my junior team member is insisting on a desk by a window

A reader writes:

I work for a start-up, where I “manage” two other people. Manage is in quotes because we are technically a “flat” organization, but as we grew they started promoting people to team leads. In practice, leads work as middle managers (including things like making decisions on project priorities, approving PTO, all the basics), even though on paper we claim no hierarchy across the whole company. Usually this isn’t much of a problem, since there are about 10 different team leads in the different departments and everyone knows what’s up in reality.

I need advice on windows and seniority in a company where “there is no seniority.” Right now, everyone on my team has a window view. We are moving into a new building next month, where only I and one other person on my team will have window views. When the seating chart was presented, the one person without a view (Jane) immediately turned to the person with a view (Fergus) — in the middle of a company meeting, no less — and asked Fergus to give her the window seat. Fergus felt very uncomfortable (as he told me later) and basically said he had no say in seating charts. This is not entirely true, since I gave Fergus the pick of the two possible seats, based on the fact that he has been at the company three times as long as Jane. They have the same title and responsibilities, and even though our culture is such that no seniority exists, I figured that was the fairest way.

Jane later came to me to ask about it, and said she has severe seasonable affective disorder (SAD) and not being near a window will be debilitating for her. I told her that we should see what happens after we move, as in all likelihood we won’t stay in the current set-up for long (we get moved a lot as different teams grow and need new space). The windows are also floor-to-ceiling, so I think she will still get plenty of sunshine from where she will be sitting (which is more in the middle of the room, whereas Fergus is directly next to a window). Giving her my seat isn’t an option, since the team leads have their own section. I thought that was the end of it, but anytime the new building comes up, even outside our team, she gets very vocal about how hard it will be for her to not have a window.

It’s frankly getting really annoying, and I feel like it makes the whole team look bad for her to be focused on this to the point of bringing it up at least twice a week. On the other hand, I don’t want to dismiss her concerns because I know SAD is a real issue for some people, and the fact she is so vocal about it must mean it’s on her mind to a distracting extent. But I also know that realistically I can’t make sure everyone is in ideal situations for their mental or physical health at work (see also: our open floor plan). At other companies I think it wouldn’t be an issue because I could just say “seniority” and be done with it. This is also her first job out of college, so I don’t think she fully understands the “unwritten rules” as much as other people.

I’m not sure where to draw the line in being accommodating while fair to the entire team. Is this something that I should tell her to bring a doctor’s note in for, which is the policy for if someone on my team wanted a standing desk? Should I tell her we will make sure there’s enough space at her desk for a UV lamp to help in the winter? Should I just wait it out or ask Fergus if he could switch for half the year? I imagine for glare purposes the windows in the new building will have to have blinds down most of the day like we do in our current office, so I’m not sure a window seat would in reality do her any good. And as far as I know, Fergus could have SAD as well, but doesn’t want to be vocal about it.

We don’t have an HR team, and without the “he has seniority” reason, I’m not sure what to say to her. My instinct is to wait it out, let her complain if she wants (even though I think it’s oversharing, but I can’t point to how it’s impacting her work to complain to people about window seating, and I’m sure some people sympathize more than I do, which might be helpful to her), and deal with it once we see if we’re even in the same configuration come winter. What do you think?

Is it totally unacceptable in your company’s culture to just say, “Because Fergus has been here three years, I gave him first pick of seating?” Because that would be honest and reasonable, which makes it the best way to go. I get that your company wants to pretend that there’s no seniority or hierarchy, but in reality there is, and the pretense that there’s not isn’t doing Jane any favors.

The seasonal affective disorder is a complicating factor, though — because depending on the specifics of her situation, it’s possible that it’s covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That doesn’t necessarily mean that she should get Fergus’s spot, but it does mean that you have a legal obligation to enter into an interactive process with her to discuss possible accommodations, which could include a light therapy lamp or other options. Normally you’d bring HR into this, because they’re the ones who should trained to manage that process, but since you don’t have HR, who normally handles legal issues for your company? That’s who you’d want to go to for guidance.

{ 380 comments… read them below }

    1. Anna No Mouse*

      Where is this comment coming from? It doesn’t seem to pertain to the letter’s subject at all.

      1. Mel*

        flat org on paper but has management responsibility? Every time I’ve seen that it’s a company attempting to make comparing pay to the market really ambiguous.

        1. Jaguar*

          Hahaha. That’s really interesting. I was going to apply to a “flat org” a week or two ago but got a weird feeling from looking at their GlassDoor reviews. I never thought about it from that angle.

        2. Anna No Mouse*

          Ah, I get what you’re saying, but I think we should stick to the question posed by the OP and not go digging into other issues that may or may not exist.

          1. Mel*

            Maybe not pay, but as a flat org the op could also argue to whomever is in charge that this isn’t her responsibility as she doesn’t manage anyone.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Mel, why do you ask that? I don’t see anything in this letter that suggests that pay is an issue for this team, or that it is relevant to the question.

  1. Sibley*

    Aren’t there special lamps or light bulbs that help people with SAD? Maybe Jane needs to get one, or can the company provide one?

    1. Dawn*

      There are- but actual light therapy lamps are extremely annoying for everyone because they’re as bright as the sun and you have to sit in front of them for at least 30 min at least once a day for them to work. The full spectrum lamp bulbs that you can use as a desk lamp don’t do much in my experience.

      1. Violet Fox*

        At least in my experience, they also have to be used during the right time of day for the person with SAD. I use one pretty much first thing in the morning between August and March (oh the fun of living very far north). It also just is not as good as sun light.

        Depending on how severe her SAD is, where the offices are located etc, just having a bit of extra light might not be enough.

      2. Notable*

        I can’t even use them because in addition to my SAD, I also suffer from chronic migraines and the light triggers migraines whenever I look at it!

        For me I also have issues of working in an office and not being near a window… the florescent lighting can trigger migraines daily for me and the natural light can really help me focus. Sadly only 1 out of the 3 places I’ve worked even had a window that I could work near!

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      In our prison-style school, I have a number of colleagues who keep SAD lamps (as I call them) in their rooms. Especially for the months out of the year that many of us arrive and depart during the dark.

    3. justsomeone*

      Yep! Verilux makes a number of models with variable dimming and adjustable direction options that aren’t totally unreasonably priced. I have a windowless office and SAD. My company bought me a “Happy Light” (which I have on right now) and it’s managed my symptoms very well.
      It should be a simple matter to have the company get her a lamp. I’d love to be where there’s a window, but I know that’s not an option, so I make do with the lamp.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        +1. We have a lot of dark weather here. I keep my Verilux Happy Lamp next to my window. It is in my peripheral vision. It frequently fools me into thinking that it is sunny out when it is not.

        1. hayling*

          I have never heard of the Happy Light! I live in foggy San Francisco (and am currently in a temporary cube away from a window) and get SAD. It looks like there are a ton of models of Happy Light. Does anyone have a recommendation to one they like?

    4. Newby*

      Many are not that expensive, so a special lamp should be workable. The full spectrum light bulbs also work for some people (although not everyone).

    5. Captain Radish*

      This may be me being cynical, but I wonder if Jane here actually DOES have SAD or if she’s just pulling it out of her ass because she wants a window seat.

      1. BeenThere*

        This is why OP needs to behave like it is real. If she does need an accommodation then the medical letter I assume will be required. Then Jane will get her pick of lamps.

        1. snuck*


          Paperwork. Treat it as genuine, start the process, get the paperwork from the doctor, and the lamp catalogue out.

          The cost to you (the business) is a lamp and an hour of your time, vs the cost of dealing with the alternatives – her leaving and finding a replacement, her flipping out and going out on medical leave, her suing, her spending hours and hours undermining all your decisions with staff… ugh.

          And if she doesn’t have SAD she can’t produce the paperwork. And if she has it but has never been through a formal identification / diagnosis process then it might well be time for her to do that considering she’s expecting workplaces to make decisions based on it.

    6. GovWorker*

      In a gloomy climate like Chicago, even sitting next to a window in no way guarantees direct sunlight. To combat true SAD, supplemental life would definitely be required.

      1. Vicki*

        I’m trying to parse out what “supplemental life” is. My imagination is telling me that it’s not something usually available to people working at a startup. Does it involve going home at 5pm? Having friends who aren’t co-workers? Perhaps a dog?

        1. Kira*

          Doctor: You need a dose of supplemental life. I’m writing you a prescription for 15 minutes of chit chat with your friends per day, and 1 night out per month.

  2. Dawn*

    I was Jane in my last job- the way the office was laid out some desks were in the middle of a hallway and not next to windows, while others were next to a full wall of windows (the building was a D, cubes next to the wall of windows were on the curve of the D, while cubes on the straight part of the D were in between offices and the bathroom/breakroom/ elevators). When we got word that desks would be re-arranged my anxiety ratcheted up about 12 notches because I was right next to a window and I was terrified we’d be put in the desks not near any windows. If my SAD gets bad enough I get suicidal so yeah, I was super anxious about the seating!

    Even if you tell Jane why Fergus got the window seat, it won’t help her anxiety any. However, it would go a really, REALLY long way for you say something like “Jane, I hear you, and I understand your anxiety about the seating situation with regards to SAD. None of us have seen the new offices and none of us know what the natural light levels are going to be like, but I do know that there will be walls of windows so I’m thinking it’ll probably be similar light levels to where we are now. I promise that once we move, I will do everything I can to make sure that you’re seated somewhere that works for you, however, it isn’t doing us any good to try and hash out seating now when none of us know exactly what it’s going to be like. In the meantime, I need you to [dial back talking about it, let it go, stop bugging Fergus, whatever]. Can you do that?”

    Because basically you want her to stop freaking out about it every two seconds and you don’t even know how good/bad/whatever the light levels or the seating will be until you get to the new building, so you need to calm her down and let her know that she’s been heard and that you won’t forget about her BUT she also needs to shut up about it until y’all actually move.

    1. MillersSpring*

      +1000 She needs to Let.It.Go until they’re actually in the new office. Then she can bring in her doctors note, etc.

    2. Michelle*

      Some people just need to know that have been heard and that you will deal with it at the appropriate time.

      1. Vicki*

        I think that could well be the problem here. The OP has not made it clear that he has Heard The Issue and will work something out after they move. That’s vitally important and I think it’s missing from this letter. (I get the impression the letter is mostly a request for permission to say “I made a decision based on seniority, so you have to live with it.”

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I like this. We’re in the middle of a huge office move right now (actually, about 5 of them) and I can say for certain that change is not easy on anyone. People here are super anxious about their new spaces. It’s completely reasonable to use the script above – right now she’s imagining the worst-case scenario and it may turn out to be completely different.

    4. Mike C.*

      More important than wanting her to “stop freaking out every two seconds” is to properly accommodate the depression. This isn’t about placating her, that’s a secondary concern.

      1. Roscoe*

        Even so, she is handling a non existent situation in an inappropriate way. Right now that is the issue. The light levels should be dealt with when the time comes

          1. BananaPants*

            Until they get to the new workspace, how can the employee know that there will be a problem? She’s not at the stage yet of needing options.

            1. Anonamoose*

              Yep, it’s called borrowing trouble. However, to Mike’s point, it doesn’t sound like the OP has even bothered saying that they WILL deal with it (at all) – but they’ll deal with it once they’re in the space and know what they’re dealing with. (grammatically that was a nightmare; hopefully you know what I’m trying to say! lol)

              1. OhBehave*

                Jane knows what happens to her when SAD is at its worst. She’s freaked out over something that may not happen once moved to the new office. As you say, she is borrowing trouble. If OP doesn’t speak with Jane and ask her to ease up on the complaints, then it will probably get worse. Placing her in the middle of the room will most likely not give her enough direct sun. If she needs 30 minutes a day of direct sunshine, then they need to accommodate her needs by giving her a break to soak up the sun. Of course, she may need more than that. If a doctor is involved in Jane’s care/diagnosis, they can provide ‘proof’ and recommendations as to how much sun is needed each day.

            2. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

              The employee knows there is likely to be a problem, and is being proactive about bringing it to the attention of their superiors so that accommodations can be arranged in advance instead of having to move people around *after* they’ve already switched workspaces. That strikes me as a fundamentally responsible thing to do.

              1. JessaB*

                This, and also it’s not fair to everyone to go assigning spaces and then have to have people give them up. It’s better if you’re moving to have all the accommodations hashed out before you move or at least as much as you can. If she needs an actual window, she needs to be given an actual window. If you’re lucky Fergus can have space close by too. But if you have no idea of the layout (and if the move is soon you should have a floor plan by now,) I hate to say that from a “reasonable” standpoint, giving her the window is free. It literally costs the company nothing since someone is going to be by a window.

                I guess my point is why is she not being told either, “we need medical documentation to give you an accommodation,” or “no problem you get a window, barring someone in worse shape than you are.” There wouldn’t be a problem with her fears if she knew she was getting the space, and unless she’s lying to get favours (and I cannot believe that, there’s no evidence in the letter of that,) then you say “sorry Fergus.” and give her the window. Seniority does not trump medical need.

                I just don’t get why Alison’s response isn’t just “get your documentation requirements met, and give her the window.”

                1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                  I strongly suspect that Jane’s “nagging” on this issue exists entirely because she’s not getting any concrete answers or assurances from her “team leader” or anyone else, and she has a growing dread that said team leader intends to simply play “technically not my job” until she can switch to “sorry, it’s too late to change the layout”.

            3. Vicki*

              If she has anxiety, not knowing is even worse. She’s at the stage of needing to know that Something Will Be Done.

              She needs closure.

      2. Cari*

        I get the feeling OP isn’t entirely convinced Jan genuinely has SAD, tbh.

        And if she does have it, I can definitely say a depressed employee ain’t gonna be much of a productive one generally (having been that employee, that is).

        1. Anna*

          Part of ADA is documentation of the illness, so I’d be a little skeptical until Jane brought me the documentation or whatever needs to happen. Until then, Jane can drop it until the move takes place.

          1. Mike C.*

            You shouldn’t presume they’re faking it, especially based on the information presented in the letter. All we know is that the issue is invisible, she’s a woman, she’s young/inexperienced, and the OP finds her annoying.

            1. Raine*

              The OP is seeking advice here on how to professionally deal with this employee’s very vocal, repeated, and inappropriate-at-times behavior (for example, continuing to pressure another employee, etc.). People are allowed to seek advice here.

              1. JessaB*

                Except that if instead of arguing that Fergus has seniority, the OP had said “we need documentation of this so we can discuss what accommodations are needed,” and then gone on to do the whole ADA thing, the employee would probably not be being vocal, repeated, and inappropriate. The employee is looking for an assurance that they’re going to have their medical condition respected. If the OP doesn’t believe them, then ask for documents, you’re allowed to do that. The employee has pretty much made it clear the process needs to start. The fact that they have to keep saying it and saying it and are not being heard, is just as much management’s fault as the employee’s.

            2. neverjaunty*

              We also know that this is an organization with no real HR and which relies on unspoken social pressure and peer pressure instead of an actual hierarchy, because hierarchy is uncool.

              1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                Yeah, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the employee for “pressuring another employee” when the company setup explicitly makes that the only way to get things done.

              2. esra (also a Canadian)*

                Flat-but-not-really and no HR is such a recipe for disaster. I worked for an org where the new president wanted it to be flat, and by flat, everyone would just naturally report to who she wanted them to out of… the goodness of their own hearts? I don’t know. But actually assigning leaders is just like, such a drag man.

        2. Notable*

          I got that distinct feeling as well. I could feel OP flopping between ‘well it must be an issue is she is bringing it up’ and ‘she is only claiming this to get special treatment and doesn’t need it’. It reminds me so much of one of those mental health awareness commercials because this is the exact problem for many people.

          While it is entirely possible that Jane is lying just to get a window seat or is self-diagnosed and exaggerating her symptoms to get a window seat – the opposite is possible as well. It can take a lot for someone to step forward and admit that they have a mental illness, primarily because this is the reaction that people often have.

          I don’t even like telling my coworkers about my chronic migraines because they is such a stigma that because nothing visible is happening that I am not sick, or that I am exaggerating a headache to [get time off, get an extra break, get away with slacking].

          I think it would do wonders for OP to change her mindset – innocent until proven guilty. All she needs to do is simply explain that in order to look at making accommodations like this that would inconvenience the workplace, Jane would need to get a note from her doctor emphasizing that need. It can even be explained to her that if they accommodate her without the necessary documentation that it could be perceived as unfair or favoritism. Also, the assurance that they aren’t going to stick her in some dark corner may be able to help the situation. Unless the window is boxed in an office, it is highly unlikely that Jane would have no other option than to sit right in front of it.

          1. Jaguar*

            You don’t even need to ask for the note in terms of proof. You first tell Jane that you are going to find a solution to this problem and then send her to a doctor in order to find out what solutions will work for her condition. “Going to a doctor” shouldn’t be a burden of proof for an illness. You could doubt someone has the flu, but only lousy employers require a doctor to verify that. “Going to a doctor” should be the first step in solving the problem.

            1. JessaB*

              Yes but in an ADA thing, usually it’s not just what the illness is, the doctor normally fills out a form that explains what KIND of things would help the illness IE “She must sit by a window for x hours, or must have a special light, or should start work after x time (because it’s too dark for her to travel in the winter, or whatever.)” The doctor’s thing is both proof of illness meeting ADA requirements (which is not every condition) and proof of what constitutes aid.

              It’s far different from proving you’re out with the flu when you call off ill (which is absolutely stupid.) The standard for the ADA has legal requirements and you have to show you meet them. And also employers are not medical experts they don’t know what constitutes proper accommodation, they need a list of things to work from in order to decide if it’s “reasonable.”

              1. Tuxedo Cat*

                I agree. I’ve had friends who self-diagnose incorrectly as well as insist on their own accommodations that don’t help.

                Having a medical professional involved to develop a reasonable list of accommodations only makes sense.

          2. MoinMoin*

            I got the impression that OP either just thinks of SAD as a condition where you get kind of down in the dumps when it’s cloudy or she thinks that’s what Jane thinks it is (given that a lot of people think this and use the term incorrectly, like saying they’re OCD) and isn’t sure how seriously to actually take the complaint. Admittedly I may be projecting because when I started reading the letter my first thought was, “I’m about to learn a whole lot about what SAD exactly is in the comment section.”
            And I was right.

          3. Anonamoose*

            “It can take a lot for someone to step forward and admit that they have a mental illness, primarily because this is the reaction that people often have.” +1

            Many folks _really_ don’t understand how hard this is. Thanks for mentioning it!

        3. Dot Warner*

          I got this vibe too, although when anybody’s being as dramatic as Jane is, it’s easy to automatically be less receptive to them. I suspect that if Jane didn’t annoy the OP so much, she’d have an easier time being accommodating. Don’t get me wrong, OP still is obligated to accommodate Jane if she has a real issue, but it’s easier to want to do that for someone who doesn’t annoy the crap out of you.

          1. Navy Vet*

            This is exactly the problem though.

            She is only “annoying” him and “nagging” him because there was no answer. When you have anxiety and depression, it’s very hard to see past the looming doom you feel. I damn near went into a panic attack when they replaced our cubicles with cubicles were your back is too the opening. (I found out as they were being installed) And I was openly mocked for it.

            There is a tendency to not believe women when they say they have XYZ symptoms. So, I really take all of OPs comments about the nagging and whatnot with a grain of salt. Just because someone annoys you, it does not give you license to ignore a medical condition.

        4. Anonamoose*

          -> I’m 100% clinically depressed (going on 4 years now) and I am a complete TIGER at work (it’s one of the few things I can control in my life so I am excellent at it and my team loves me). I don’t think you want to make that generalization.

        5. MillersSpring*

          I didn’t get the vibe that the OP doubts her teammate’s SAD. I think these comments are piling on to the OP unnecessarily.

        6. Bartlett for President*

          I think part of the issue is that SAD is one of those conditions that people self-diagnose themselves with very often. Maybe they actually have it; maybe they just read WebMD. Even as someone with serious mental health disorders, I am skeptical of people when they say they have certain conditions that are oft-self diagnosed.

          [For the record, I lived in a Nordic country as an immigrant for a few years – I know how real SAD is, and how important it is to treat it. It is a very common issue for immigrants during winters in Nordic countries.]

      3. Anna*

        Yes, when Jane presents some documentation of her illness and after they move to the new office and see what the actual situation is. As Roscoe said, right now it’s about letting Jane know she needs to let this go until the time comes for it actually be addressed.

      4. LBK*

        I think Dawn’s whole point is that there may not even be a need for an accommodation and/or there’s not enough info to decide what that accommodation might be yet because they aren’t in the building yet. So at the moment it’s about placating her until the necessary steps to make an accommodation are actually available.

        1. Dawn*

          Yeah, exactly. Since I was in this *exact* situation, I can definitely relate to Jane, and right now it’s WAY more important to say “I hear you, I understand your concern, there is nothing that I can do right now but when we do the office move I promise I will not forget about your concerns and I promise I’ll do all I can for you.” Because that’s true, and because at this point everyone in the office is just guessing about how the new office will be and endlessly speculating about that and the light levels and where people are gonna sit and oh god is Jane going to freak out about this again this week and confront Fergus in a meeting is NOT. HELPING.

          1. my two cents*

            It’s also reasonable during that same discussion for OP to also ask that she bring in a note from her doctor, to help bolster any request when the time comes. “Oh, and could you bring a note from your doctor for when we make the big move? Then *we* can act quickly if the conditions are not sufficient.”

        2. Mike C.*

          Yet if she doesn’t mention it now, there’s a risk that an accommodation will be much harder to get. We could just as easily be receiving the same letter only where Jane said nothing, the move was already done and then she spoke up.

            1. BananaPants*

              Since it was brought up in a group meeting, at which point Jane put a coworker on the spot in front of everyone to give up his window seat for her, I think it’s been “mentioned”.

            2. BWooster*

              But what hasn’t been mentioned is that it’s been acknowledged. At all. The OP needs to tell her to cut it out while assuring her that she has been heard.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Also, assuring Jane that she has been heard and they will take care of her cuts the legs out from under Jane if she were in fact faking to get a window seat. Because at that point, what’s her beef?

          1. Act*

            I’m super torn about this. As someone who has to go through the whole mentall-illness-accomodations song and dance at every job (for the rest of my life, yay) I agree that the OP should start out from the position of assuming it’s real and serious.

            But SAD and GAD and MDD and all the rest don’t make you a jerk. Instead of having a private conversation with their manager and/or HR about needing accomodation, the employee has been hostile to coworkers, loudly complaining, and making everyone uncomfortable. That’s not mental illness, it’s being an ass. And indeed, if she’d had a professional meeting with OP about the issue, I’m sure this letter would never even have had to be written.

    5. EddieSherbert*

      +1000 more!

      This is a really empathetic and reasonable script that I think could work really well.

  3. Mel*

    Oh, if she pushes that it’s debilitating without an accommodation, ask her for some medical documentation. Then go to for some help finding accommodation ideas to talk about with her. Remember, she doesn’t get to pick a specific accommodation, you only have to provide one that is effective in assisting her in performing her major job duties. One idea is a light visor- a head mounted light.

    1. Dawn*

      I DID NOT KNOW THAT WAS A THING OH MY GOD THANK YOU!!!! This is SO much better than sitting in front of my clunky light therapy lamp!!!!!

    2. TheSnarkyB*

      Even with this though, I think the OP should speak to a lawyer before doing anything.
      It’s easy to think accommodation and ADA stuff is intuitive, or that as long as you’re not a jerk, you’re doing it right. Very not true! It’s a tricky area, so before they ask for anything, they should seek counsel.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Which is why it’s ridiculous that this company is relying on goodwell and the pretense of ‘no authority’ instead of actual HR and an actual legal department (or at least a retained lawyer) the OP could talk to.

        2. Mr. Mike*

          In that vein, I rely heavily on these folks, Northwest ADA Center ( when I have questions about ADA issues.

      1. Mel*

        Not sure if you guys know this but is provided by the DOL specifically to provide phone and online ADA accommodation guidance. A lawyer can help with documentation and help you answer whether or not you’re legally obligated to accommodate, not so much with the actual accommodation. But since your authority in the organization is really unclear Id talk to the top boss if you’re feeling like you need legal help.

    3. Christine*

      I like Dawn’s answer. Recommend that you do that and inform her that she needs to submit a “request for accommodation ADA form.” Human Resources should have a link to the form; or point you to appropriate person to request it. It’s easy to say you have ‘so & so” condition to request. The reasonable accommodation could be the lamp; to me it’s not asking for someone else to give up their office. Years ago we had a faculty member that would threaten to sue every time she didn’t get something (new office due to allergy to mold in current office, etc.,) and they started telling her to submit a request for accommodation each time she had a request for accommodation. She did get the office move into a new building; but she didn’t submit the paperwork in support of her other requests. She had a lot of gall to ask someone with more time in position than hers to give up their office. To me that’s rude.

      1. blackcat*

        Having been the asthmatic in an extremely moldy office, she has my sympathy. When I was a teacher, I couldn’t be in my office more than ~5 min without my throat closing and eyes watering. My “accommodation” was to just not use it–so be forced to go to the teacher’s lounge when my classroom was being used by another teacher. My classroom (attached to the office), also had mold that impacted me, but it wasn’t nearly as bad.

        That the proper course of action was to DEAL WITH THE F-ING MOLD PROPERLY never seemed to occur to anyone in the administration.

        It’s really, really awful to not have allergies accommodated by your employer. My parting gift, and paying it forward to my replacement (who also has allergies/asthma) was to file OSHA complaints/reports on my way out the door. Turns out OSHA found more than I knew about (heater leaking dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into a classroom, insufficient fire extinguishers), and the school got a hefty fine. Lots got fixed afterwards, though!

        If I had intended to stay at that employer longer, I would have threatened an ADA lawsuit.

    4. Anonymousse*

      I’m sorry to say that I bought the very expensive light visor from the company in Australia. I don’t remember the name at the moment and I’m not at a place where I can look it up. I think it was around $300. Just did not find it helpful. I tried it for about three weeks last winter instead of using my good quality light therapy lamp, and just cried and cried. Switched to the lightbox and was better in four days. It was extremely disappointing, because sitting in front of my therapy lamp for 30 minutes each morning was really making it difficult for me to get ready for work and also fit in some exercise. The light visor was great because I could make sandwiches, eat my breakfast, etc. But since it was ineffective, I had to go back to the lamp. I’m grateful that the company has a money back guarantee. Otherwise I wouldn’t have even tried it.

  4. Katiebear*

    I think the lamp is a good compromise. After all, the outcome you both want is to address her concerns about SAD, right, not a window view? If she were in a cubicle a lamp would address that concern just fine, and it can solve her problem here as well. Now, if she has pushback against the lamp as a solution, you have a whole other issue.

    Also, completely off topic, but if you feel comfortable, could you let her know that in some workplaces, either here or in the future, constantly bringing up health issues could affect the trajectory of her career? I know when I was new to the workplace I had a tendency to over share that I absolutely cringe about looking back. And now the cringing is back haha…..

    1. Kobayashi*

      I think it is also fair to have a brief conversation with her about how she approached Fergus in the middle of a meeting about the topic — that didn’t demonstrate the best judgment. It would have been better to speak to Fergus or the team lead after the meeting, privately.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        And that’s probably where the “doesn’t understand unwritten rules” part comes into play.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s tricky because legally she needs to be sure that she’s not saying anything that could be construed as disability discrimination, and she also needs to not interfere with Jane’s legal right to discuss working conditions with coworkers.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Maybe something like “Complaining to Fergus isn’t going to help. If you have SAD that we need to address, the first step is documentation, since even if Fergus gives up his seat this time, in the future we may move to an area with no natural light at all. So I’m going to ask you to begin that process with your doctor while we wait for the move to happen, and at that point we can see what you need and how we can take care of it.”

        1. Chinook*

          Would OP also want to point out that Jane asking Fergus to give up his office is putting him in a difficult position because she doesn’t know if he has been given the window for the same reason she wants it (or something to that effect)? She needs to be made aware that everyone’s personal needs need to be accommodated and that making demands in public are not the way to do it, especially since she has already been told that they need to wait until they move to see what needs to be done.

          1. Dot Warner*

            That’s a good point. Maybe Fergus has SAD too but isn’t as comfortable talking about it as Jane is.

            1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

              If Jane should have to present full medical documentation before she gets “credit” for having SAD, then we should equally assume that Fergus has no relevant medical condition until he submits documentation to that effect.

              1. Tuxedo Cat*

                I think the point isn’t that the OP thinks Fergus has SAD but that Jane has no idea whether Fergus has documented SAD or some other condition that warrants him the window seat. If Fergus did have a health-related reason for the seat, Jane put him in an uncomfortable position and continues to do so by bringing it up.

                It’s sort of like that letter from the interns awhile back- they were told no to wearing sneakers and pointed out that a full-time employee was allowed to. Unbeknownst to the interns, sneakers were considered a reasonable accommodation but the manager didn’t want to out the employee.

                1. Kathlynn*

                  Except, unlike that letter, the employee has a legitimate health issue that needs accommodation

                2. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                  That hypothetical is ruled out by the fact that the OP is the one who assigned Fergus the window seat, and she openly admits she did so purely out of seniority, not because he has any health need.

    3. LadyCop*

      100% on a lamp idea. Frankly, I sympathize with SAD, but as a Minnesotan, we all have it a good 3-6 months of the year. Singling someone out for a window because of it seems rude to others.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        That’s just not true. SAD is an legitimate mood disorder, not something everyone who lives in the north experiences.

        (I’m a Minnesotan, too.)

        1. Chinook*

          LadyCop isn’t saying SAD isn’t legitimate, just that it can be very common in some places and there may be others in the office with the same concerns but they are either a)waiting to see what the situation will actually be like and/or will bring up their concern in a less public place or b) suffer in silence because they didn’t realize that complaining loudly and publicly will get them what they need.

          Personally, I like the option of personal SAD lamps because it allows for more than one person to be accommodated.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Saying “we all have it a good 3-6 months of the year” is indeed dismissing it as a legitimate disorder. It’s like saying “depression? Eh, we all feel down sometimes.”

        1. Kiki*

          I grew up in Seattle, and now live in California, and I’m actually sad that it is sunny all the time. Stupid predictably perfect weather Rain, please. And fog!

      2. Dawn*

        Dude I have been suicidal because of SAD- I moved from NC to DC and something about that small change in the sun’s angle made things 100x worse. And I promise that “all” Minnesotans don’t have SAD, just like all adults aren’t depressed and just like all children don’t have ADHD. Some people’s brains are just wired differently and respond to different things.

        1. Bandit1970*

          A fellow Minnesotan, no we don’t all have SAD, unless your counting the fifth season…road construction.

          1. Cube Ninja*

            SAD works for fifth season as well. “Stop And Detour”, especially in the metro area on weekends. Wife definitely has actual SAD, I just get bummy when I don’t see the sun for several weeks at a time.

            Also in MN.

    4. Notable*

      I agree with you on the not bringing up health issues.

      At my first job I was a MASSIVE oversharer with my supervisor. I gave her insane amounts of detail about a couple of my chronic conditions, she did ask about them but now I realize that she was indeed using the information against me when I did need to call in sick or if I was having a bad day.

      Now I realize that it is important to keep it on a need to know basis. When my conditions start to interfere with my work, I discreetly go to the manager and explain that I have a chronic condition, that I need x, y, z, and that I will be able to get a doctors note to confirm if necessary. For me it could be as simple as asking for some slack that day because I am operating at 70% or I need to take a 15 minute walk in addition to my breaks or I need to be given a task that is aware from bright monitors….

      Also in addition to your comment it is still important to bring these issues up to the appropriate person, at the appropriate time, with the appropriate attitude. When I first read your comment I had misread thinking you were saying to never bring it up… but then the ‘constantly bringing up’ finally hit my brain.

      1. Katiebear*

        Oh yes of course! There’s a time, place, and a manner to bring these things up. Took me a while to master, and I like the way you explained it.

        1. OhBehave*

          Given that this is Jane’s first job out of college explains a lot. She just isn’t office savvy yet. If OP had reassured Jane that they *would* do something to accommodate her (take her to the new locale and show her the new space in relation to the window, etc.), she may not be bringing it up at every mention of the move. I am certain that this is bugging others in the office as well. I’m wondering how she handled this while interviewing in the first place. If she didn’t know where she would be seated, did she just plan to speak up if it became an issue?

  5. Kobayashi*

    I think you can ask her for documentation about her restrictions from her health care provider and then engage in the interactive process based on those restrictions. Dawn made a good point about having that conversation with her and waiting until you all see what the lighting situation is like. Engaging in the interactive process might result in putting her in an area where she at least has a window view, verses right next to a window and/or maybe buying her a special lamp to help her SAD. You might also consider allowing her an extra five or ten minutes on her breaks to walk outside, or an extra ten minute break to go outside. Those are all things you can discuss during the interactive process.

    1. Dawn*

      Yup. Also if she’s anything like I was she probably feels pretty silly about it- I once burst into tears at my desk because someone closed the blinds and made the sunshine go away. That’s not exactly a conversation that’s easy to have with anyone, much less your boss who you’re trying to look professional for!

      1. Jennifer*

        Oh god, that just made me shudder. I am temporarily in an office with a window, but in the afternoons you kind of have to close the blinds so that the poor schmuck in the back (previously me) can still see their computer screen.

  6. Chriama*

    Question to the HR folks out there: what if you were in a situation where both and Jane claimed they needed the window because of SAD? Do you get lamps for both of them? One gets a lamp and one gets the window? How would you decide who gets the window in a way that doesn’t open you up to any claims of discrimination?

    1. Mel*

      You don’t have to give either what they specifically request if you can find alternatives that get the job done. You could give different accommodations as long the “better one” isn’t based on anything discriminatory. So I’d still give the window to the one with more seniority and just explain to the other my reasoning.

  7. Jady*

    “Because Fergus has been here three years, I gave him first pick of seating?”

    Fergus lied about it when he was asked to trade with this girl. That means he doesn’t want to give up his seat and he’s not comfortable with the confrontation.

    Saying this would result in her running to Fergus again and nagging him to trade. So if you’re going to say this, tell her to leave Fergus alone at the same time. If she pressures the poor guy enough he may give in and/or resent you for putting him in that situation.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      Good point – I think it’s better to just say “Because Fergus has been here three years, I gave him the spot. And I’m sticking by that decision.” rather than revealing that he got to pick.

    2. CBH*

      I also think that Fergus was put in an awkward situation. I don’t support the lying but Fergus was put on the spot. While he got to choose his seat the final decision was the OP’s choice. Jane should not have even gone to Fergus to switch seats. If Jane had an issue with the seating arrangements then it was up to her to discuss the situation with the OP. In my opinion Fergus has gotten caught up in a situation he had no say/ involvement in to begin with.

    3. Anon for this*

      Yep. Emphasize that it was your call – don’t let it look like pestering Fergus might get her a better seat.

    4. snuck*

      Thankyou! I’ve had to scroll through hundreds of comments to find this!

      Fergus DOES want his seat, otherwise he’d have offered it up. Instead he’s taken a non-inflammatory response with her. It’s your job to sort out the seating plan, not hers… and if she doesn’t like it she can take it up with you.

      I’m not in a country where seniority has the same power (I’m in Australia), so it feels weird to me to have it be about seniority, although I guess we inadvertently default to that in many situations… but something like genuine SAD would probably garner her getting the window seat over Fergus, if it was documented, with a specialist recommendation (not just a GP, who isn’t qualified to diagnose SAD), and that specialist is one who can diagnose major depressive conditions under DSM5. If that sort of paperwork landed on my desk I would quietly talk to “flat management” and work out either two window seats, or consider moving Fergus. I know you can buy a lamp that works for SAD (from your comments, SAD isn’t a strong issue in Australia so I’m not familiar with it), but I just feel it’s an imposition when a simple solution is the window seat. If it really burns then make it that the desks swaps each year on X dates so she gets it in winter, and he gets it in summer.

      I just feel like imposing a lamp on a person is a fairly major impact on their quality of life.

      I also feel that she needs managing through this – her behaviours are unacceptable – running around whining and complaining about it isn’t the way things are resolved. It’s tempting to say “No, because you are acting like a child” but then you are being a parent to her child and buying into the dynamic. Instead say “Ok, lets talk about this. Get me the information from your specialist and we’ll work through what their recommendations are. I cannot guarantee you any seat at this stage, and I will need to have an understanding of what the recommended light levels are so we can check all the seats that might be possible for them, and a list of accommodations that are possible including alternatives to the window seat. If your specialist is happy to talk to me on the phone I’d like to know that too so we can solve this quickly. Aside from that, at this point, I want you to start managing this issue professionally, please stop asking Fergus to swap – his desk assignment is under the same decision making processes as everyone else’s and not up to him. If you have further information then please bring it to me, it is MY job to address employee health and safety here. ”

      And next time she raises it in a meeting/public way just say “Jane, we’ve talked about managing this for you, is there a new concern you need to raise, because I can make time to talk with you about your medical requirements after this meeting if you need?” and raise an eyebrow. If that doesn’t work then you can pull her aside and talk about professional conduct in meetings. She’s young and needs to learn to manage this for another forty years.

  8. SuzannaBanana*

    I have SAD, sometimes at a debilitating level. I’ve used lamps for most of my career, and have had managers and coworkers who were understanding of my 10000 LUX desk. Now that I’m in an open workspace, it’s much tougher for me because I don’t want to blind everyone who walks past my desk. (My work area is VERY bright, just not right next to a window.) I can see where she might be equally uncomfortable with that solution, especially because it’s early in her career.

    If she can’t be by a window, can her desk be positioned so that a light would shine toward her and maybe a wall behind her?

    I can sympathize with her. The feeling SAD coming on and, by extension, the thought of it happening in the future throws me into a near panic.

    1. Rachael*

      I wanted to ask someone with SAD (before I gave my opinion) about the level of natural light that is needed. In my last open office plan we had floor to ceiling windows and even though I didn’t sit next to the window (three desks away) it was always very bright. Is it okay to say “the office is really bright so you should be okay sitting in the next desk from the window” or is there something that I need to be educated on?

      1. BWooster*

        It’s something you’re not in a position to say because you dont know what bright enough means. Since you’re not the person afflicted or her doctor, you simply are not in a position to offer that kind of an assurance.

        What you should say is that if the office is NOT bright enough you will work on alternative accommodation.

        1. Rachael*

          I’m sorry. I was directing my question to Suzannabanana since she has the disorder. My question was more of a “does someone actually need to sit next to the window with the sun rays hitting the person directly or is it just the brightness that is needed”.

          1. Anonymousse*

            I have been diagnosed with SAD and it’s using my light therapy lamp that matters. It never occurred to me to ask to be closer to a window. I just don’t think I would find that effective at all.

            1. Bean Counter*

              I get bad seasonal affective disorder in the dark months, and my desk is in front of a large window. I don’t think it helps, or at least not enough.

      2. SuzannaBanana*

        For me, the window doesn’t help as much as you’d think, because it’s the strength of the light coming in. For that same reason, getting outside more during the winter isn’t as helpful as using the Sad-ellite (I think that’s its actual name). The sun is just too low to give off strong enough light. There are theories about SAD being more common in northern latitudes for this reason, but I don’t know that anyone has come up with any hard evidence.

        Not that the exercise I get by running outdoors in the winter doesn’t make a difference – because it really does – but it’s the physical activity more than the sunlight. What works for me is a combo of exercise and full-spectrum lighting.

        That said, if I didn’t have twenty years of figuring that out under my belt, I’d be grasping at anything that made even the slightest bit of sense, including believing that I HAD to have that window spot.

        1. Rachael*

          Thank you. I live in Seattle and it is irritating because EVERYONE says that they have SAD and we did have a controversy over windows in LastJob. As someone who suffers from depression I just found it really annoying that people would think that depression just means that they are disappointed that the sun isn’t out. It dismisses the people who have a diagnosis and need the accommodation . I’ve just wondered what is needed to treat someone with actual SAD and I feel for the people who have it because 1) people don’t believe it is real AND 2) a lot of people self diagnosis themselves and don’t actually know what real depression feels like.

  9. Mirve*

    Telling Jane that Fergus got first pick (i.e. that he got to choose the window seat) probably just opens Fergus up to being asked (begged/bugged/etc) by Jane to change his choice. After all if he chose it, he could unchoose it, right?

  10. Mike C.*

    It’s frankly getting really annoying, and I feel like it makes the whole team look bad for her to be focused on this to the point of bringing it up at least twice a week.

    You know what else is really annoying? Having to deal with depression!

    I really don’t understand the tone of this letter or the response. If Jan has an actual problem with depression then that needs to be accommodated, period, end of story. Instead the focus seems to be on office politics and seniroty issues with the ADA mentioned as a secondary issue. Maybe a lamp with fix it, maybe she needs the window, but the reason she keeps bringing it up is because the lack of a plan directly interferes with her ability to work. You seem to realize this, but you’re still irritated?

    At other companies I think it wouldn’t be an issue because I could just say “seniority” and be done with it. This is also her first job out of college, so I don’t think she fully understands the “unwritten rules” as much as other people.

    Uh, no. Seniority does not trump the Americans with Disabilities Act. And this comment about her inexperience is really patronizing in the face of what she’s trying to deal with. She’s likely entitled to an accommodation to deal with her depression, a window has worked so far, you haven’t presented any other options so that’s why she’s focused on this.

    1. Mike C.*

      And yes, bugging Fergus about it isn’t the right way to go about it, but when the company claims to be flat and no other solutions are forth coming, what do folks expect?

      1. my two cents*

        I would expect Jane to mention it (in a meeting, aside to Fergus or OP, email, whatever) once, and then OP should gently ask Jane to bring the standard documentation to have on file so they can act on it WHEN the time comes. OP (or OP’s manager, or an HR dept if they had one) can help Jane with any ‘real’ accommodations for a medical concern, not Fergus.

        And I totally understand the exasperated tone of this letter. It’s one thing to make mention of a condition or personal emergency…it’s another thing entirely to shout it from the rooftops or start harassing other coworkers about it. I have ADD, but I only tell folks if it comes up organically. Otherwise it’s for me to manage, which includes asking for workplace accommodations in a reasonable and mature way.

        1. Observer*

          It seems to me that the OP is reaping the results of the whole pretense of “flat organization” and refusal to manage. The OP is getting annoyed because Jane is complaining, but she has not spoken to Jane about it. *AND* she thinks it’s just about the “ideal” situation for their health, which is not her responsibility or course.

          1. neverjaunty*

            While that’s true, I doubt that the OP invented the “flat organization” at her company or refused to get a real HR professional on the team; she’s just living with it.

            1. Observer*

              To some extent that’s true. But, it’s still the reality that Jane is dealing with. And, the OP has NOT done what’s in her power, either. So, while Jane is not being perfectly professional, it’s not all that surprising, given the circumstances.

        2. JessaB*

          The other issue is however, that if Jane is not getting any “we hear you, we’re going to work with you on this,” from anyone and all she knows is right now Fergus is getting the window, and to her, that’s the only option she has (maybe she doesn’t know from lights, or like them,) the panic that’s setting in about “OMG what if I can’t work at all, what if I lose my job because I’m so down I can’t function, what am I gonna do?” Is HUGE. Ginormous hanging over her head like an anvil in Animaniacs.

            1. my two cents*

              Nope, Jane still doesn’t get a free pass to go ping everyone in the office or bring it up during unrelated meetings.

              I once was faced with both bathrooms at the office being out of service, and my direct manager (the only other woman in the office, of 7 total in over the holidays) had failed to tell me before hand. I was obviously upset and quite angry, having just failed to flush an already pee-filled toilet while standing with a full bladder, before someone told me they were replacing a water heater and I went directly to my manager about it and words were had. It is noting that one of the side effects of my ADD is emotional outbursts. I wasn’t wrong to feel the way I did, or to say something to my manager about it. But…professionalism means I do not give me a free pass to run my mouth because I simply cannot manage my own emotions, even with my underlying ADD.

              OP needs to say something to Jane, but Jane doesn’t get a free pass to go around distracting and engaging others in the discussion.

    2. Jessie*

      I don’t think the Americans with Disabilities Act means that you have to get the best of everything, it means that you have to have reasonable accommodation for the disability. Example: someone has has physical difficulty which makes walking difficult. There are two offices available, one of which is slightly closer to the door and is a nicer office which usually goes to someone more senior. The person with the disability doesn’t automatically get the nicer office when the next office over is also a reasonable accommodation.

      The point the OP is trying to make is they haven’t even been in the new office yet. The new office has lots of natural light, not just by the window. So while being by the window might be a little bit nicer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another desk in the same office isn’t already accommodating the disability.

      1. NowHiring*

        Plus Jane sitting by the window may not actually be the best outcome – because the person who sits by the window in this kind of setting doesn’t get full, unfettered control of the light levels. The shades will have to be lowered with consideration for the whole open space, not just Jane’s needs.

        After seeing the space, the better outcome might be a lamp or other light source that mostly affects Jane and is under her full control.

        Jane can and should raise her concerns, but that’s done and now she’s harping on the issue when there are no additional facts available to move towards a solution.

      2. Mike C.*

        I’m not saying the ADA means she gets the best of everything.

        So what if they’re not in the new office yet? The time to bring up this issue is now, not later. If she didn’t say anything, this letter would be about “why didn’t she speak up” instead.

        1. Pwyll*

          I don’t think the concern is that she brought up the problem, but that she’s repeatedly bringing it up (in group settings!) in a fashion that is unprofessional.

          I liken the situation to one with migraines: certain fluorescent lights can give me a terrible migraine, so bringing this up as we moved into new space would be important. Repeatedly complaining about the new space’s lighting, when I haven’t even seen it yet and don’t know whether it will affect me, is not okay, however.

          That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re handling this the right way. OP needs to talk to the person and explain to her the steps they’re going to take to determine what is a reasonable accommodation. But that doesn’t make her method of complaining okay.

          1. Mike C.*

            She’s repeatedly bringing up the problem because there is no solution! A problem doesn’t stop being a problem just because it was discussed.

            1. Amadeo*

              At this point they haven’t moved the office, so they don’t even know what solutions they might have until they move, so insisting that there is no solution is premature and repeatedly bringing it up in unprofessional ways is not the best way to handle the issue. There is something to be said in ‘wait and see’ this time.

                1. Amadeo*

                  What solution would you have the OP present? They don’t know what the solution might be just yet because they haven’t seen the space, all they have is a floor plan. Were I the OP, I wouldn’t immediately move to booting Fergus from his window seat either because it’s possible that there is plenty of natural light in the space.

                  They don’t know what accommodations they can make yet, all they can do is tell Jane “We’ll work it out when we get there” because they don’t have enough information to do more than that.

                2. Jerry Vandesic*

                  At this point there is no problem (they haven’t moved in yet), so it’s not unreasonable to not yet have a solution for a hypothetical problem.

                3. my two cents*

                  But it’s not even a realized or tangible problem yet! One can’t formulate action plan(s) based on rhetoric – at that point, one could only validate that the possibility of an issue may be present in the future and agree to revisit the topic when the time comes.

                4. neverjaunty*

                  That doesn’t make repeatedly raising the issue in an unprofessional manner appropriate.

                  If it were Jane writing in, AAM would be providing scripts on how to ask her manager for a solution. Nobody (I hope) would say “Jane, what you should do is just keep complaining to your manager over and over about how you need a window.”

                5. Mike C.*

                  What you folks keep missing is that when you’re dealing with mental health issues (or any other health/safety issue), you don’t wait for there to be a problem, you prevent the problem in the first place.

                  Seriously folks, this is simple game theory. If the office turns out to be a problem, that could trigger a whole bunch of other issues that could take a great deal of time and care to solve. If it turns out that everything in the new office is fine, then what, we’ve wasted our time commenting here?

                  Do the math, what’s worse here?

            2. fposte*

              But they won’t know what the solution is until they see the new space. That’s a point that could be made clearer, but it’s valid to put the interactive process is on hold until they find out what they’re dealing with. Jane is not currently in need of accommodation.

              1. Mike C.*

                See my response above, I’m using “solution” to describe a range of options given differing conditions – a lamp, the window, etc. One can certainly hash it out to cover likely situations and then adapt after the move as needed.

                As it stands now, there is no plan and Jane is likely talking about the window because that’s what she normally uses and doesn’t know about or hasn’t considered that there are other options that the company can take advantage of.

                1. Jerry Vandesic*

                  But there might be no need for any options. Maybe the new space has enough light at Jane’s assigned desk. Might be worth investigating if the space is open to visitors, but otherwise they need to wait to see what the situation looks like rather than wasting time with a bunch of speculation and drama.

                2. Jaguar*

                  What’s the other side of this “wait until we get there” scenario? They get there and there and Jane is placed into a situation which will give her possibly a very intense level of depression for the significant portion of each working day during a significant portion of the year.

                  Worry about it when we get there is no solution at all. Would you sign an employment contract with a company that told you to worry about the salary when you get there?

                3. Jerry Vandesic*

                  If they get there and it’s a problem, switching would be easy to do and immediate. In the meantime, the ungrounded speculation is not doing anyone any good.

                4. Jaguar*

                  The way I read the OP’s letter, switching was not going to be an option at all. If it is, then great, problem solved. But that’s not in the letter, so I’m assuming Jane has been told that she won’t wind up with a window regardless of if there are other accommodations, and worse, because of seniority in an allegedly flat organisation.

          2. Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude*

            It occurs to me that if she is bringing it up in group settings, it may be because she believes the “no hierarchy” line. If she has an issue with the group seating arrangements, she might feel like she should be talking to the group about it so they can resolve it as a group.

            Like, if I wanted to repaint the living room in my apartment, I’d expect all of my housemates to have a say in whether we did that and what color, because we’re all equal. Her scenario is sort of like, we all share the apartment and agree that we’re equals, but really Alice owns the building, and decisions like that are ultimately up to her. And that’s all good, except then our friend Basket moves in, and he keeps bringing up painting the living room at our house meetings, even though Alice already told him she likes the wallpaper the way it is and that should be the end of that.

            Basket will drive everyone insane unless someone tells him, hey, Alice loves that wallpaper and it’s her apartment really, so stop bringing home paint chips. It’s not actually up for group discussion.

            I mean, it’s still frustrating to hear the same thing over and over, but as Mike C. said, it is actually something that Must Be Resolved, and if she doesn’t realize that it’s your decision, OP, and it’s Not Getting Resolved, it’s not completely inapprops to mention it to others.

    3. Mander*

      It’s true that depression is awful but they aren’t even in the new building yet. Nagging and repeatly harping on the subject, putting your colleagues on the spot, and generally behaving in an unprofessional way about your issue is not appropriate either. I suffer from depression myself but I would not jump on a colleague in the middle of a meeting and ask them to give up a perk for my benefit. Having a mental health issue does not give you license to be unreasonable.

    4. Mel*

      It’s equally believable that she just wants a work space with window as many people prefer. maybe she has it but it’s really mild and she just needs to be positioned in a bright part of the room.

      theres no way to know unless the op asks for some medical documentation. Frankly, I’d rather see a manager question these things than let a junior employee dictate what she needs to do.

      1. Elysian*

        Yeah… I know SAD is debilitating for some people but something about this strikes me as she just doth protests too much. SAD is real, and so are people who think they can WebMD their way into whatever they want. Go to whoever deals with legal issues (presumably someone does since they have a policy on how to get a standing desk?), have them ask for documentation, go from there in figuring out what is reasonable.

        1. RatintheSugar*

          She doth protest too much?? That implies you only believe people who claim to have illnesses if they are quiet and proper about those illnesses and never complain about their pain and discomfort. If she does have SAD, it would be totally understandable for her to complain a lot about it, as she would be depressed and possibly anxious. Why would complaints about discomfort make that discomfort less believable?

          1. Elysian*

            Yeah, but its unprofessional and unreasonable to complain about it loudly in group meetings and by trying to convince her coworker to trade desks. If she was complaining about it multiple times to a supervisor, or working her way up the chain of whatever command there is, that would be different. But it sounds to me like she’s trying to guilt the whole team into caving to her by being the squeakiest wheel, and not that she has an actual disability that needs accommodation. But heck, it doesn’t matter what I think, because the company has obviously dealt with these concerns before when it set up a policy for standing desks, and it should do the same thing here.

            1. Mike C.*

              She works in a flat hierarchy, has no HR and hasn’t received any solutions otherwise. She has a serious issue and there is currently no solution.

              The trivial annoyance of her coworkers is almost meaningless compared to her own mental health.

              1. FTW*

                The issue the lead has is not that it is a trivial annoyance. She is bringing an out of scope topic into a meeting. If anyone did this repeatedly, on any topic, it would be unprofessional. It is especially out of scope because she is not addressing decision makers (leads) and is instead telling co-workers… which really just makes it complaining.

              2. BananaPants*

                She says she has a serious issue but it hasn’t been documented yet. Once it’s documented and the group is in the new workspace, they can start that interactive process of finding a reasonable accommodation. Until then, Jane needs to stop bugging Fergus to give up his desk, especially in group meetings.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Presume it’s an issue and all for further documentation rather than presume that she’s lying. That’s an incredibly nasty thing to presume to someone who suffers from mental illness.

              1. Elysian*

                Of course! But having dealt with a lot of these types of things, there are trends among the way it is handled by people who have genuine issues and people who want to manipulate. That is why policies come into play, really – because none of us are doctors and we shouldn’t be diagnosing our coworkers as in need or not. The OP should get that in motion, because the company obviously can (see standing desks). It isn’t my judgment call or the OP’s, it is for someone with medical training to make. All I’m saying is that, if I were a betting woman, I would bet that OP is presented with the option to bring in medical documentation and then drops the whole thing because she realizes her bluff is called. Doesn’t matter what I think though, because the action the OP needs to take is the same either way (and rightly so).

                1. GrumpyPants*

                  As someone with SAD, I gotta respond to this. Just because she might drop it if asked for medical documentation DOES NOT 100% imply that she was bluffing. Sometimes when you come up against a road block, the depression/anxiety kicks in to hard that you CAN’T move forward. That doesn’t mean medical documentation shouldn’t be asked for, but what i am objecting to is the assumption that if it does end up being dropped, that it was because if was a bluff. Depression is a very strange animal, you can’t presume to know how it works unless you are a trained medical doctor, in much the same way you can’t make assumptions about how a specific cancer acts or how it should be treated because your Aunt Betty had cancer and her treatment was x and y and now she is fine, so that should work for everyone. For OP, she needs to sit down with Jane, calmly and non-judgementally, listen to her concerns, ask her to provide medical documentation, and assure her that her concerns have been heard but that she needs to stop talking about it all the time. The inappropriateness needs to be addressed as a ‘let me help you learn how to appropriately handle issues in the workplace’, not a ‘you are a pain-in-the-ass, so shut up already’. OP also needs to be appropriate.

          2. LCL*

            Because people feel bad about other people’s discomfort and naturally want to help. Manipulative people know that, and will use the “It makes me sick/sad/sore/tired” tactics to get what they want. I’m not saying that is the case here! I have know way of knowing! Just two separate good friends who use this tactic first, and admit it.

            1. Mike C.*

              Too many people out there already treat folks with depression, add, anxiety and similar issues as if they’re faking it.

              Don’t be one of those people.

        2. Mike C.*

          Again – there’s no plan and there’s no hierarchy. What else do you expect her to do in this situation?

          1. Elysian*

            But it sounds like its flat in name only. OP approves PTO, assigns priorities, etc. Someone apparently gave OP that authority. Someone somewhere made the decision to move offices. Even if there is one person at the top making all the decisions, there is SOMEONE making these decisions, signing the paychecks, whatever. So, I expect her to talk to OP privately, and then if her concerns don’t get addressed, talk to whoever else makes sense to talk to privately. But even “flat” companies have some kind of hierarchy somewhere, because its not like every person in the office voted on the office move or something.

            1. Mike C.*

              Asking for a proper accommodation for a mental health issue is not “pissing”, “whining”, “bitching” or “complaining”.

      2. Mike C.*

        I don’t think it’s responsible to point to people with mental health issues and claim that she’s “just as likely that she’s faking it”. That’s a really terrible attitude.

        Fine, ask for the documentation, but don’t assume that just because the issue isn’t visible or that she’s young or just a she that it’s fake.

        1. Mel*

          I’m not claiming she’s faking it I’m saying what comes out of people’s mouths is their own perspective and not always totally accurate or credible. As an example how many people say they’re allergic to gluten when theres no such thing (gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy is more accurate) or self diagnose normal mood swings as being bipolar.

          1. Mookie*

            What you’re saying here is that it’s okay for people suffering from illnesses to be treated with scrutiny and suspicion because children in Africa sometimes tell people they can’t tolerate gluten. The two are not connected. Real people can be harmed when that kind of stigma–assume lies, ask questions later–is normalized and defended as sound, ethical behavior.

          2. Misc*

            In other words, people who use the shorthand phrase ‘allergic to gluten’ to communicate that they need to avoid wheat based products for health reasons are to be dismissed because they used the wrong technical term?

            People can know they have an issue and not know the ‘right’ way to explain it/the science behind why it happens to them, or have learnt good ways to communicate it, or have learnt a way that works for *most* people who just don’t know the difference.

            It’s entirely possible this woman in question knows very well she gets SAD-like symptoms but has no experience getting accommodation for it in the work place from people who don’t really know much about it. That’s a whole skill set that has to be learnt over time and is completely separate from whether or not she *has* it and how it *should/can* be managed.

            1. Misc*

              And yeah, that struck a nerve. I have a variety of self diagnosed health/mental conditions that are all pretty invisible, not that uncommon, but also easily dismissed by this sort of thing, including a need to specifically ask for gluten free foods. I haven’t a bloody clue if it’s gluten, or something else in the wheat (well, I have ideas, but nothing *proven*), but telling people I need gluten free is a hundred times easier than trying to explain the details of my specific wheat intolerance and that ‘hey, maybe a trace of wheat is okay, but maybe it’s not and I really don’t want to know what your idea of ‘a trace’ is’.

              And the times I’ve had to get some kind of accommodation at workplaces (not my current job, which is great, but my last job, which had Bureaucracy), it required me repeatedly mentioning and aggressively following up (my immediate manager believed me fine, but had no control over the monies) and yeah, turns out there were procedures which slowly ground through to a resolution that I might have been able to go straight to more easily (and would be much more …nuanced and efficient about now), but I had never had to get stuff before and I knew the management preferred to ignore me and anything involving money. Being an annoyingly persistent squeaky wheel was the only reason our ten year old broken office chairs got replaced at last with some actually vaguely decent ones, as a tiny step towards improving the ergonomics that were screwing me over because they couldn’t pretend the staff didn’t need working chairs anymore. We didn’t get half the stuff I – honestly, everyone, I just had the most dramatic issues – needed, according to their own HR process, but we only got it because I kept waving ‘I have a *CONDITION*’ at them.

              I could absolutely have been the person in the letter if I didn’t see any progress. Especially if I knew culture/management was resistant to change/spending money/unlikely to come back later and go ‘oh, actually, we remember you saying… here you go!’.

              1. Misc*

                …also, one reason I’d be better at getting accommodation NOW is because I’d be much less panicky because I have experience of managing to get it before and know it is a legit workplace thing I can ask for, and have an idea of how the process plays out.

      3. BananaPants*

        That’s what I was thinking, too. This is not a documented condition; the employee might have thought that this would be an easy way to get herself a window seat in the new place, not realizing that Fergus would resist giving up a window. Constantly bothering a coworker like this when they aren’t even in the new workspace is annoying and rude.

        I think if she does have SAD they should wait until they get into the new workspace to determine if the lack of a window at her desk really does make her condition worse. Figuring out reasonable accommodations is a back-and-forth process, not acquiescing to the employee’s demands.

        1. Kathlynn*

          SAD is a type of depression. I’ve 16 years of Major depressive dissorder and Dysthymia. By expecting any person with any type of depression to wait to discuss and figure out potential solutions, you are risking their health. This is like someone saying “hey that new job site needs a taller ladder” and refusing to deal with it until someone falls and hurts their back.
          Depression isn’t like a normal head ache or tooth ache, it can take time for the person to even realize their symptoms are back, and it takes time to recover from the newest episode. Taking your pills or using a special lamp will take days to work, once you start a new successful treatment. So it’s important to have your plans lined up, so that you can get them working as fast as possible.

    5. Roscoe*

      Even if you have an issue, there are still ways to handle it. She isn’t handling it correctly. If I’m pissed that I didn’t get a certain benefit that I thought I should get, even if I’m right, bringing it up in an entire staff meeting and continuing to complain isn’t how you go about it. Just because she may have a valid point, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to be professional when trying to deal with it.

        1. Anna*

          No, you excused clearly unprofessional and unhelpful behavior. That’s not really addressing the point. Jane may very well have SAD and it may very well be documented. BUT she hasn’t presented that documentation and there is literally NOTHING the OP can actually do about it until they get to the new building and see how things will look. Jane’ continuing to bring it up does not actually help her situation or do anything that resembles a favor, which is all it is until there is actual doctor’s confirmation of Jane’s diagnosis. Even with that documentation, the OP can do absolutely nothing about it in this moment because THEY STILL HAVE NOT MOVED.

          1. Mike C.*

            And yes, bugging Fergus about it isn’t the right way to go about it, but when the company claims to be flat and no other solutions are forth coming, what do folks expect?

            I did address it. Even still, harping on the lack of documentation is a minor point at best because the OP can simply ask for it. In the meantime, different plans for different possibilities can be discussed, or the simple fact that there’s a process in place to deal with these sorts of accommodations can also be discussed. Until then, there is no plan, no solution and she has every right to complain and bring it up until there is.

            Problems don’t go away simply because they’re brought up once and then never discussed again. It’s clear that Jane believes there is a risk to her mental health because the OP doesn’t believe it’s a real problem and hasn’t discussed a plan to accommodate it.

            1. BananaPants*

              Or, Jane just wants a window and figured that if she said she had SAD, Fergus would just roll over and give up the window seat to help her without having to provide any evidence of a condition – especially when she put him on the spot in front of the work group.

              If Jane does have SAD, they can’t find a practical solution until they get into the workspace and see if her symptoms are exacerbated by the natural lighting conditions. She might be totally fine, she might not, but right now they’re just working off of a floorplan. It seems premature to come up with a bunch of different options when Jane doesn’t even know yet how much (if any) accommodation she’ll need.

              And even if she does need accommodations, that doesn’t change the fact that Jane was rude and inconsiderate to Fergus in how she asked to take the window.

              1. Mike C.*

                Stop presuming that someone who claims they suffer from a mental health issue is simply faking it.

                We suffer enough from our broken brains and then “experts” like you come along and tell us we’re faking it unless we have our proper papers. You presume they are telling the truth until proven otherwise and that means taking the issue seriously and coming up with a plan.

                Here’s a thought for you – unless you are a medical expert or otherwise deal with these issues on a daily basis like I or others do, you should keep quiet on the best ways to manage them.

                For example, you don’t ever “wait and see if a solution is needed”, you have a plan. Otherwise, you risk backsliding into other issues until a solution comes into place, assuming the OP finally takes it seriously.

                It’s clear your don’t deal with these issues on a daily basis, so why shoot down those who do? We understand what is needed to take care of ourselves. And sometimes being able to maintain our health means sticking up for ourselves means being rude until someone takes us seriously.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I’m sorry, it was rude of me to presume that you don’t deal with these issues. What I don’t understand is why you’re ok with the idea of just waiting? You should know that if there isn’t a good plan things could get bad, right?

            2. blushingflower*

              I agree with you.
              But it sounds like instead of talking to her team lead and saying “what is our game plan?” she’s just whining to her coworkers. Which isn’t going to solve her problem.
              The OP should say “hey, I know you’re concerned about this. I don’t want to make a final decision until we’ve been in the space, because there are floor-to-ceiling windows and my guess is that there will be a lot of natural light. But if it isn’t enough, we can discuss options such as a sun lamp.”
              But Jane could also say to the OP “hey, I’m concerned about this move. My SAD is a real problem for me and I want to know that we have a plan in place in case the ambient sunlight levels aren’t enough. What would be the process for getting me a window desk/sun lamp/whatever?”.

              Neither party is handling it well – the OP hasn’t made Jane feel heard or taken seriously, Jane hasn’t taken concrete steps to make sure her needs get met.

              1. Observer*

                Part of the problem is that the OP actually DOES NOT take it seriously, based on what she says here.

              2. AnotherAnon*

                “Neither party is handling it well”

                OP’s description of their own behaviour sounds dismissive, or at least sounds like it could be easily interpreted as dismissive. Jane’s reaction isn’t appropriate, but in her place, my anxiety would be going nuts over the fear that at the new place, OP would continue telling her she’s fine even if she blatantly isn’t. Speaking from experience, it’s not an entirely unreasonable fear either. Especially at a company that thinks it’s ok to lie about having no hierarchy. (plus, she probably doesn’t know OP has come here for advice)

                It’s always possible that jane’s faking (intentionally or otherwise), or has fixated on that window as the One Possible Solution, but asking her for documentation and laying out a plan and timeframe for next actions will be useful regardless, and they’re things OP can do right now instead of just saying “trust me, it’ll be fine”.

    6. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I agree with you that seniority doesn’t trump a person’s medical needs. Personally I hate the whole concept of seniority.

      OP I think the onus is on you to handle this with some finality. I do like Dawn’s script above about asking her to wait until you’re in the new space (though it looks like you’ve already tried that). At this point you should ask for documentation and handle this through the proper channels.

      Are there any options you can come up with besides flat-out giving her Fergus’s spot? If she’s the only one without a view I’m sure there are other options for shifting people a bit or even giving her your seat! No matter what happens if there’s only one person without a view they’re not going to be thrilled about being the odd one out. But in any case, a documented medical condition that requires special accommodation really isn’t something you get to ignore, regardless of how annoying the complaints get.

      1. Roscoe*

        But so far there is no documentation. If there is, sure. But until then, Jane is acting unprofessional, and that needs to be dealt with too

        1. Mike C.*

          I think it’s gross to presume that she’s faking it before seeing documentation. We should presume she has the issue until proven otherwise.

          1. Anna*

            She is requesting an ADA accommodation. It is up to Jane to prove that she in fact needs that accommodation and the OP is absolutely in the right to request it. I think the skepticism for Jane comes from the way it brought up, which is not all that surprising.

          2. Newby*

            Saying that she needs to provide documentation if she is requesting accommodation is not the same as accusing her of faking it. There is a proper way to ask for an accommodation and Jane is not going about it correctly.

            1. Mike C.*

              The diction used in the letter and in many of the comments says otherwise. The focus on her “unprofessionalism” rather than her mental health, and the emphasis that she’s young, inexperienced and has clearly annoyed folks paints a fairly clear picture to many who have had to deal with mental health issues.

              1. Chinook*

                As someone who has mental health issues and seen professional fall out from them, I still think Jane is handling with this unprofessionally and that is either because she is inexperienced or because she is manipulative. She clearly does not know how to advocate for her own needs while still be respectful of others. Asking your lead for accommodation is good, but she when she didn’t like the answer of wait until we see if it affects you, she moved on to harassing others. She also hasn’t come up with other options and seems to believe that sitting next to a window is the only thing that will satisfy her. And that last point is what is putting everyone’s backs up. She isn’t acting like she is willing to compromise with other valid options.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Having recently been in Jane’s shoes (and gotten in trouble for the way I dealt with it), I second this. And what Rusty Shackleford says about the freaking out.

                  I also agree that OP needs to give her some assurance it will be handled if necessary, and they need to find out how to correctly handle it. I’m just gobsmacked often at how companies can function without some kind of HR guidance–an issue like this is the exact reason you need one.

            2. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

              Given the “flat” organizational structure described by the OP, I am perplexed by the continued insistence that this is unprofessional behavior. Because OP has repeatedly acknowledged that in this company, the normal channels for arranging accommodations *do not actually exist*.

          3. Thomas E*

            Why do you think that requiring medical documentation is presuming that Jane is faking it?

            Jane isn’t a doctor. She knows there is an issue but she can’t know what the _best_ accommodation is without seeking advice.

            There are parts of my country (the UK) where a window seat wouldn’t be adequate accommodation for SAD because there simply isn’t enough light in the winter.

            The doctor will write describing what accommodations are necessary.

            1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

              Given that the OP explicitly mentions that Jane *currently has a window seat* in the existing building, it’s entirely reasonable to say that everyone involved has reason to believe that it’s likely to be an adequate accomodation.

            2. Mike C.*

              Because people keep insisting that the current lack of documentation is a perfectly good excuse for not taking this issue seriously.

              In an environment where these issues are respected, there would still be a request for documentation, but it wouldn’t get in the way of developing a plan for a proper accommodation.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Jane is acting unprofessionally regardless of whether she has documentation. However, she might be doing that because she’s freaking out because she thinks her issue is not going to be addressed.

      2. MK*

        Seniority priviledges is a way for the company to show appreciation to people for long-time service, because there is often value in having people who don’t move on every three years. And it’s very fair as long as the company operates in such a way that long-time employees are indeed the people that have done great work and helped gorw the company, as opposed to bad or mediocre one that have been allowed to stay because nonone had the guts to fire them. No, it’s not a good metric to decide substantial rewards like promotions and bonuses, but for minor perks like who gets the window seat? It’s a lot fairer than flipping a coin or letting the manager chose their best buddy or whatever.

        The real problem is companies adopting this fiction of a flat structure, when in reality there is either a hidden hierarchy or a de facto person-with-the-strongest-personality boss. If the OP was the manager in name, Jane would understand why Fergus was given the window and, had she really had an issue, would simply go to her manager with the problem to begin with, and then HR. Things being as they are, the OP is doubtful whether Jane really needs the accommodation, or if she is trying to angle for the better desk because she feels she is wpequal to Fergus; while Jane is probably complaining all the time because there is no official person to take her complaint to

        1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

          Brilliant point about “flat” organizations having hidden hierarchies or the person with the strongest personality being in charge – and often the latter is a bad tbing, because “strong personality” is often a euphemism for “overbearing bossy person who insists on their way and steamrolls everyone else” or “jerk.” This informal rule-by-the-loudest setup also often disadvantages women because we’re socialized to be less assertive and loud.

    7. Macedon*

      Yeah, OP seems to be coming from an angle of “how do I get away with refusing Jane” versus “how do I make a reasonable effort to accommodate my implied subordinate”. I think, before anything else, OP should change that way of thinking.

    8. BananaPants*

      If this is an issue where the ADA comes into play, she and the employer have to have that conversation about reasonable accommodations for the condition. That reasonable accommodation does NOT have to mean she gets to demand the window office – there are alternatives that would also be considered “reasonable”, like light boxes or visors. What would this employee and the employer do if the entire workplace was windowless?

      I work for a company where window cubes are officially reserved for the highest-level individual contributors. A newish junior employee demanding a window cube because of SAD is just not going to get that as a reasonable accommodation, and repeatedly pestering a coworker to give up their cube would not be well-received.

      1. Mike C.*

        But the issue with the ADA is much, much more important to all the other issues involved here, and yet people keep focusing on how this person is acting “unprofessionally” when really she has little recourse to act any other way!

        1. Violet Fox*

          So much this. Showing ADA proof or whatnot, should not be required for compassion. Nor is it needed for reassuring words, and to feel like the issue is actually going to be addressed and not just eye-rolled at.

          Given the tone of the letter I would not be shocked that the reason Jane keeps on bringing it is because she is not being taken seriously, things are not being addressed, and no one has made an attempt at making sure that things are actually dealt with in an accommodating and professional way.

        2. BananaPants*

          Seriously, Mike – how can anyone address this before they’re in the new office and Jane can see how much of an accommodation she’s going to need?

          The OP should reassure Jane that once documentation is provided and they’ve moved, they will find a reasonable accommodation for the condition. Right now they have no idea if this is a legitimate disability or not, and they’re working off of a floor plan. Maybe booting Fergus from the window seat is the answer, maybe she’s fine with a light box or having longer breaks so she can go outside and take a walk. Maybe there’s enough natural light at her work area that she doesn’t need anything after all. Until they know what the situation REALLY is, Jane needs to leave Fergus alone and stop harping on the freaking window.

          Lest you think I’m unsympathetic, I suffer from clinical depression myself (although not SAD). But I know there’s a way to ask for ADA accommodations, and standing up in a group meeting and directly asking a coworker to give up something to help me is NOT the way to do it.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But she does have other recourse: she can talk to her team lead and find out what to do to get this handled. Repeatedly raising it with coworkers who have no power to solve it is not a reasonable course of action.

          1. Anononon*

            She did talk to the OP, though, and OP basically told her, “we’ll worry about it when we get there.” If you’re dealing with a big medical answer, that’s a majorly stressful response, and I could see it causing some freaking out.

          2. Macedon*

            But, Alison, she has spoken to her team lead, and OP has stalled on suggesting either a definitive solution or a plan of action once the move has happened. She has placed a health-related request that has not received a concrete response, and that has an attached “deadline” (the move). She is probably frustrated, anxious or both, because raising a health-related concern and having it summarily dismissed with a “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!” lacks sympathy and foresight.

            If this were a matter of, say, a wheelchair-bound employee asking for accommodation by way of parking spaces for people with such a handicap at the new building, I doubt OP’s reply would be, “Well, it could be that the new office naturally provides these amenities, or that we’d have to see about equipping them… but how about we wait until the actual move to see if you can actually bring your car to work?”

            The implication of OP’s position right now is that if Jane does not get enough light for her needs without a window-sat desk at the new office, she can just suck it up for a few days until they figure out a way to accommodate her then. That’s not cool.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But the few days will be in August, which isn’t a month typically associated with SAD (at least not according to the quick search I just did; I am definitely not an expert).

              More to the point, though, if Jane doesn’t feel the OP’s response has been sufficient, she needs to go back and say that needs a more concrete response. That’s a reasonable step; complaining to people with no power to do anything about it isn’t.

              1. Violet Fox*

                August is when I start using my light therapy box to prepare for winter, since I have the type that is really bad in winter. It’s really really important to get all the light possible when light is possible to get, or it makes the winter that much worse. SAD might be worse in winter/early spring, depending on the person, but treating it, and keeping it in check with plenty of access to things like natural light is vital.

                August might still be summer, but the days are already getting shorter.

                Take it from someone who actually has SAD, access to sunlight is very important all year, not just in the winter time, and personally my anxiety would be through the roof if I felt like an employer was stonewalling over this, and would not exactly be able to focus on work or anything else well until it had been resolved.

              2. AnotherAnon*

                Yes, I hope Jane eventually learns how to handle these situations professionally. Life is much less stressful when you have confidence that you can get your needs met instead of flailing about and making everything worse.

                I just worry that people think her poor behaviour erases her right to ADA accomodations, or excuses OP from doing anything to mitigate the problem (maybe I’m wrong on that second part though). Two wrongs don’t make a right and all that.

                Saying that jane needs to do X when jane isn’t here to read that advice… well, it’ll be useful for other people on the internet, but, not for jane, and so I feel bad for her possibly having no idea what she needs to do, and…

                Ohhh, Mike’s comment about “she has little recourse to act any other way” could be interpreted as “…so it’s okay for her to behave that way” whereas I’m reading it as “…so it’s unproductive to be judging her for it”. No, her behaviour is not okay. Neither is a flippant response to a medical concern; even if you’re objectively right, it’s just not productive to tell someone not to worry when part of the worry is that you’re not taking them seriously. It’s like telling an angry person to calm down; you get the exact opposite reaction. That reaction is unprofessional, but so utterly predictable it’s tragic.

                Yeah, OP, if you’re reading still, I’d recommend that after the accommodations are sorted out, you have a serious talk with her about her unprofessional behaviour. Treat this as two separate issues; you have an employee who may need accommodations, and you have an employee who’s acting unprofessionally.

                1. Tau*


                  I’m not really… getting the focus on Jane’s behaviour here because:

                  – Jane was not the one who wrote in, and therefore analysing how she *should* be approaching the problem is kind of irrelevant,
                  – OP handling her request appropriately (via e.g. Alison’s script below) is highly likely to end her unprofessional behaviour, which – as you point out – is probably caused by her concerns being dismissed and ignored,
                  – Judging by the letter, OP is absolutely, fully aware that Jane isn’t being professional about this, but is being inappropriately dismissive of Jane’s condition. Us focusing on what Jane is doing wrong over what OP should be doing will only exacerbate that attitude and is therefore not helpful to OP in this situation.

                  Agreed that OP can absolutely address the unprofessional behaviour – separately, and after the accommodation issue has been dealt with.

              3. GrumpyPants*

                I have SAD and I use my light box year-round, because I work in a cubicle and far, far away from the two windows in our office. I am much older than Jane, and work in a very supporting office environment, so I just brought my little light box with me when I started working there, and all is well. I think OP needs to take some time to explain to Jane what the process of getting this accommodated looks like, and also what it doesn’t look like, and how she is being inappropriate. But also letting her know that asking for an accommodation is not inappropriate. Part of that may be asking for the proper documentation. OP needs to be supportive and not dismissive.

              4. Mike C.*

                At least when I deal with my issues, I always think long term. August doesn’t seem to be high risk, but if my boss isn’t taking this seriously now, I’m going to be very concerned when Fall and Winter come.

    9. Newby*

      She has not even provided documentation yet. ADA does not mean that you get to choose the solution. It means that the company has to provide reasonable accommodation. That may not mean getting the window seat.

    10. Violet Fox*

      I think some of the tone honestly is because SAD tends to be brushed off by people as feeling a little down part of the year, but no big deal, even in places further north, mostly because if other people can deal with the dark why can’t you (I’ve heard this a fair bit, and it really is not helpful). It’s also a personal problem and it sounds like the letter writer was expecting not to have to deal with that sort of thing because “flat structure”.

      I speak from personal experience when I say that SAD is a serious and debilitating thing. It also is a real thing.

      1. Mike C.*

        This goes for a great deal of mental health issues, and I’m frankly disgusted at the attitude of many people here.

        1. Anna*

          I don’t think people are not being compassionate, I think they’re being logical and rational about Jane making a big deal out of something that can easily be fixed but cannot be fixed right now since nobody knows what the situation is. I didn’t know that we were required to fawn over everyone who has a medical condition, or anyone who stated they had a medical condition. From the OP’s perspective, she has two concerns: the first is to get Jane to stop talking about the damn window desk every time the move comes up. The second is to figure out if Jane has an actual diagnosed condition that requires accommodation and to deal with it if that’s the case. That’s not cruelty or heartlessness, that’s just the objective situation.

              1. Anon tonight*

                Another agree’er. And since they are not in the space yet, they don’t know if having a window will help. In my last office, a bank of windows opened up to an alley. There was no natural light from the window, but people were excited to be assigned a window seat.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Again, you don’t wait for the lack of a solution to develop a plan, you develop a plan in case there isn’t a solution.

          1. Mike C.*

            One can still discuss possible solutions or that the issue will be taken seriously rather than simply ignored or otherwise swept under the rug.

            I’m not saying that anyone has to fawn over others and there’s no need to put words in my mouth. I’m simply saying that the issue should be taken seriously and respectfully and should be acknowledged directly.

            To do otherwise is cruel and heartless.

            1. Pwyll*

              But I think you’re assuming when we’re saying that the employee is acting unprofessionally that we’re implying she should be ignored or that her complaints aren’t valid, which isn’t true.

              If we imagined that the OP was the person suffering from SAD and asking Alison for advice, this forum’s advice would not be “Constantly bring up your SAD every time the office move is brought up by anyone in the office until you get a resolution.” The advice (or at least my advice) would be for her to ask to speak to her supervisor in private to ask what steps are being taken to address the medical issue she will have in the new office, what other information she could provide from her doctor as to how SAD is treated, and when she can expect to follow up regarding the same.

              1. AnotherAnon*

                “But I think you’re assuming when we’re saying that the employee is acting unprofessionally that we’re implying she should be ignored or that her complaints aren’t valid, which isn’t true.”

                Huh. that’s making me think…

                We agree that her complaints are valid, she should not be ignored and that she’s acting unprofessionally.

                My fear is that you’re saying it’s okay for OP to not tell her anything beyond “it’ll be fine, we’ll figure it out after the move”, and that Jane isn’t just wrong in her actions, but also wrong to want reassurance that OP will actually follow through, and that there is a plan and not just a vague hope that the problem won’t need any action at all.

                I can see that part of that is coming from my anxiety, and it might be leading me to believe Jane is owed more than is actually reasonable, but, I hope that she’s owed some minimum level of evidence that her concerns are being taken seriously, and saying “I’m taking this seriously” does not mean you’re actually doing so. Heck, I’ve even caught myself being dismissive of jane’s (potential) needs as I first read the letter.

          2. Jaguar*

            Where does this idea that “nobody knows what the situation is” come from? They’ve been presented with seating plans. They know what the situation is.

            The OP does have two concerns: get Jane to shut up about her mental illness and prove that she even has one. OP made that clear. What OP’s actual concerns should be is finding a solution that works for everyone’s unique circumstances, not getting someone who claims to have a disability to shut up.

            1. Aurion*

              But seating plans only give a partial picture of natural lighting. For example, I’m in the furthest corner away from a window in my office. The far side of the office has massive windows that lights up everything. If I were to look at a seating plan, I would expect the windows to increase the amount of ambient light but I wouldn’t get any direct sunlight on me. However, for the entirety of winter, the angle of the sun changes and for two hours around lunch time, my entire workstation is lit up in a halo of sunlight to the point I can’t see my screen.

              I think the commentors’ point is that Jane really won’t know the whole picture of how much light there will be until she actually sits in that desk. I think the OP should reassure Jane that they are taking her concerns seriously, and if she deems her new setup insufficient when she gets there they can talk about lightboxes or changing desks or what have you. But that is a general discussion only without specific details and there is no need for specific action plans or whatnot because no one knows the whole situation until they have sat in those seats. And I think the “cruel and heartless” accusations are premature.

              1. Jaguar*

                No, there is a need for specific action plans. This is an illness.

                Imagine you were allergic to dogs and your boss said they’re introducing a dog to the office soon. The dog won’t always be there, but it will be there a lot, and for extended periods of time. You’ve asked for accommodation, and have been told that the only two places the dog is being kept out of are other people’s offices and you can’t be switched. But don’t worry, you’ve been assured that they’ll find something that works when the dog arrives.

                I don’t know about you, but I would suddenly have serious anxiety about what I’m going to do. Do I have to start looking for new work? Do I have to deal with having constant allergic reactions every day I’m at work? Why aren’t the people I’m working for taking my issue seriously? What is going on?

                Now imagine that instead of an allergic reaction, we’re talking about your employer putting you in a situation that will lead to the deterioration of your mental health.

                This is not “sort it out when we get there” stuff.

                1. Aurion*

                  I’ve been in a similar situation to Jane, so believe me when I say I have the greatest sympathy for her and I understand her anxiety, especially since “wait and see” can turn into “six weeks of thinking up new ideas on the fly while Jane is suffering at her inadequate desk”. The documentation and unprofessionalism points are, I think, not really relevant to the main point of making sure Jane can have a comfortable working environment.

                  But I think Jane would go a lot further if she is giving the management any further information about what could work for her. Right now she says “I want the office with natural light” so we know that the natural light would help. Okay, that requires moving Fergus out of his office. That is an option, but may not be the first option the OP’s company wants to try. If there are no other workable options, I think booting out Fergus is a reasonable thing to do. But will a lightbox work? Will an extra 10 minute break walking around outside work? No one knows, because Jane is the one with SAD but Jane is basically saying “office, period, full stop.” It’s hard to formulate an action plan when the person with the most knowledge about this illness is not participating in the dialogue. If she says “I have tried lightboxes before and they don’t work for me”, or “I need a minimum of 2 hours of natural light a day and a 10 minute walk around the block won’t cut it” well, that’s valuable information. But when she’s going “office, period, full stop” and the company understandably does not want to go to that as the first and only option unless they know other options don’t work, I don’t think it’s terrible of them to want to say “let’s evaluate when you sit down at your new desk” because there may very well be a large amount of natural light when not by the window (such as in my example).

                  There’s a dialogue that should be had. I do think the OP’s post reads dismissive. But if Jane wants the OP and the company to have lengthy discussions and action plans in place for if the new desk turns out to be inadequate, she would go a lot further by participating in the conversation instead of endlessly saying “office, now”. It’s not really about the unprofessionalism, but about having that dialogue and exchanging information.

                2. calonkat*

                  I think this is not the same as a dog allergy at all! In that case, you know the dog will be there, and you (probably) know exactly what your body’s reaction will be.

                  I agree on the fact that natural light varies wildly depending on location. Our agency changed buildings a few years ago, and we got huge windows EVERYWHERE *happy dance*! BUT, the building is sort of U shaped, the people on the inside of the U don’t always have light (depends on where your window is), and it depends on what floor you’re on as well! Then there’s the seasonality. Generally, even people away from the windows have tons of light in this building, but the people with SAD like having the lights available (even if they have a window right there) for the overcast days that occur.

                  Allison’s response below is very nice. Acknowledges the issue, lays out possible solutions, and gives Jane steps to take.

                3. Jaguar*

                  Yeah, I don’t think Jane’s handling it great, but she’s brought up a medical issue, hasn’t been offered any solutions, and her manager is getting annoyed when she continues to mention it despite there having been no solution. Going off the limited information in the ltter, Jane is hardly the primary villain here.

                  Maybe UV lamps or UV visors or something else will work for her. But equally, maybe Jane’s never heard of those things before. In the comments here already, Mel mentioned something that would apparently be very useful to people that never heard of it before. It’s not fair to people with mental illness, who already have the drawback of mental illness, to be fully aware of everything about their disease. Maybe Jane is under the mistaken impression that actual sunlight, by a window, is the only solution that will work for her situation? Maybe a lot of things. Let’s not keep building barriers for people with mental illness to climb over before we take them seriously.

                4. Mel*

                  If anyone should be more knowledgeable about sad accommodations shouldn’t it be the person who actually has it. I mean yes the employer has a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation, but if they arent knowledgeable enough to find one the op is the one who has the most to lose. she is only hurting herself by not becoming as knowledgable as possible about the problem and solutions.

                5. Jaguar*

                  In a perfect world, sure. But we live in a world with homeopathy, acupuncture, alternative medicine, and even prayer as people’s primary medical solutions to serious illnesses, just to name a few. People with medical issues aren’t necessarily the best-informed of their problems and can often be the least-informed. This is especially true in the area of mental illness, when the culture is to downplay the significance of it or even deny it exists entirely. That’s not a phenomenon exclusive to the people around someone with a mental illness, either. It’s very easy and very common for the person themselves to deny either its importance or its existence, made easier by way we treat mental illness as a society. So it would not be surprising to me at all if she thinks the only thing that will help is being by a window and is unaware of any possible alternatives. If that’s the case, and she’s being told that her job is changing to a situation that will activate her illness regularly and the only solution that she knows about is not possible because “Fergus has worked here longer than you.”

                6. Aurion*

                  Jaguar, I think we agree on the main points. But what makes me pause about the comments saying “OP needs a definitive action plan” is that OP, who presumably doesn’t have SAD, would be hard pressed to come up with a good action plan given she has no first-hand knowledge about it. Personally, I would find “wait and see *vague hand motions*” and “wait and see, if it really doesn’t work we can, um, try finding a sunlamp! They sell those, right? Or maybe you can go stand in Fergus’ office for 20 minutes before he comes into work! Or or or” to be almost equivalent. The latter is a bit more concrete, I suppose, but no action plan worth their salt can be formulated without input from the people the plan is affecting–in this case, Jane. And Jane lives with this illness, so presumably she should be more knowledgeable about her SAD than OP/OP’s company, who have…what, a quick Google search to help them out? Absent some detailed discussion with Jane or notes from Jane’s doctor (neither of which has happened), they’re basically fishing.

                  Someone has to initiate the conversation. OP did not, but neither did Jane. And of the two of them, Jane is the one with much better information. It may be that the action plan is “boot out Fergus because there is no other option”, and that should be on the table. But Jane should be responsible for advocating for herself in a reasonable fashion, not endlessly saying “office, now” to all and sundry.

                7. calonkat*

                  Mel, it’s not fair to put the burden of knowing all possible accommodations on the person with the issue. They DO have an incentive to look for options though :) Especially since the OP mentions that the team will likely move again, it seems that a solution needs to be found that isn’t dependent upon having “a six foot, south facing, non-UV filtered window with no obstructions within 20 yards of the window”, as that’s not going to be possible at all locations.

                8. Misc*

                  Nesting time…

                  But what makes me pause about the comments saying “OP needs a definitive action plan” is that OP, who presumably doesn’t have SAD, would be hard pressed to come up with a good action plan given she has no first-hand knowledge about it.

                  Ah, but this is at least partly where one does one’s job and *manages* (made extra complicated by the OP not technically being a manager *eyeroll*).

                  Managing doesn’t mean ‘having all the answers’, it means ‘acknowledging the problem, knowing whether you have all the information to make a good decision, and pinpointing the appropriate resources to handle it and then telling the employee what to do next (whether that’s ‘wait and then we can do x and y’ or ‘submit form 784′)’. If the OP doesn’t know what other options exist, this is where sending the subject to the doctor for a list of suggestions (both as ‘so I have proof for legal stuff’ and as ‘so we know exactly what our options are from a trusted source’), or contacting HR-type people, or both, comes in handy. You don’t need to know all the answers to random issues, you just need to know who to ask/what to tell the employee to find out, so that you have the right information to make a decision.

                  And bonus, asking for more details will look like taking the issue seriously, which should cut down on the flailing and focus the subjects energies onto a more productive route – one they may not know how to, or be able, to pursue without manager-buy in.

        2. Jaguar*

          Yeah, the “maybe she’s faking it” position a couple people took is particularly disappointing.

        3. Mel*

          It goes both ways many managers are disgusted that they have to worry about folks exaggerating or falsely claiming illnesses in order to get something they aren’t entitled to. I wish I could trust everyone who said they needed fmla or an accommodation, but I can’t.

          1. GovWorker*

            Trust really isn’t needed, as the process allows for medical documentation to be required. In the Fed service, determinations of disability are made by a third party. What anybody thinks doesn’t really matter. Malingering is often suspected in when disabilities are invisible, but that doesn’t matter except it makes the RA process more adversarial and nasty. I really think the managers wanted me to quit, they were so nasty. They both retired years ago and I am still working with a wonderful manager who has not balked at my accommodations as my health has worsened.

            I work for the Feds and the RA process is well outlined by each agency, to comply with the EEOC. Employees and employers have time limits to perform their respective actions.

            Whether you are the ee or emp, I recommend getting a timeline of key required actions and following it to the letter. My emp blew threw a deadline and it worked to my favior.

        4. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

          Same. This is something that sounds vital to Jane and a trivial preference to Fergus. Jane’s health far outweighs stroking Fergus’s ego because of his seniority – especially since this organization is supposedly flat. OP needs to suck it up and deal, and just accommodate Jane with this simple, reasonable, cost-free thing. And everyone here or in Jane’s workplace who hasn’t dealt with depression and is whining about accommodating Jane doesn’t know what it’s like and needs to shut up, because their opinion is worthless. (I have, and it’s worse than you’re probably imagining. Imagine feeling like someone is living in your head telling you what a horrible person you are all day every day.)

          1. BananaPants*

            I have dealt with depression for years, and am still being treated for it now. I *still* think Jane needs to stop complaining to coworkers who can’t do anything about the situation; it’s just going to annoy people and make her look whiny. OP needs to reassure Jane that they will provide reasonable accommodations (which may or may not include booting Fergus from his window desk) once Jane provides some documentation of the disability and they get into the new work space. Then they wait and see what accommodations, if any, Jane needs.

  11. Rusty Shackelford*

    So, here’s the thing. According to your company’s own rules, Fergus doesn’t deserve that seat any more than Jane does. If you discover no other seats have adequate natural light, giving her that window seat because it helps her avoid being depressed seems SO MUCH EASIER than giving Fergus the window seat because he has non-existent seniority, and then spending money on technological options to help Jane. So, if you’re really committed to Fergus being in that seat, prepare to justify your rationale.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Well, she also offered Fergus to take his pick; going back on that could potentially cause an issue too. I understand that upsetting Fergus is not really on par with helping Jane’s depression, but the truth is that some people would be upset to get the “better” desk “taken away.”

      But I do think it’s reasonable to talk to Jane (so she isn’t panicking), and then wait to see if it’s even a problem (with the full windows and lots of natural light expected).

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, but according to their company’s directive, Fergus got that pick for no reason (because the reason doesn’t count). So I’m just saying, if she wants to keep him there, she needs to be prepared to defend that position. If I were a bean counter in this organization, and someone said “We need to spend $200 on a special lamp for Jane because we don’t have a space for her by the window,” I’m pretty sure I’d ask why we don’t have a space for her by the window. And if the answer was “We gave it to Fergus because of his seniority,” which wasn’t supposed to be something that was counted or rewarded… how do you justify that? Simply not wanting to take it away from Fergus isn’t really a good rationale if he wasn’t supposed to get it in the first place.

        I agree with your second paragraph – it’s important to talk to Jane at this point and let her know something is going to be done, and then wait to see what (if anything) needs to happen.

        1. Cam*

          It’s not that Fergus wasn’t supposed to get it, it’s that there were no rules in place for deciding who gets it, and she allowed Fergus to choose. It may sound like a minor distinction, but it isn’t. Even in a flat (or “flat”) organization, it’s not a good idea to drive away your most experienced employees by breaking promises to them.

    2. Kira*

      I’m noticing a lot of comments assuming that ditching Fergus and giving the window to Jane will solve everything. On the other hand, commenters are pointing out that SAD might be better treated with a lightbox than with a window seat. It would certainly be more reliable – you can make sure every employee with SAD gets a lightbox, whereas you can only give the window seat to one person. And the lightbox works even when the sky is cloudy.

  12. Katie F*

    I think Jane is picturing the prototypical cubicle experience – where everyone is stuck in dark little cubes that close them in and leave them with only florescent light, and not as much of that as any human being needs. I think maybe you should emphasize waiting until she sees what the new place looks like before she worries too much, and also reassure her that the amount of natural light she has access to will be a priority for you, to ensure that her health needs are met. Neither of these is a window-promise, but both could help her feel like you’re hearing what she’s REALLY saying, which isn’t “I heart windows”, but “I need natural light to maintain brain function”.

    While I understand the innate conflict between a sense of “put in his dues” vs. “this company doesn’t recognize seniority”, Fergus’s time with the company isn’t really necessarily relevant.

    The tone of your letter suggests that you’re concerned that perhaps Jane is exaggerating her SAD in order to get what she wants out of the situation. Even with serious anxiety problems and having seen people I know go through SAD themselves as well, I do wonder about that. But I’d give her the benefit of the doubt first, unless there’s some other context to this that explains the doubt in your letter.

    1. Roscoe*

      I don’t know that I’d say its not relevant. Having gone through the moving offices process this year, and being the Fergus (most experienced in my department), you bet I’d be pissed if my better desk was taken away. If the condition could just as easily be treated with lights designed for this, I would not be feeling very valued at that point.

      1. Katie F*

        Yeah, I think this all depends very heavily on Fergus, too. Some Ferguses wouldn’t care all that much, some very much would.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Well, even with that, it may not BE the better desk. If they haven’t seen the space yet, how do they know Fergus isn’t going to fry or freeze at the window?

      3. Kira*

        Agreed. If there are other accommodations that can be made for Jane, it’s worth it to keep Fergus’ happiness in mind too.

    2. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Up front, I’m in no way saying that Jane doesn’t have SAD (never met her, couldn’t diagnose her if I had), but I have known people who have self-diagnosed with SAD. If Jane were the OP I’d tell her to get documentation immediately. I do think OP needs to give her the benefit of the doubt. There must be other options on how to handle this.

      1. Katie F*

        I’m not against asking for documentation, if only from a legal CYA standpoint. But I don’t know how asking for them would go over in what sounds like an immensely casual workplace.

        1. Elysian*

          They do ask for documentation for standing desks though. So it’s already part of the culture at least for that.

    3. Mookie*

      I think Jane is picturing the prototypical cubicle experience – where everyone is stuck in dark little cubes that close them in and leave them with only florescent light, and not as much of that as any human being needs.

      The office they currently work in has an open floor plan. I don’t think Jane anticipates that changing when they move house.

  13. Allison*

    I remember a time where I got last pick of seats because I was the newest member of the team, so I didn’t have a great seat. I didn’t need to be near a window, but sitting along a busy corridor where people were bustling behind me all day was very distracting, so my manager eventually placed me in a cubicle where I could focus.

    I understood why the guys who’d been there longer got first pick, but it would have been a good idea to consider the needs of each team member before letting people pick. Maybe going forward, asking people if they have preferences (and why) might be a good idea, and if there seem to be conflicts with no obvious “trump card” (reason based on medical issues or productivity needs), then you use seniority as a tie breaker.

  14. The Strand*

    If Jane referred to her disorder as “debilitating,” how does her repeated discussion of her concerns make the “team look bad”? I would suggest swapping in a different issue, say, someone who has a motor disorder and says “I really need to work on the ground floor, or in a building where I have an elevator, because stairs are really hard for me to use on a daily basis.” If this person kept reiterating day after day the impact it had on them, would it make the “team look bad”? Is it “oversharing”? Couldn’t we also characterize it as her reiterating a need that she has?

    A few other thoughts: have you reiterated that you will find a solution (whether or not it involves a window desk)? You mentioned “waiting it out”. Does she have any reason to think that this will be handled, rather than something that she needs to keep bringing up?

    I recently switched offices to move away from two colleagues I really liked, but who like to have all the lights turned off while they work. Despite the immediate jump in my productivity to work in much more light, I wouldn’t call the previous issue debilitating, and I tend to think that someone who chose that language is probably telling the truth.

    Last but not least, I wish everyone took Alison’s advice about the ADA. For all the drum-beating about “political correctness”, I have been shocked to see dear friends and colleagues with disabilities being treated poorly at their jobs, like they’re just “moaning Myrtles” when they point out situations that endanger them. I am especially appalled when the guilty parties are members of medical institutions or hospitals, who of all people, should know better.

    I would rather bend over backwards for everyone and assume the best, and end up help one person who is exaggerating their issue… than possibly cause problems or injury to many more people with legitimate (including hidden) disabilities.

    1. The Strand*

      OK – I see from other comments that I missed that this was brought up in a group meeting, which generally sounds inappropriate…. I do suspect that for some people who are very anxious about a problem, a sincere declaration, “we’ll take care of you when we get there,” will go a long, long way.

  15. Mena*

    I think I would avoid “Because Fergus has been here three years, I gave him first pick of seating” because this now puts Fergus on the spot and she’ll pester him until he gives in (she already interrupted a meeting to confront him about it). I think offering the appropriate lighting if she does indeed have SAD is sufficiently accommodating.

      1. designbot*

        Flat structure is a lie. There is always hierarchy, and it’s just about how honest a company wants to be about it vs. how much they want to lie to themselves.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          Yep. My department tries to pretend that, even though the greater university policies indicate otherwise.

  16. Catalin*

    Ya know, when I’m asking for an accommodation, I would NEVER start something in the middle of a public meeting. I wouldn’t ask Fergus either, I’d go straight to the supervisor/power-holder and have a private conversation.
    Either way, LW needs to sit down with Jane (and maybe legal at the same time) and start this conversation. Having a window seat doesn’t always mean having light: the building may be in shadow, there could be a string of cloudy/rainy days, the blinds may start a war with coworkers. This is not Fergus’ problem but if Jane keeps on like this, his morale is going to be seriously impacted.

    1. mander*

      Yeah, that’s really my only point. I don’t doubt that Jane is sincere and that having a window desk is helpful. But the letter gives me the impression that rather than talking privately to whoever has the authority to make the accommodation, she is complaining about it to everyone else and bringing it up in inappropriate contexts is not helpful. The OP seems a bit dismissive as well but if they don’t have much information about what the new office is actually like then I can understand getting a bit annoyed by it.

  17. Master Bean Counter*

    SADD and Anxiety are close bedfellows and if they get together you get Jane. I know because I’ve been there. You need to acknowledge the anxiety and have a talk with Jane about how bringing the subject up every two minutes really doesn’t help. Go with the script above about addressing the situation when you get to the new building.
    If at all possible also suggest to Jane that she is free to take a little bit longer break so she can walk around outside in the sunshine during the day. It will do her a world of good as well as the rest of the office. And it may be that Fergus will have to give up his desk. But that can be a last resort kind of a thing.

  18. Cookie*

    I had a co-worker with SAD. We both sat near the window but that didn’t help him because of the UV film on our windows. He did use a light box once or twice a day which helped him.

    1. AtrociousPink*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t rely on simply being seated near a window to fix SAD — which makes me think Jane has diagnosed herself. If she had a medical diagnosis, she would have received basic information about what exactly SAD is and what helps it. I don’t have SAD but do have mild, chronic, non-seasonal depression for which I use a therapy light every morning. Working in a room with plenty of natural light doesn’t help me at all, I suspect because the glass has been treated to block part of the light spectrum to save energy. Also, whatever kind of light you use, you don’t necessarily need to be under it all day; as little as 30 minutes per day can work wonders.

      1. TL -*

        But you’re not everybody.
        I don’t have SAD but I do feel less happy on days when I don’t see the sun. Lightboxes don’t make a huge difference; being outside or being by a window does. (My commute got many times better when it lost the underground component.) Working in natural light makes me feel a thousand times better.

  19. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Okay, how about this: “We have a process for getting documentation for medical conditions that require accommodation. We can start that process as soon as we know what the new space will look like and what the options are. As soon as we’re at that point, I’ll come back to you and we can discuss the range of options available. If you’d like to get the ball rolling before then, we’ll need X documentation from your doctor, and that’s part of it that you could take care of now if you’d like. But we really can’t nail down accommodations until we know more about the space. Let’s plan to talk once we do. Meanwhile, if you have further questions or concerns about this, please come talk to me since I’m best positioned to help you resolve them.”

    1. designbot*

      Agreed, that way it’s clear that she can’t just claim she needs accommodations without backing it up. The letter gave me the impression that she didn’t really have SAD and was just being a whiner, but that could very well just be about the OP’s point of view on it coming through.

    2. Yet Another JD*

      This is perfect. It acknowledges Jane’s concerns and makes it clear complaining at Fergus during a meeting is not productive. Well put.

    3. JessaB*

      Yes. This works very well. And it takes care of any issues the OP may have about whether or not Jane’s SAD rises to ADA levels. Get the documentation ducks in a row, and then check out the new building after the interior is done. It also covers reassuring Jane that she’s not being ignored and is being taken seriously.

  20. Kate*

    Any possibility that OP can give us an update on this? I’d be very interested to see the outcome since this all skirts tricky legal territory.

  21. Gaara*

    Alison, how does it factor in if there’s something the employee should be doing outside of work to resolve the medical condition? Like, you can get a SAD lamp at home and use it in the morning for 45 minutes. That might solve the SAD issue (or it might not, but I think it probably would).

    Is that what the doctor’s note handles — by saying not just what the condition is, but what response might or might not be needed at work?

      1. HRish Dude*

        Right? I have a lamp my cat knocked over and it doesn’t have a shade. It’s a very sad lamp.

        Related, how do the “light therapy” lamps different from the top setting on a “wake up” light?

    1. Violet Fox*

      I have one of those. It helps, but it is not a substitute for access to sunlight during the day. It would very much not be enough if I didn’t have good access to sunlight.

      1. Anonymousse*

        I have a light therapy lamp and it works very well for me. I use it 30 minutes each morning before 9 am from about September to March. It takes about four days for the effect to kick in (or the benefit to wane if I stop using it when I need it). I cannot miss using it–forgetting it on weekends means I cry for no reason on Wednesdays. Lesson learned! I realize this is is just my experience (not denying anyone else’s experience) but it’s also the classic pattern for SAD. Personally, I would not ask my work to pay for my light therapy lamp. The lamp is a therapeutic treatment for my personal health condition, one which I’ve had for years in a variety of work settings.

  22. Jennifer Brooks*

    Full disclosure, I have the comments collapsed so haven’t read most of the replies-to-comments, but so far I haven’t seen anyone doubt Jane’s veracity. DOES she have SAD? Maybe she does; maybe she doesn’t, but if it hasn’t been documented by a medical professional, it’s just something she’s saying. And I hate to say it, but it’s true that people sometimes lie in order to get what they want or think they deserve.

    Quick example: I have food sensitivities. I don’t have allergies, in the sense that I don’t have a histimine reaction (that is the official medical definition), but I will get bad cramps and be gassy and unhappy. And of course I don’t tell people that I have allergies, I just avoid eating things that cause me trouble. But we all know that people will lie in restaurants about having allergies (for some reason that I don’t understand. Maybe just to get special attention?).

    > This is also her first job out of college, so I don’t think she fully understands the “unwritten rules” as much as other people.

    So much this. I can remember terrible assumptions I made in my first office-setting jobs. Such arrogance I had in my 20’s! Her speaking up in the middle of a company meeting about such a personal thing sounds like the tone-deaf things I did.

    Did Jane have any other jobs in her teens? Did she work in fast-food or retail? If this is her very first experience of employment of any kind, she probably has no idea that she can’t treat it like she did her college classes.

    I also wonder if she knew that she’d have a window before she started to work? Or just assumed that everything would be peachy because she hadn’t been in other workplaces before? Because if she really does have SAD, she needs to learn to bring it up during the hiring process. “After the offer and before the acceptance” as Alison has told us before.

    1. designbot*

      I definitely doubt Jane’s veracity, because in my experience people with actual medical conditions don’t tend to try to draw so much attention to them, they handle them quietly and privately. On the other hand as I mentioned elsewhere, that could be the OP’s opinion on this coming through in the tone of the letter.
      And I totally know what you mean, because I was one of those liars! I was told for years by my doctors that I shouldn’t have any caffeine, and so that I didn’t have to explain exactly where that was coming from I tended to just tell people I was allergic. While yes I know lying is bad m’kay, it conveyed what it needed to–absolutely do not give me caffeine, no it is not negotiable and it’s not a social thing where I’m judging you about it–without having to explain my medical history, because “allergy” is something people feel like they understand.

      1. Jaguar*

        “Who mentions their mental illness?!” is one of the worst reasons to doubt the existence of one. That’s literally Catch-22.

        1. designbot*

          Apologies for any offense–having lived in the pacific northwest, I forget that SAD is perceived as a mental illness as up there is tends to be considered simply a fact of life and is definitely very physical in nature despite it impacting one’s emotional outlook.

          1. Jaguar*

            I’ve lived in Vancouver, B.C. my entire life. I’m not talking about the legitimacy of SAD – I actually don’t know anything about it, really. I’m talking about doubting whether someone has a legitimate mental illness because they spoke up about it.

            1. designbot*

              I was simply explaining that I forgot to tiptoe around it as a mental illness, because I have always viewed it as a very physical one based on my experiences up there.
              And it’s not that she spoke up, it’s how she did so–repeatedly, in front of groups, without providing actionable documentation to her manager, and the letter gives off the impression that it was a bit whiney. I guess my impression is that people with legitimate issues take legitimate steps to handle them, and people who are looking for excuses whine.

              1. AnotherAnon*

                People with legitimate issues can also be whiny and unprofessional about those issues. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. :)

              2. GrumpyPants*

                Life is not neat and tidy like that. What is legitimate to you may or may not be legitimate to the next person. Life is a spectrum, not neat boxes. And saying there are only certain ‘legitimate’ ways to handle mental illness issues implies zero understanding of mental illness.

              3. Navy Vet*

                As a person with the awesome gift from war that keeps on giving with PTSD with a nice heaping side order of adult ADHD….I assure you we are NOT looking for reasons to whine as you so thoughtfully put it.

                If I am being vocal its for a couple of reasons.
                1. I’m not being heard. There is a difference between listening and hearing. And it’s VERY obvious to us when we are not being taken seriously.

                2. We know what can happen if we aren’t proactively managing our conditions. If I’m not careful I can end up suicidal. And, anyone who’s been down that particular rabbit hole knows they don’t want to go back down it.

                3. I am vocal about my conditions. Because I am tired of being ashamed of an illness. I have no control over it. The genetic code that myself and my siblings have inherited is not something we can control. I can not control when my triggers happen. BUT I try very hard to control the things I can so I can mitigate the devastating effects of my conditions.

                This is a group that always prides itself in being open minded and not disbelieving the letter writer. Why are you all so very quick to point out she may not have it and is faking it?

                The OP clearly does not believe her. That was my take away from the letter. Of course she’s starting to panic, she is young and has no experience dealing with ADA and her “leader” is most likely showing her annoyance and blowing her concerns off.

                You made a point of saying she’s young and doesn’t know…then be a leader and teach her about ADA and how to help herself. She may not even know this is a thing she has to do.

                Please stop making mental health assumptions. It does not help anyone. It’s hard enough having an invisible illness without the constant doubts.

                If I came in in a wheelchair, would you ask me for proof that I needed tha handicap spot? Or take me at my word?

          2. Tau*

            But SAD is a genuine diagnosable mental illness, not a catch-all term for “feels down in the winter”. I lived in Scotland for almost a decade and believe me when I say I suffered come winter, but I wouldn’t say I have SAD because I was never diagnosed, it may very well not have risen to a clinical level and as a result my claiming the term would be inappropriate and minimising.

            People with actual SAD upthread have talked about how debilitating it can be. Let’s listen to them and take it seriously.

            1. designbot*

              No dispute of that at all, just recognizing that the way she’s behaving about it makes me question *her* specific legitimacy, not the legitimacy of the whole condition in anyone.

              1. Artemesia*

                I know people who suffer from SAD and they don’t need to grab the best seat in the office; there are lots of more effective ways to make sure they have appropriate light exposure.

          3. Some Sort of Mangement consultant*

            I live in Sweden.

            SAD is a real medical condition.

            Dear God, could you be any more insulting or ableist?!

      2. Cam*

        She sounds like she has some pretty severe anxiety in addition to the SAD (anxiety is very often comorbid with SAD). It is definitely possible she’s just unaware of workplace norms regarding discussing personal issues, but I think it’s also possible her anxiety is what’s causing her to handle this situation in a less than ideal manner.

      3. Kathlynn*

        yeah, I’m a person who’s very open about having mental health issues. And yes they are diagnosed by a doctor. Being an oversharer on anything doesn’t mean you are faking it. I over share even more if, and about, any issue triggering my anxiety, because I was taught growing up that I’m not a good judge of anything. (which is false but tell that to my brain). It’s a crappy coping method developed because I spent my whole life with untreated mental health issues.

      4. Misc*

        But we all know that people will lie in restaurants about having allergies (for some reason that I don’t understand. Maybe just to get special attention?).

        If you don’t understand the reason, you just haven’t considered all the possible options.

        It’s because they don’t trust the restaurant not to give them specific foods if they just say ‘no X’. Whether that’s because they’re thoughtless, bad at asking for stuff, or have actual experience with restaurants happily covering their food with specific things they asked to not have, ‘allergy’ is actually taken seriously where ‘please don’t give me X’ is not. And it’s a lot quicker to say than trying to explain in a busy restaurant amongst six other orders that you have ‘specific condition that isn’t an allergy’ or ‘just really really hate this food’.

        And the whole ‘special attention’ thing? I have major issues around my food stuff because my parents decided I was being a picky eater to be special. It’s a major anxiety trigger/’social faux pas’ to me, and to a lot of other people with issues, and it’s something we have to get over just to get our accommodations (people with ACTUAL ‘special’ conditions have to put up with a lot of suspicion about trying to be special, they can’t just switch it off to avoid negative reactions, so they tend to be a lot more sensitive about that perception).

        (I’m not *technically* allergic, but one of my friends has several severe food allergies and considers my food restrictions to be just as valid and has just started telling the waitstaff I’m allergic *for* me.

        Because I now have to have a List of places I will NEVER EAT AT now due to my massive grudges/paranoia over the stuff they put in my food after very clear requests that were taken down carefully by helpful waitstaff and then completely ignored by the cooks – often on multiple occasions when I gave them a second or third chance.

        This includes giving me wheat instead of gluten free, adding the sauce I asked to be left off, and assuring me there could be no chilli at all in this one, or in this other one I ordered as a replacement for the first one, and basically just not removing various things I specifically checked about and requested to be left out, or being completely wrong about what they told me when I asked if X was in it. None of my requests were complicated and I often ordered specifically because they assured me it could be done the way I wanted, and I always go for the thing that’s the easiest to make ‘safe’ to avoid being a hassle and spending ages detailing stuff).

        1. Misc*

          …*deep breath* but if I say/someone with me says ‘allergy’, or I imply it when I say I can’t have X in a firm medical sounding way, I magically have no issues, and staff are much more likely to doublecheck/follow up or point out that actually, the sauce on that one has onions, or the chicken comes crumbed which isn’t mentioned in the menu, would I like it without crumbs on my gluten free bread?

        2. Jennifer*

          > If you don’t understand the reason, you just haven’t considered all the possible options.

          I actually have. I understand legit allergies (and let’s remember that “allergy” has a medical definition which is that it creates an outsized histimine reaction — the word was coined for this purpose). I understand legit food sensitivities that can’t be called allergies because they don’t cause a histimine reaction, and I think that there needs to be a new term for “gut-allergies”. I understand texture sensitivities. I understand people “just not liking something” and it turns out there’s a mild sensitivity going on that they’re unaware of. I understand people just not liking something for no other reason than they don’t, and that’s legit!

          But I was referring to an actual phenomenon that happens in restaurants, where terrible customers take advantage of a chance to treat wait-staff like servants and make unreasonable demands. Often they claim to be allergic to things (which causes conscientious kitchen staff to clean the prep area extra well, use fresh pans & knives, etc, which takes extra time), and even claim to be allergic to things that, well, “I’m allergic to crunchy” sorts of statements. (Here’s a nice sample:

          And there’s a thing people do in retail settings, which is lie expansively to get their way. Things like claiming to be related to the manager, or claiming that staff were rude and cussed them out or that “she told me it’s okay” to leave their kid in the mall’s toy store for an hour while they shop elsewhere in the mall. And parents will insist that teachers allow their children to break rules without consequence. People are sometimes terrible.

          Okay, so why am I bringing all this up? Because if Jane’s parents are like that, then she’s got it as part of her toolkit of “getting what I want/need” and tossing out medical claims is one potent version of that. I’d like to make the point that I am NOT discounting SAD as a real thing. And I live with mental health issues myself (mild chronic depression and ADHD) and am not disparaging anything there. And yes, I’ve brought them up in the workplace when necessary, and in an appropriate manner.

          I just wanted to bring up the point that Jane might actually have been lying in order to get her way, because I didn’t see anyone else considering that option.

    2. Macedon*

      It’s disturbing to me that so many people’s immediate thought process jumps from “This person has reported an invisible mental health issue” to “She must be faking it”.

      Jane should bring in the appropriate medical documentation so that her company can figure out the best way in which to accommodate her based on the unique specs of her condition. But let’s not jump into armchair questioning someone’s reported mental health issues, because that behaviour has a history of abuse.

      As someone who does not suffer from a mental health issue, I am grateful that I only have to worry about experiencing and curing my hurts, and not also about struggling to “prove” to my family, my doctors, my friends, my work circle and to my own conscience that they do, in fact, exist.

    3. TL -*

      Can we stop with this? People with illnesses do not need to perform a certain way to be legitimately sick.

      What is clear from the letter is that Jane is a little young and immature and in her first job. Like many people have experienced early in their careers, those factors are adding up to her handling a workplace issue badly.

      That has no bearing on her actual disease and it’s incredibly disheartening to see so many people say otherwise, in a community I can normally look to to be kind and compassionate.

  23. Observer*

    I think the OP needs to do a few things:

    1. If you know enough about the office to be able to make seating plans, SOMEONE must have seen the space. Ask that person what the physical layout is – things like how what kind of cubicles there are going to be and how tall are the ceilings. If this is a place with 7 – 7.5′ ceilings, then “floor to ceiling windows” is not likely to bring much sunlight into the interior portions of an area with 6’cubicle walls. Almost certainly not enough for someone who has SAD or anything like it.

    If that’s the case, you might as well start working on this NOW.
    If the place has high ceilings, lots of floor the ceiling windows and low cubicle partitions, you should tell Jane that the setup is such that there seems to be a lot of natural / sun light in the new place, so you are going to ask her to wait and see before making any further decisions.

    2. Get rid of the idea that this is about “ideal circumstances”. If she has SAD, then “debilitating” may very well NOT be an exaggeration at all. Talk to your lawyer about the ADA aspect. And whatever else you do, approach this with the understanding that this could really be a truly major issue, not just “optimizing”.

    3. Start managing and stop pretending. Tell her that Fergus got this spot because of seniority, and it’s not appropriate for her to badger him. But ALSO tell her what you are doing now, and how you intend to handle things once you move. If your legal people tell you “Yeah, ADA”, tell her that you need some documentation of the condition, and what her doctor thinks would be appropriate accommodations. (Or whatever they say you need to get from her.)

    4. Talk to your facilities person (if yo have one) or whoever knows what the deal with the lighting there is. Find out what kind of lighting you have there, what the other options are, and what it would take to move to something totally different. Depending on her issue, changing the lighting might be useful, and it’s worth finding out what your options are sooner rather than later.

    1. Marvel*

      This is my favorite response. Agree 100%.

      I’m kind of team nobody on this one. It sounds like the employee is not handling this well, but to me it also sounds like the manager doesn’t really want to make any effort to accommodate her or at least ease her worries in preparation for the move.

  24. Beth*

    I must be the only one who hates sitting near windows.

    Anyways, I have nothing more of value to add that other readers haven’t. But OP’s company seems to be in denial that they, in fact, do have seniority…team leaders, team lead section, Fergus gets to pick seating, etc.

    1. Xarcady*

      That struck me, too. If there really was no seniority, the OP could have chosen the name for the window seat out of a hat, or had Jane and Fergus draw straws, or something like that.

      The fact is, there *is* seniority at this company. It is apparently one of the “unwritten rules.”

      1. Kathlynn*

        Or too cold. At work, I have to wear a jacket on my break, because otherwise I’ll get cold. Even in summer. (the seating availible for breaks is by the outside facing wall, with almost floor to ceiling windows)

  25. Mustache Cat*

    By the way, Alison, whatever happened to the 12:30 post? There’s usually one, right, or am I crazy?

  26. Milton Waddams*

    This feels a lot like a “37 pieces of flair” kind of office.

    If senior management’s genuine intention is for a flat organizational style, they need to put their foot down — allowing people to carve middle management fiefdoms out of a flat style gets you the worst of both worlds, including these sort of problems where people who take the rules at face value end up causing problems because they don’t know about the secret rules.

  27. Darren*

    I don’t normally comment but I think the problem is that the Team Lead isn’t actually leading.

    We are talking about someone young and early in her career and a lot of people seem to be saying she should be proactively providing documentation on her condition, given her youth I would actually assume that she has absolutely no idea what she needs to do in order to get the necessary accommodations (whatever those may be) for her condition.

    If I were her Team Lead, I would have addressed this initially with a “Lets start the dialogue with your doctor, and fill out the necessary documentation so that we have this tracked and can get a plan in place to get whatever accommodations that are necessary setup.”

    This would have reassured her that I am taking the situation serious as well as getting the necessary documentation (and getting her familiar with the process for when she moved to a new company) and so that I know the extent of her condition and the necessary accommodations recommended by her doctor.

    None of the steps to actually provide accommodation in this case seem like they would need lead time so I probably wouldn’t start enacting them until we had actually made the move, but I would have ensured that she was comfortable that the necessary steps would be taken.

    1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

      I think it’s important to acknowledge that the employee is in fact being fundamentally responsible in proactively bringing up a potential issue as soon as she’s aware that the issue exists.

      In a normal company structure it would have been appropriate to go to management or HR; but in this company those avenues supposedly do not exist. If the company’s actual structure and culture are truly *that* different from what employees are told it is, then that is a failure to communicate by the company in general and the “team lead” in particular, not a failure to be professional by the employee.

    2. OhBehave*

      I was also wondering if OP, as a team lead has been lead in any way. As an employee in a start up, you expect that everyone would do a little bit of everything. As the business succeeds and you add to your ranks, things start to shake out. Not everyone is a natural leader. This being a ‘flat’ company – it’s possible that Jane has no idea who to go to for help. She’s on OP’s team but seems lost. And yes, she would have no idea what she needs to do in order to get accommodations. She came from college, somewhat flexible seating arrangements there!

    3. Tau*

      We are talking about someone young and early in her career and a lot of people seem to be saying she should be proactively providing documentation on her condition, given her youth I would actually assume that she has absolutely no idea what she needs to do in order to get the necessary accommodations (whatever those may be) for her condition.

      The thing where people are jumping on Jane for not proactively providing documentation has actually been really puzzling to me. If I had to go to my boss with “uh, so there’s this disability I haven’t told you about and it’s about to become a problem, can we do XYZ?” (this situation, for the record, is genuinely a possibility and something I worry about a lot) I would not show documentation unsolicited. I might offer to show it, I might bring it in with me in case they wanted to see it, but I wouldn’t actually take it out and hold it under their noses unless a) they asked for it (which OP hasn’t), b) they completely failed at addressing the issue and I had to escalate to HR or the like. Starting the conversation with what’s effectively “you have a legal obligation to help me and here’s the doctor’s note to prove it” just strikes me as a hostile and escalating move.

      Judging by the response here, I seem to be the only one who’d approach it this way. Am I out of touch with professional norms?

      1. mander*

        It’s not that I would expect her to provide documentation when she first brings it up, but that rather than badgering her colleagues I’d expect her to ask her supervisor what she needs to do.

        1. Darren*

          Reading the post is seems like Jane may have panicked a little initially hence her comments to Fergus but it sounds like immediately after the meeting she did approach her supervisor directly, who has apparently just brushed off her concerns:

          “Jane later came to me to ask about it, and said she has severe seasonable affective disorder (SAD) and not being near a window will be debilitating for her. I told her that we should see what happens after we move, as in all likelihood we won’t stay in the current set-up for long (we get moved a lot as different teams grow and need new space).”

          Nothing in there about asking for documentation or anything reassuring about how this is going to move forward just, “we’ll deal with it later, maybe”. With no clear path for escalation (it’s a flat structure with no HR, even the poster is just a first among equals kind of thing), and a particularly junior employee who is almost certainly not aware of professional norms and is just panicking right now because nobody seems to be giving her concerns any attention at all she is understandably panicking and reraising it at every opportunity hoping to find someone that can either do something about it or at least give her some reassurance that there is actually an intention to do something about it.

          Right now the supervisor has put her company in breach of the ADA rules. Jane’s verbal request for accommodation is all that she was legally required to do and is the trigger for the dialogue to begin. She literally said the magic words, “I need X because I have Y medical condition” per the ADA documentation:

          “When an individual decides to request accommodation, the individual or his/her representative must let the employer know that s/he needs an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition.”

          It also states:
          “Requests for reasonable accommodation do not need to be in writing. Individuals may request accommodations in conversation or may use any other mode of communication. An employer may choose to write a memorandum or letter confirming the individual’s request. Alternatively, an employer may ask the individual to fill out a form or submit the request in written form, but the employer cannot ignore the initial request. An employer also may request reasonable documentation that the individual has an ADA disability and needs a reasonable accommodation.”

          Jane has therefore met all of her current requirements for an ADA request, the ball is now in her employers court, as their representative the supervisor has screwed up.

          The employers job at this point is to:
          “The employer and the individual with a disability should engage in an informal process to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation. The employer may ask the individual relevant questions that will enable it to make an informed decision about the request. This includes asking what type of reasonable accommodation is needed.”

          At this point as the having not begun the dialogue about the accommodation (which can include asking for documentation) the supervisor has put her company in breach of the ADA rules. The OP needs to immediately change her attitude and start taking this seriously otherwise she is opening the company up to quite serious penalties (in the tens of thousands of dollars). Granting Jane the window isn’t required, but she needs to actually actively start the process of working out what accommodations might be required.

  28. Artemesia*

    This play on Jane’s part would really fry my ass if she were my employee and one thing is for sure; she is never getting Fergus’s window seat. I’d do a full on ADA press here suggesting that possibly a special lamp might be purchased to to assist with her disability. This is so transparently a bullying move on her part. She didn’t approach it tactfully; she tried to pressure Fergus in a public setting and now she is whining. Window seats are highly valued and signs of status — newbies don’t get to whine their way into them and the way she handled this is ridiculous.

    1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

      Uh, no. In a company that supposedly doesn’t do seniority, it is entirely reasonable for an employee to say, “I have a functional need for this” regardless of how long they’ve been there. That’s the entire supposed point of a flat layout.

      You can’t criticize an employee for stepping on seniority when the company apparently goes out of its way to lie about seniority not being a thing.

      1. Artemesia*

        I see your point on that — wholeocracies are the worst — and they lead to precisely this, the grabbiest person gets all the goodies.

        1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

          It really sounds like this company has a “shadow bureaucracy” situation where even though everyone is officially on the same level and decisions are supposed to be made by consensus-of-equals, senior employees have been granted de facto managerial authority but aren’t actually willing to step up and engage in day-to-day management because it’s “not officially my job so I don’t have to”.

          The entire tone of the OP comes off as totally dismissive of the actual need for accommodations despite the *strict legal mandate* of ADA, and she sounds like her only interest is figuring out a way to shut Jane up without assuming responsibility for arranging things. That’s a far, far more serious act of unprofessional behavior than bringing up the issue repeatedly *because it hasn’t been handled*, in a context where there is no formal management or HR to go to.

        2. Mookie*

          An accommodation is not a “goodie” or an advantage; it’s a correction to a disadvantage over which the sufferer has no control.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I agree. I’d be offering a lamp and a request for documentation. Then I would see how she acted.
      What I wouldn’t tolerate is the one way solution (window only). I’m especially bothered by publicly pushing on Fergus. It forces him into the bad guy position if he doesn’t do what Jane wants.

      Jane has a need for accommodation. That doesn’t mean the window.

      1. Amadeo*

        Yes, I expect I’d have the same reaction as Artemesia when the first I’d ever heard about Jane’s illness was a full on guilt trip ticket in the middle of a group meeting. And it would ‘fry my ass’ as Artemesia so eloquently put it. Obviously accommodation is a must, but that would start with the offer of the lamp and perhaps breaks to have a walk outside every couple of hours and then see how it goes from there.

        But there would be no window seat.

    3. Observer*

      Actually, if you are doing a “full on ADA” you don’t get to decide that “she’s never getting Fergus’ seat” and that “A special lamp might be purchased.”

      The ADA absolutely *requires* reasonable accommodation, and spending a couple of hundred dollars is generally considered well within that parameter. So, there is no “might” about it. Furthermore, the ADA absolutely *requires* a dialog and *forbids* the employer from making a unilateral decision absent input from the employee (and the employee’s medical person, as necessary.) That’s doesn’t mean that the employee necessary gets what she asked for in the first place. But it does mean that you don’t get to rule it out until her doctor indicates that there are other viable options.

      1. Tau*

        Yes, I’m rather side-eyeing the “no way is she getting a window seat!” that’s cropped up a few times.

        Sure, a lamp is a very common accommodation for SAD. But there may be reasons it won’t work in this situation. If a window seat is the primary accommodation Jane needs and there are no feasible alternatives, and this is supported by her doctor… well, let’s just say I don’t think you’d want to have to explain in court why, in this situation, Jane getting the window seat was not a reasonable accommodation.

  29. Triceratops*

    I REALLY sympathize with Jane. I quit a job in college because it was located in the basement, and I couldn’t even deal with not seeing the sun for my 3-hour shifts. I realize that Jane may not be going about it the right way, but I would also get really anxious if I found out I was about to be put in that position again.

    1. Srs Bsns*

      I realise that there is probably no way for me to ask you the following question without seeming like a complete and utter idiot, so I shall just ask it (with my hand on my heart, I’m not trying to offend or ridicule, I am just honest-to-God curious):

      If you are unable to function for three hours without seeing the sun, how do you manage in the evening during the hours between sunset and bedtime??

      1. Misc*

        You’re overlooking the fact that it’s three hours *out of the day* – sunset to bedtime, you’ve already ‘filled up’ on a full day of sun. But if you’re stuck in the basement during that time, you never get a chance to recharge.

        1. Srs Bsns*

          Oh, okay. Like a rechargeable battery. I have never heard it described in those terms before. But what does one do if it is cloudy all day, or for days at a time? What in the world do you do in the winter? I am interested because I have lived most of my life very near to the Arctic Circle, and I have known many people diagnosed with SAD who have been without natural sunlight for weeks, even months, at a time. Most managed it with prescription medication, vitamins, “sun” lamps, and UV therapy, but no actual sunlight, simply because there is no sunlight available, absolutely none at all. Happily, those therapies were effective for the people I knew. If natural sunlight is the only remedy for some sufferers, that would make life infinitely more difficult. Do people migrate with the seasons, like birds?

          1. Observer*

            So, for some people the therapies work. For others, it becomes a HUGE problem. And, yes some people move to areas where this is not a problem and some do be come “snowbirds.”

  30. Nanani*

    She has a compelling reason to request the window seat, and seniority is not supposed to be a factor. So, stop making seniority a factor and give her the window seat.
    Simplest solution all around.

    1. A Day at the Zoo*

      No, that is NOT an easy solution. It will upset Fergus who has no role in this. It could potentially create major issues with the other team members. I understand that Jane is anxious about the move but she is NOT entitled to the window, or to second guess an announced decision. She is entitled to an accommodation. The Team Lead needs to take the initiative to start the dialogue with Jane. But, giving her the window just because that is what Jane wants without exploring other alternatives (or even knowing what the light situation is) is a recipe for a team meltdown.

      1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

        Except that in a supposedly “no seniority” workplace, Fergus has no actual claim to that window seat in the first place. It was inappropriately awarded by the team lead as a seniority prize in violation of the no-seniority policies of the company.

  31. GovWorker*

    Under the ADA, a condition must interfere with one or more major life activities to be deemed a disabling. Furthermore, the disabling condition, without accommodation, must interfere with the employees ability to perform critical job functions. So, talk of ADA is premature until Jane is found to be a person with a disability according to her company’s process. Note that Jane is not required to start the reasonable accommodation process herself. Once a supervisor or manager becomes aware of a situation where an employee may have or is having job issues because of a medical issue, that supervisor can reach out to the employee to get the ball rolling. This is encouraged under the law.

    I have worked under reasonable accommodations for five years, and the process with my employer was quite adversarial. So I became very familiar with the EEOC laws and regulations.

    1. Darren*

      Oh you can definitely have quite an adversarial version of this process, asking for documentation from a doctor is perfectly legitimate and a part of the interactive dialogue however the ADA process is triggered once the employee says:

      “I needs X accommodation because I have Y medical condition” feel free to recheck the EEOC website (I brushed up on it myself just to check before I posted).

      At this point the interactive dialogue (which can include asking for documentation and doctor’s recommendations) begins. Failure to begin the dialogue at this point breaches the employers obligations under the ADA.

      Jane has done her part of this, the supervisor hasn’t done theirs.

      Note Jane doesn’t need to have Y medical condition or need X accommodation specifically for it to trigger the ADA process her merely saying she does triggers the process. Part of the process includes weeding out requests where no reasonable accommodation is required (either because the environment is already suitable or because she doesn’t have the condition she says she has), but it still requires the company going through the process (whatever that might be).

  32. GovWorker*

    Oh, and I do find it odd that Jane is so forthcoming about her condition, although this is the age of oversharing. To each her own, but I have zealously guarded my privacy over the years and have reminded managers of their obligation to do so also.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I didn’t mention mine except in very couched terms until it directly became an issue–much like Jane’s. Things were changing, and I had no idea how it would affect me, so I felt compelled to bring it up. But like Rusty Shackleford pointed out upthread, she may be freaking out about the unknown–something I also did.

      Jane may have no idea how to go about getting documentation. In my case, the company provided the form, and luckily, I still had the information of the doctor who had diagnosed me, who agreed to fill out the form and met with me about it without charging me. OP can find out what is required to document an accommodation and get the paperwork in process before the move, as suggested upthread. Perhaps the process will reassure Jane.

    2. Kathlynn*

      Said this before, over sharing with people isn’t a sign of faking it. It’s often a sign of anxiety and/or bad coping methods

      1. GovWorker*

        I didn’t say or imply that it did. Just that I found it odd. I’m very private and prefer that people not know about my illnesses, unless there is a bona fide need. To each her own, though.

    3. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

      I find it ironic that about half the comments are saying Jane is “unprofessional” for being too aggressive and bringing it up proactively before the actual move, and the other half are calling her “unprofessional” for not being aggressive enough and instantly escalating to a formal demand in writing. Apparently, there is in fact no way to bring up a disability which is not “unprofessional”.

      1. GovWorker*

        Not true. In private, in your supervisor’s office, or via email is professional.

        1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

          She did that first and was blatantly blown off by Ms. “Team Lead”.

          At this point the team lead is explicitly placing the company in violation of ADA standards for accommodation. While they are not required to promise the window seat, they are *not* allowed to take a “wait and see” attitude and they are *not* allowed to say “It doesn’t count until you put a request in writing to our (nonexistent-anyway) HR department”.

  33. Purple Jello*

    SAD runs in my family, though we have not all been officially diagnosed. Sunlight or the lack thereof affects SAD patients to different degrees, so that enough light for one person might not be enough for another. My sister and mom moved to a state with a lot of sunshine. My brother uses a lamp. I probably should: sunny days in the winter I wonder why I’m feeling in a better mood, then realize that I haven’t been in the light for days/weeks.

  34. Vicki*

    At one job, we had a department head who thought very highly of himself (and very poorly of the rest of us). So, when it was time to move buildings, he assigned cubicles and stated that no changes were allowed, his word was final.

    He put me in a cube next to the break area, which was between the restrooms. Our group had a habit of making microwaved popcorn; I react badly to the odor of faux butter (and everyone knew that).

    When I asked how I’d been placed there, our dept head actually told me I had “requested” to have a cube next to the women’s restroom. (He was also a compulsive liar).

    I brought in a doctor’s note and was able to have my cubicle location changed to the other end of the building.

  35. That Marketing Chick*

    Get her a full-spectrum light, available at hardware stores or Amazon. If she really has SAD, it will work for her. If she’s just being a jerk about getting a better desk area, it will shut her up (hopefully).
    – from a senior manager who can’t even SEE a window from where she sits, and somehow survives.

    1. Monique*

      “Somehow survives” seems overly snarky – especially if you don’t have SAD and aren’t a medical professional.

  36. LD*

    Why does it sound like everyone is equating a flat hierarchy with no one gets the benefit of seniority or that there is NO management at all? A “flat” hierarchy is really almost non-existent. There has to be someone to be the tie-breaker when there is as disagreement or conflict on priorities or goals. Also, seniority and hierarchy are not the same thing. All a flat hierarchy does is eliminate some layers of management, not eliminate all management. Nor does a flat hierarchy mean that the newest person on the team gets all the same perks as the person who has been contributing for a few years longer. Also, it seems like many people are “in violent agreement.” So many commenters agree that Jane isn’t handling her concerns as professionally as she should, and so many agree that the OP needs to talk with Jane and tell her that he/she will do whatever he/she can do to appropriately accommodate her needs in the new office space. That accommodation may not be automatically giving her the office that has been assigned to Fergus. That there will be a process to determine what is reasonable. The OP needs to have that conversation with Jane and follow Alison’s advice about telling Jane that he/she will do what is possible to help Jane and accommodate her needs in the new office arrangement. Jane and her physician may not be able to know at this point what accommodations will be necessary, because they don’t yet know what the new office arrangement will do to impact Jane’s SAD. But they can start the assessment of her current situation and talk about how to assess the impact once the move is made. Do express concern for Jane and her situation and ask her to come to you with her questions and concerns and not bring it up in the group meetings. Jane needs a real, individual discussion about her situation and what the OP can and will do to address her concern. The OP did right to come to this forum and ask for help since he/she wasn’t sure how to handle it because of their “flat” hierarchy. To me, the interpretation of flat as “everyone is equal” seemed to derail some of the discussion. Good luck, OP! I think many of us would love an update.

  37. SAD*

    I have SAD and no window. I made an ADA request, accompanied by a doctor’s letter, to HR to provide a reasonable accommodation–a window, or a SAD lamp. They provided the latter–actually they let me pick it out and reimbursed me. It was really straightforward. Jane should do the same, or the letter writer could proactively offer this solution. If the desk layout is such that a SAD lamp would be distracting to others, perhaps the layout can be adjusted or a lamp can be purchased that won’t shed light on others even if that style of lamp is more expensive. I suspect Jane is genuinely anxious and concerned about managing her SAD, not just trying to be a pain, and offering this solution will address her concerns.

  38. Monique*

    I also have SAD to some extent. I had a pretty dark workspace at one point, so I bought a full spectrum lamp to help out my ailing plant. I then noticed that when the light was on, I had a lot more energy, too.

    The lamp cost maybe $50.

    There are dedicated SAD lamps as well; I actually have not found them as effective, as you’re supposed to shine them into your face (very annoying) for 10 minutes in the morning. My medical professional told me that using those lamps later in the day could lead to insomnia. YMMV.

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