it gets worse.” In both cases, going to the doctor doesn’t actually benefit the patient, it just gets a piece of paper that makes the employer happy.

      She’s an adult, and she gets to decide whether she needs medical treatment or not, and if she’s already *had* therapy, she’s probably determined that it’s not necessary.

      1. fposte

        I think the medical element is a bit of a red herring anyway, because 1) this doesn’t look to rise to the level of an ADA-level disability so the medical aspect doesn’t really matter and 2) this is a dumb thing for them to balk at without a reason regardless of the motive for the request. And if it *were* a request for accommodation under the ADA (and it sounds like they may be trying to handle it at that kind of level), they’d be dumb for not just saying “Sure!” for such a minimal accommodation anyway.

        1. コ”リラ コ”リラ

          If she has a condition that rendered her unable to perform essential life tasks in the past, she may still be considered disabled under the ADA as ammended by the Ammendments Act of 2009.

          > 1) this doesn’t look to rise to the level of an ADA-level disability so the medical aspect doesn’t really matter

      2. Anon

        Maybe management could perform their own claustrophobia testing and make the cubes into small sized boxes, with a roof and all – maybe like refrigerator sized boxes – and see who starts screaming from panic. That should help out, dontcha think?

    3. Katie

      I don’t think I need a doctor to tell me I don’t like, in my case, crowds. I’m sure OP similarly doesn’t need a therapist to confirm that she does, in fact, have an adverse physiological reaction to confined spaces.

    4. Mike C.

      Why do you get upset when folks try to make reasonable changes to their work environment in an effort to be more productive?

      You need to remember that people need to be treated with respect. People often “play the medical diagnosis” because folks like you refuse to stand up for others when they are being treated in a disrespectful manner.

      Making the point that people generally cannot self-diagnose is uninteresting and completely diminishes a legitimate concern. Why not have some empathy instead of blaming the victim?

  8. Ask a Manager Post author

    It shouldn’t even matter if it’s a medical diagnosis or not. She has a reasonable request for something that would make her significantly more comfortable at work without significantly impacting anyone else.

    1. Sandrine

      I actually agree with this point a lot.

      Honestly, moving a PC three feet is such an innocent thing to do it would not even bleep on my radar. I mean, this boss would probably not like me either cause I’d need to move the mouse from right to left…

      Keep in mind that no matter what suggestion I post of course I would not dream of telling someone to leave without another job lined up. I did it once and learnt the hard way that this is a very, VERY stupid thing to do, especially in my country…

      With that said, OP, RUN. Look for a job elsewhere, and run. I wish you the best. For some reason your post does not strike me as someone wanting the moon, so surely there has to be an employer out there that will be able to recognize it.

  9. bob

    This reminds me of a Dilbert strip from probably 10 years ago where the pointy haired boss wants the employees cubicles resized down to match their worth to the company. The funny part was a few years later Scott Adams published an annotated book where he said that cartoon was actually based on a suggestion he got from employees at Motorola, I think it was, where the company was actually doing that very thing!

    This also reminds me of my first job out of college in a gubment agency and a mid-level bureaucrat in the building who actually got out a string to make sure all the desks were lined up exactly in our office one time. Wow was that guy uptight.

    It almost sounds to me like the bosses of this poor woman are actively trying to see how much pressure they can put on the employees before they break. I know it sounds horrible but so is her story.

    1. Under Stand

      Ok, the bosses of the OP sound like jerks, I agree. But the guy from your first job, I totally get that! If all the desks were in the open, it would drive me batty seeing them slightly out of line. Heck I look down the top of the walls of the cubicles at our office and line them up all the time! That is not about being uptight, it is just part of being OCD. I cannot stand when things are not in a straight line and are supposed to be. I can actually see when one desk is half an inch out of line and it will eat at me all day until I move it back to the straight line that it is supposed to be in.

      Now what goes on in your cube, that is your business. But please, for the love of goodness, keep your cubes lined up straight and quit moving that wall!

      1. Dawn

        I hear ya on lining things up! That’s how I am when I’m proofreading documents. I can tell when there’s an extra space or a missing space. Drives me nuts!

      2. Jamie

        We don’t have cubicles, but there are pictures in our conference room that aren’t hung properly – they intended all to be in a straight line but one is maybe 1/4 inch too low.

        I always chose a seat with my back to those pictures – because otherwise it would distract me beyond belief.

        It’s a running joke with my employers that if I were to medicate my OCD, I wouldn’t be as good at my job (channeled correctly OCD is a gift to an IT or an auditor – I’m both).

        They really do need to rehang that picture, though.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Fix them! Fix them! Even if you have to do it at night when no one is around.

            I recently ordered a framed Yves Klein print. It came framed upside down. I’d had it reframed within a day — drove me crazy!

      3. Long Time Admin

        Under Stand, as much as I like to see things neat and tidy, if you touched my desk or my cubicle wall, there would be trouble.

        Keep your OCD to yourself.

  10. JT

    I say insecurity is a part of this (perhaps even the cause of the power-tripping) because the boss isn’t just being bossy, but is chicken enough to have to escalate the issue to his boss. And that person does the same. They’re all afraid. I’m not excusing them; I’m saying their behavior comes from a lack of confidence in their ability to get employees to do good work, so they focus on little things to make it seem like they know what they’re doing.

    1. Anonymous

      That’s what I was thinking. There may be the kind of power-tripping Mike C. describes along the line too, but this screams to me of a manager who has no idea what the limits of his/her power are and every reason to believe that there’ll be hell to pay if the guess is wrong. And at that workplace, that’s the kind of timidity that’s encouraged at the managerial level.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes — and the fact that the third boss didn’t say, “I could care less and I’m surprised you’re even thinking about this, let alone asking me” but instead not only involved himself but involved himself TO THE POINT OF CALLING HER AND ASKING TO TALK TO HER THERAPIST says that there’s a reason those first two managers are timid and afraid to make the wrong call. They’re overseen by a manager with serious issues, who probably micromanages the tiniest things they do. Doesn’t make their behavior okay, but provides context for it.

        1. Jamie

          That’s exactly what I thought, as well. There can’t be that many people who genuinely care about the position of your workstation…so there’s some serious crazy from the top down where middle management is terrified to make a move.

          If someone came to me complaining that someone moved their computer like this, I would first ascertain if the employee was trying to move the computer to a bathroom stall, or perhaps the roof…because barring either scenario my only question would be why the hell did the manager feel this was a good use of my time – or theirs.

          1. Suz

            LOL! This is where you need the “thumbs up” button!

            Bathroom stall is going to make me giggle all day…

        2. Vicki

          One thing we don;t know is how much detail the first boss sent up the chain. Did he actually say “OP wants to move her computer to face away from the doorway and when I said “No” she said she has claustrophobia and I don’t believe her.”? Or did he say “I have an employee who is claiming she needs accommodation for claustrophobia. What paperwork do we need to prove that?”
          Either is over the top, but the latter would mean that upper level management hasn’t actually being given enough information to let them see how stupid the whole discussion is.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            But even if the call was “I have an employee who is claiming she needs accommodation for claustrophobia. What paperwork do we need to prove that?” the boss’s response still should have been “just let her move her desk, no paperwork or proof needed!”

            1. fposte

              Right. If it isn’t an ADA claim, making a fuss is stupid. And if it is an ADA claim, making a fuss is stupid. All those roads lead to the same stupid Rome.

  11. Joey

    Although there are better solutions this sounds like it could be managements reaction to too much socializing.

  12. Lesley

    I sit on an aisle and I hate having people constantly walk behind me, so I moved my computer too. I know plenty of people who also hate sitting with their back to people or having their computer screen exposed to the world–it makes you feel like people are looking over your shoulder, even if you are doing nothing wrong.

    One of my former coworkers was made to feel awkward when she moved her computer. She would get so caught up in her work she’d jump everytime someone came to talk to her. HR made a stink about it, but our boss came to her defence, thank goodness.

    Cubicles are just dehumanizing and this arrangement makes them more so.

    1. Samantha

      This. I hate having people walk behind me too. I’m not doing anything wrong but I still hate it. I’m very jumpy (don’t ask me I just am) so I can’t even imagine how quickly I’d be a mass of quivering nerves if my back was to the “door”. I also like to listen to music while working (with headphones so it doesn’t bother anyone else) so I’d be really jumping if someone came up behind me. Of course using headphones would probably be forbidden there anyhow.

      1. Jamie

        I love this blog – it makes me feel less alone.

        This.

        I am SO jumpy when focused that I’ve made co-workers uncomfortable because I startle so dramatically (no noise – but literally jumpy). People have gotten pissed at me, but what exactly do they expect me to do about it? If I had to sit with my back to the door I can’t even imagine how much worse it would be.

        And as a public service announcement to you non-jumpy people out there: When we ignore it and ask what we can do for you, please don’t spend five minutes talking about how you didn’t mean to startle us, are we okay, how uncomfortable you are when you think you’re disturbing us. Business at hand, people.

        If we had a stutter, or allergies, or had some kind of tic you wouldn’t bring it up each time we stuttered, sneezed, or twitched – because it would be rude. Same thing.

        Ugh – huge pet peeve of mine – sorry.

        1. Samantha

          LOL. It’s a running joke in my office how jumpy I am. Everyone just laughs at it now. It’s pathetic but I can’t help it.

          1. Jamie

            You and I should recruit Lesley’s former co-worker and all work in the same office. With three of us, we could make the non-jumpy people feel like there is something wrong with them!

        2. Anon

          I’m jumpy too (less so it sounds like though) and my direct supervisor LOVES to startle people. At first, it didn’t bother me much and was funny sometimes, but after 2 years it is annoying. Really. He gets such a kick out of it and I hate to burst his bubble, but the next time he does it I’m going to have to let me know it isn’t funny anymore. My fault for letting it go so long, but I don’t feel that I should have to tell another adult that purposefully startling (or joyously happy when it happens by accident) your employees is NOT A GOOD THING.

          1. Mike C.

            Roll back in your chair suddenly instead of jumping if you can. Like hard, really hard. Tell your boss you haven’t been sleeping well.

            Repeat until your boss stops doing it.

            1. Samantha

              Or jump and flail your arms around in terror and accidentally crack him across the head. Ooops. You startled me – joke’s on you.

              And yes I’ve been startled so much I’ve jumped like that (didn’t hit anyone tho)

              Thanks goodness people in my office don’t do it on purpose.

              1. Jamie

                If anyone in my office did this on purpose I would be working remotely effective immediately.

                Once I was perched on my chair in a weird way – so when I jumped I actually fell off my chair, whacked my head on the desk on the way down, and the Hello Kitty toys (don’t judge) on my desk went flying.

                On purpose? Zero tolerance for that.

              2. anonymous

                Funny, I studied martial arts – my startle reflex was replaced by a defesive reflex (largley extinguished over the years.) At one position (as a very young man) I dicussed the martial arts with my co-worders. This led to one person (bully) trying to startle me. They succedded one time, got punched on the side of the nose, never did it again. I was chopping lettuce with a 16″ knife at the time, they actually were kind of lucky

          2. Another Anon

            I hate the back-to-the-door alignment, standard at our place too. Until today I had no idea it was intended to watch our computer screens for mischief. In my career I’ve known a LOT of people who delight in seeing if they can make a woman jump and I just hate offering my back as a target. I’ll use all kinds of odd positions and office arrangements to avoid it.

            1. Vicki

              I recommend a mirror on the wall facing the doorway, up slightly and off to the side so you’re not just staring into it all day. It’s difficult for people to sneak up on you that way.
              A squirt gun may also come in handy…

  13. Cruella

    This sounds like there is a bigger, underlying motive for the call to the therapist. Like a little company CYA.

    When my department was moved to a new building, we went from an open office to cubicles and it did cause a drop in productivity.

    1. Katie

      If the concern is productivity, address productivity. Do not call and ask for the number of the person’s therapist.

  14. Samantha

    Isn’t there doctor-patient confidentiality in the States? No doctor is going to say anything to an employer (or anyone else). Now a note may be written in very general terms at the request of the employee but there isn’t going to be anything specific on it. At least that’s the way it is here.

  15. Christine

    This person’s company definitely handled this poorly. I can’t really comment on the initial conversation between the OP and the supervisor because I cannot tell if it occurred in private or not (I sure hope so!). While I think an employer can legally require proof of the need for an accommodation (under the ADA), this company took it way too far in taking it up THREE levels, and in that person asking for the name and phone number of the OP’s therapist. Even if the OP was still receiving treatment, you have to sign a consent form in order for a therapist to speak with certain individuals. Big breach of confidentiality.

    Again, I don’t know what the specifics of the initial conversation were, but I wonder if the OP asked about the rationale behind this new arrangement. At the very least, the management should’ve spelled this out up front. I believe people respond better to certain policies when there is a reasonable explanation for it. Had that been addressed right away, I don’t think this would have gone so far. I wish the OP the best of luck in finding a more suitable environment.

    P.S.: AAM – I love your blog – you are a rare gem in an increasingly ruthless world of work.

  16. Anonymous

    I’ve worked at a place too where we were made to feel like children. If we were one minute late (literally ONE minute) we would get in trouble and they would take away one hour of our PTO (paid time off). Their excuse was that too many people in the past had abused the rules so they felt the need to go to this extreme. I’m so happy I don’t work their any longer. Its actually been 5 years but it still makes me angry to think about it.

    Working at a place like that was so oppressive. The morale was so low. There was a large history of people just walking off the job. I hope managers are reading this and realize that you can’t treat your employees like children!

  17. Gayle Laakmann McDowell

    Just a clarification: the ADA is pretty strict in what is covered. A company is NOT required to cover anything that’s medical. The condition has to inhibit a “major life activity” (and you have to be able to complete the job with or without reasonable accommodation).

    Major life activities are things like walking, hearing, breathing, seeing, etc. Mild claustrophobia would probably not be cover (maybe, but probably not).

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep, I suspect it’s not covered under the ADA. But I think the question here is more about whether they SHOULD do this, and not what the law requires.

  18. Jo

    I think every now and then we need to remind ourselves of our worth. If you are a great worker, you do deserve a great company/manager to work for. Again, in my analogy is like when you are in an abusive relationship. You have to tell yourself that there are good men/women out there and you don’t need to settle for the bad one.

    I have been with great companies and bad ones as well, so I could totally tell the difference. Thankfully I am with a great one now, so I’m not going anywhere :)

  19. Vicki

    This is insane.

    Where I work now, everyone has a cubicle and all cubes are configued with a “corner” worksurface by the door. I have the opposite problem from the OP; I can’t stand facing out into the hall where evefry motion, noise, or walk-by distracts me. I switched around so my computer is facing the back wall. Thank $DIETY that none of the managers at my company are like yours! (You can come work at our Co. You’ll love our cubes.)

    In comparison, many years ago at another company, following a move to a new building, I discovered my new cube was next to the break area. Evereyone in the dept knew that the smell of microwaved popcorn made me feel nauseous (and the team micro’d a LOT of popcorn). When I complained, t=our dept head claimed I had “requested a cube near the women’s restroom”. Seriously! AND I had to get a doctor’s note to move to a cube that was not near either the restroom or the microwaves.

    I hung a photocopy of that doctor’s note on the new cube. It disappeared. I hung another copy. It disappeared. The third copy stayed up.

    AaM is one of the sensibles. For every one of her there are at least 10 crazy managers floating around in the wild. Ack!

    1. Vicki

      I should add that I also have two mirrors in my current cube. One is on the wall above my screens; the other is off to the side.
      I may face the back of the cube but no one sneaks up on me :-)

  20. Bob G

    I have to agree that this sounds like the upper level manager(s) have issues and perhaps the OP’s manager knows this will be an “issue”.

    My manager has a severe case of OCD, much like the people who mentioned the pictures not hung correctly. If they walked into our department and found a cube not configured like “all the other ones” it would be a MAJOR issue. Having said that I would have allowed the reconfiguration without asking and explained why when it was found out. I have to think there is more to this then we know.

  21. What the?

    Ok,
    1) the OP made it a medical issue when she brought it up to her incompetent superiors
    2) By doing that, the employer does have a right to ask a medical doctor to substantiate this – no they don’t have to disclose the diagnosis, they just have to state what the accomodation is and that it is related to the OP’s medical condition.
    3) People with extensive or severe disabilities and related symptoms DO seek treatment – you don’t have to be medicated – treatment could take many forms, maybe treatment is warranted to better cope with the new work enviroment? The simple fact remains that the OP made it a medical issue – the employer can request a doctor’s confirmation of this accomodation if they want to be shitheads.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think anyone is disputing their legal right (which I confirmed in the original post too), but rather whether there’s on planet on which it would make sense for them to exercise it.

      And why should she have to seek treatment to cope with something when there’s a much simpler solution (to move her desk 3 feet)? I think you’re agreeing that she shouldn’t be asked to (per your s*heads comment), but rather saying they have the *right* to stick to their guns. Which they do, but it still makes them horrible employers, who she should flee.

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  23. Cary

    Ugh if this were Canada I’d say this is really going to far in terms of privacy. Since it’s the US I’d say this is going to far in terms of bat shit crazy management. So get the note then get the hell out of there.

  24. Robert

    Office reorganization seems to be becoming an increasing trend lately – and I’m not at all sure it’s a managerial power-trip thing. I’ve noticed that every time we have a new drive / imperative / goal (call it all what you will), rather than let us all get on with producing the great results we always deliver, it is accompanied by “you’re moving here, this department’s going over there, we’re putting this that or the other somewhere else…”. Honestly I don’t think that the level of stress such moves create is being honestly considered – especially in a tight economy with an increasingly multi-tasking work force. I really wish I was able to say “you want to increase profits by x, drive down costs by y, you want this done by z… then let me get on with it – four weeks of deliberation and managerial haggling over who goes where it just not going to effin’ achieve that”. For some reason managers think that having to walk twenty feet to talk to someone is too much of a risk to take (or in your case, which way the computer faces). Genuinely, a nervous, over-worked, over moved, physically controlled team is the bigger risk by far.

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