our company is making us do unreasonable things to accommodate a coworker’s mental health

A reader writes:

My coworker, “Casey,” has worked at the same company as me for just over two years. Casey has mental health issues with obsessive-compulsive disorder (self-acknowledged and openly talked about) that have gotten progressively worse as time goes on. Casey is on medication and currently in therapy, but it isn’t enough any more. It has gotten to the point where it’s out of control and affecting the lives of others.

Some examples: Casey likes everything to be the same, and so to accommodate this management has amended the dress code to say that if clothes have patterns they must be uniform and even that if anyone wears a ring, watch, or bracelet on one hand they must wear one on the other so it’s the same. Another example is that some people who work here take public transit and there is a bus stop outside of our office. To accommodate Casey we were directed by management to line up for the bus as male/female/male/female, etc.. so the line is orderly.

These are just a couple of examples, but I could go on all day. I don’t want to come across as a horrible person but I am getting fed up with having to change every little thing because of Casey’s accommodations. Casey is a nice enough person and I know it’s a mental illness, but at the same time I don’t see why everyone else has to suffer all the time. I would never purposely do anything to make Casey uncomfortable and neither would my coworkers, but we feel like this has gone too far. People have quit or transferred to other locations to get away from this. Someone was given a written warning for only wearing a ring on one hand and was asked to remove their wedding ring because they didn’t have a second ring, and we were told we will be written up if we don’t comply.

When we bring our concerns to management or HR they just tell us about the ADA and being tolerant. Short of finding a new job, can you recommend any other ways to get management to see why this is a problem?

Whoa. This is not the way to accommodate someone with a mental health issue; you don’t shift the entire burden to other people to manage.

Your company has handled this so badly (lining people up by gender?! telling someone to remove their wedding ring?!) that I don’t have a lot of hope that you’ll be able to get them to see reason. Acting reasonably doesn’t seem to be their strong suit.

But whenever anything ridiculous is happening that you want to push back against, harnessing the power of a group is often a lot more effective than just one person speaking up. So you could give that a shot: have a group of people talk to someone with authority and say that you’re sympathetic to Casey’s illness but are being asked to shoulder an unreasonable burden to accommodate it, and ask that the company consult with a lawyer and/or disability expert on ways to meet their obligations to Casey without making unreasonable demands of other employees.

You could also show them resources like this, which explains that typical accommodations for obsessive-compulsive disorder are things like giving the person control over her own workspace (not other people’s) or allowing the person to use noise-canceling headphones. It’s not typical to give the person control over what other people wear or who they stand next to at a bus stop (which shouldn’t be under an employer’s control at all).

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes companies do unreasonable things because no one has bothered to push back against it in an organized way, and sometimes just a little bit of group pressure can jog them into realizing, “Oh, people have a problem with this and we need to find another solution.” Other times they don’t budge, no matter how compelling the argument you lay out. I can’t predict what will happen here, but it’s absolutely reasonable to make the attempt.

{ 779 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap*

    I don’t have any advice, but this is one of the most unreasonable things I’ve ever heard of.

    It doesn’t sound like Casey’s illness is being managed well at all, if large groups of people are having to change things to accommodate it. The burden of accommodation is on the employer, not coworkers.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      Yeah, there’s a line between accommodating and enabling, and the employer has taken a flying leap over it.

      1. SJPxo*

        That is what I was thinking, they’re enabling her. There’s reasonable accommodation but they seem to be pandering to her and actually allowing her, rather than trying to help her beat it or at least cope with it

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m not sure if it’s fair to describe a mental illness as “enabling,” but I agree that the employer has seriously misunderstood the requirements of the ADA and its application to workers like Casey.

        1. fposte*

          I think it’s became an unfortunately pejorative term overall and it ends up implying that there’s some kind of desired therapeutic place for the job, which I don’t like. But I also think it fits to some extent because it’s a short-term placation that makes the overall problem worse.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I have an anxiety disorder and although everyone is different, I feel like massively indulging Casey is actually probably doing her more harm than good. Instead of giving her REASONABLE accommodations and then leaving it to her to work with her treatment team to, you know, become capable of functioning in the actual world given those reasonable accommodations, they’re enabling her (via company policy!) to engage in maladaptive behaviors. And I can say from miserable experience that the more you allow yourself to indulge in those behaviors, the harder it is to stop.

          It would be MUCH better for Casey if she just had to somehow learn to deal with people wearing non-symmetrical accessories and lining up in a “disorderly” way. So yeah, I would call what the workplace is doing is enabling.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              idk I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s better for ANYONE to learn coping skills than to continually indulge in maladaptive behaviors brought on by mental illness. That’s why it’s a mental illness and people seek treatment for it, as opposed to say a personality quirk.

            2. Jessesgirl72*

              I think it’s relevant to the OP to know that what the company thinks they are doing to accommodate Casey’s disorder is directly against the standard treatment for the disorder.

              We all are assuming that the accommodations are being made because an ignorant HR department is afraid of being sued, but we don’t actually know the reasoning. This kind of thing is exactly what happens in so many households where family members bend over backwards not to upset the (often undiagnosed) mentally ill family member, because they think it’s kind and helpful to do so. Or that it’s the best way to cope. For all we know, the CEO grew up in that kind of environment, and it’s at her direction that the situation is being handled this way. So if the OP gathers a group of her coworkers, and can show the higher ups “Not only does this not qualify as reasonable accommodations, but it’s also considered to be harmful to Casey’s treatment by qualified mental health professionals” she is addressing both possible scenarios.

            3. Anon for this*

              A lot of commenters are sharing perspectives based on their own experience with OCD & other mental illnesses—and one common perspective seems to be that this kind of extreme “accommodation” does more harm than good. That seems like a perfectly reasonable observation to me.

            4. Green*

              Obviously we are not Casey’s therapist. But: those who have commented have acknowledged that everyone is different. They have then shard completely obvious treatment goals (the ability to cope with the not totally within one’s control). Many of us also have knowledge about OCD and anxiety disorders because of our own experiences, our coursework, our professions, or our reading/volunteer work. (One of the most common therapies for OCD is actually exposure therapy.)

              I don’t think we have to dispense with the knowledge we have to comment on a blog. While it’s great to enforce community standards, this goes a bit too far IMO.

              The most relevant issue here is that this environment is neither health for the other coworkers, nor is it legally required. But it IS also relevant that in trying to be sensitive to Casey’s needs, they have created an environment that is ALSO not healthy for Casey.

            5. Student*

              This policy is absolutely harming Casey’s ability to work with co-workers – people are quitting over it rather than work with Casey. This policy is also giving Casey some unrealistic ideas of what normal ADA accommodations she can expect from future employers. This policy harms Casey in direct, concrete ways that abolishing it will counteract.

            6. Annonymouse*

              I think it is fair to speculate here based on people’s experiences and what is reasonable for people to be able to do.

              For example if very bright lights triggered a reaction in someone (for instance migraines or anxiety).

              A reasonable accommodation is changing the bulb wattage or getting a dimmer to get the brightness down to a manageable level.

              Unreasonable is to switch the lights off at all times as to not upset them.

              Casey is going to encounter situations outside of work that aren’t going to conform with her OCD.

              She is going to need coping strategies to help her, not trying to control every aspect of the world.

            7. Candi*

              My son was in therapy for depression when OCD indicators began to manifest. His therapy was extended to cover treatment.

              Part of it was learning coping mechanisms for things that made him twitchy. Not changing the environment to suit himself.

              Three years later, he needs minimal accommodations to not just function, but live, with the OCD. (Although his silverware at dinner absolutely must match.)

              The depression is far more of an uphill battle. We -family, school, and clinic- are working on his treatment with him.

          1. Ugh*

            Agreed. I have an anxiety disorder too and while you’re right that everyone is different, I completely agree.

            I also wonder what Casey does about running errands/being out in public. Or what if she needs to change jobs for some reason? I understand how hard it is, I really do, but that’s what treatment is for.

          2. Banana Sandwich*

            I have to agree with Wendy Darling – allowing Casey to continue to indulge in her maladapitve behaviors will result in her illness to continue progressively worse, which is corroborated by the fact that OP states that point blank. HR shoould accommodate her in some other way that does not significantly impact her coworkers, which likely hurts her relationship with them and could potentially harm Casey even further mentally.

          3. TootsNYC*

            My son was under treatment for OCD, and we were told that “indulging” the obsession was harmful. It just made it stronger–straight-out behavior modification/reward.

          4. Psychdoc*

            I’m a clinical psychologist and you and the other commentators are correct, the accommodations are counter to standard practice for treating ocd. Yes, treating ocd is unpleasant, it involves experiencing significant discomfort, but if Casey wants to get it under control then she should specifically *not* avoid things that make her uncomfortable. It’s alright if Casey isn’t ready to get treatment, but either way, her employer shouldn’t be involved and it shouldn’t have any impact on her coworkers.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ah, I can see I’m reading the term differently. I thought it was being used pejoratively, not as a description of undermining Casey’s mental health or treatment plan.

          1. a*

            Technically when you use the term “enabling” in this context, it is a pejorative, specifically towards the people doing the “enabling”, in this case, the business managers who are requesting these accommodations for Casey’s sake.


            What “enabling” here means is that the business is attempting to aid Casey doing something for them (providing accommodations for the sake of their OCD) but what’s happening is by doing so, they’re actually inadvertently reinforcing Casey’s problem and allowing it actually get worse by not addressing it properly and instead, making a large number of unreasonable changes instead of finding a more reasonable compromise for Casey’s comfort that doesn’t require the rest of the team to bend over backwards to accommodate.

    2. SophieChotek*

      Wow…I agree…I cannot imagine.
      The OP has sympathy with the coworkers mental illness and understands that this is not something she is trying to do to make other’s lives miserable…but the accommodations being made seem to have resulted in misery just the same.

    3. 42*

      If you take Alison’s advice and the company still won’t budge, then OP should strongly suggest that the company fully disclose and detail this policy during the interview process for new hires. Because the company wouldn’t want to broadside someone on their first day on the job, would they.

      Let candidates self select out, and see the candidate pool they’re left with.

      1. Lillie Lane*

        If the policies were written in the employee handbook, it would probably resemble Sheldon’s roommate agreement.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Thursday is pizza and classic video games night, so everyone must eat pizza and play classic video games…

        2. Temperance*

          Sadly, this even rises above the absurdity of BBT. Sheldon doesn’t force people to dress a certain way.

        3. I AM NOT SHELDON*

          I just received an email from a company that looked a little like the sheldon room mate agreement. I decided not to pursue a job there.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That seems pretty unlikely, because then they also have to out Casey’s OCD to any prospective employee. I was going to say it would be crazy for a company to include this in their policies (I would bet all of these “requirements” are not written down anywhere). But then I thought about what OP’s employer is doing (which is crazy), and then realized that maybe they’re exactly the kind of employer who would put something like this in their job postings and employee manual.

        1. 42*

          That’s a good point, and I hadn’t thought out the logistics fully. But man I would not want to find this all out on my first day on the job.

          1. 42*

            Thinking on this more:

            They’re going to have to out Casey anyway. Do they tell a new hire what patterns to come in wearing on their first day?…or is it more that they come in and are told “BTW you can’t wear that anymore.” And then Tuesday it’s “oh, and you can’t wear only one ring.”

            I really hope the OP weighs in. How can they keep prospective employees in the dark that they can, and have, “written someone up” for wearing only one ring?

            This company has a waaaaaay outside-the-norm set of ADA accommodations that they presumably do not disclose up front?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Why would they have to out Casey to convey the requirements? (Not saying the requirements/accommodations are reasonable—they are not. )

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yes, it’d be entirely possible to have a dress code policy that stipulated all this stuff (only matching/balanced patterns, rings either on neither hand or both hands, whatever) without saying “because of Casey.” (People might figure it out in talking to Casey, since apparently they’re pretty open about the OCD and its effects, but that wouldn’t be the problem/fault of the employer.)

                Granted such a policy would look totally bananas to most people (because it is…), but it wouldn’t require disclosing anybody’s disability status.

              2. 42*

                I know you’re not saying that, Princess, I understand. I’m thinking in this hypothetical, maybe not by name, but by design?

                Company: “We have a dress code that we enforce, such as fabrics that only have symmetrical patterns on them. We also mandate that if you wear a ring on your right hand, you must also wear one on your left hand, or not wear any rings at all. Failure to adhere to this dress code will result in you getting a write-up in your in your employee file, or other disciplinary actions.”

                New hire: “I’m curious to know why.”

                Company: . . .

                (Noting and appreciating Turtle Candles reply below as well, thank you.)

                When the company lays such an extreme mandate like that out, are they going to say “Because we said so.”? Or worse, “We can’t tell you.”

                I know I’m taking this to an absurd extreme, if only to illustrate this affects the company in ways outside of “ADA compliance”, and also how poorly thought-out their policy is.

                1. SophieChotek*

                  Good point. It would be hard to come up with someone other than “Because we said so” but at least it might give candidates a chance to self-select out.

                  On the other hand, if additional accommodations are made, they might need to be updating that handbook quite often…?

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  I think I’m mostly going on the impression that this company is not necessarily going to prioritize having a reasonable answer anyway. They might say “because Casey” or they might say “because we say so” or they might say “because the little men who live in the rings of Saturn told us to.”

                  Or they might say what I would say if this was a reasonable accommodation issue, which is “it’s a disability accommodation issue” without spelling out ‘for who’ or ‘for what illness.’

                  Because while I am 100% in agreement that this is a bonkers and unreasonable way to accommodate these issues, similar issues where the solution is not bonkers might raise similar questions. If you tell people they can’t wear certain scents (or any scents), can’t bring certain foods into the office, have to use a separate refrigerator for certain kind of foods, have to cover certain shifts that some other employees don’t have to cover, etc., you might get a ‘why,’ too, and you’d have to figure out what to answer.

                  I think it’s acceptable to say “it’s an accessibility issue” and not spell out for whom, or why. Because otherwise you’d have the exact same issue with an allergen–you’re saying “you can’t bring your California rolls in for lunch,” and if someone asks why, you’re stuck with ‘because we said so’ or ‘we can’t tell you’ or ‘it’s an accessibility issue.’

                  The problem isn’t that they can’t spell out who this is an issue for. It’s that their requirements are ridiculous. But even if their requirements were not ridiculous–even if it was ‘this person has a violent seafood allergy, people can’t put their lunch sushi in the shared refrigerator’–the ‘what if they ask?’ question is still the same, and the question of outing the employee is still the same.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  So I’ve worked at a place where we weren’t allowed to bring in any nut products because a coworker had a severe allergy. I had no idea who that person was—I just knew it was an important accommodation. My guess is that a company would impose the dress code policy, and if asked, would either say the decision came from above or was made to accommodate an employee… but I’m not convinced they’d have to spell out that the employee is Casey.

                4. Temperance*

                  I would really push back on a silly dress code, though. At least with peanut allergy or scents, those are serious and could cause severe illness or death. Someone tells me I need to stop wearing my rings because they don’t match, or critiquing how I line up for the bus, I’m going to need to know exactly why.

                5. fposte*

                  @Turtle Candle–I think this is a really good point. Because this instance is ridiculous, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that sometimes accommodations do mean common office things are curtailed for other employees, or that a business has to find a way to negotiate between conflicting accommodation needs. That’s part of the expectation of doing business and of management, and it’s also part of the landscape of being a diverse workforce.

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Oh, Temperance, I’m not saying the accommodations that the employer has chosen make sense. I don’t think they’re in any way reasonable/sensical. I’m just noting that it’s possible to require an accommodation in the workplace without outing the employee with the disability requiring that accommodation.

                7. Turtle Candle*

                  Yeah, agreed. This is ridiculous.

                  But there’s also… I mean… twenty years ago, I remember there being huge brouhaha about the idea of forbidding peanut butter sandwiches at schools with kids with peanut allergies. The general feeling was “how dare they tell me what I can pack in my kids’ lunch!” So while right now ‘no peanuts’ may seem obvious and ‘no plaid’ might seem ludicrous, there was a time not so long ago that they both would have seemed ludicrous to at least a plurality of people.

                  Which is not to say that I think they should bow to everything Casey wants! But it’s just… this is hard stuff, because the lines we draw between ‘reasonable to expect’ and ‘unreasonable to expect’ are inherently and necessarily judgment calls. There’s no bright shining line. And in a lot of the cases, it’s going to be necessary to be vague, and to say something like, “It was an accessibility issue” or something else that’s not a really satisfying answer… because we’re treading a careful line between the privacy and accommodation of employees who need accommodation, and the understandable desire to know why a rule exists of everyone else.

                8. 42*

                  Right right right, I totally agree on all points raised!

                  To put a fine point on it (and this is based on the very first point I raised): How, and at what point, does this company–who apparently thinks that these accommodations are A-OK–tell a prospective hire or a new hire that they will and have taken disciplinary action if they don’t wear symmetrically patterned fabrics or wear an equal number or rings on each hand?

                  They need find a way to do this up front, without outing Casey, to allow future or new hires to decide whether they want to accept a job with these extraordinary limitations. And my feeling is this company has not thought it through that far.

                  Good night! Thanks for the discussion, all.

                9. Engineer Girl*

                  Turtle Candle – you’re making a logical fallacy called false equivalency. In the case of peanuts the potential consequence is death to a child. In Casey’s case the consequence is nowhere near as severe. You can’t treat the two issues as having equal weight because they are in fact not equal. I’m sympathetic to Casey, but it won’t kill her if people wear plaid. She doesn’t get the same level of accommodation.

                10. Turtle Candle*

                  I know what false equivalency is, thanks. So okay, let’s say it’s my mom, for whom visual migraines are triggered if she’s exposed to certain colors. They definitely will not kill her, they won’t even cause her pain (her migraines are pain-free, purely light sensitivity and kaleidoscopic vision), but they render her incapable of work for a not insignificant period of time. Less serious than a nut allergy, clearly; more serious than a panic attack, maybe or maybe not. Accommodate with a rule about certain shades of screaming yellow? People will disagree. And people who don’t know why the dress code prohibits certain shades of yellow might ask, which is what this subthread is about: what to say if someone asks why you have a particular rule.

                  I’ve said about a zillion times that I think what they’re doing for Casey is–I think the terms I’ve used are “absurd,” “bizarre,” and “bananas.” My point was simply that the line between reasonable accommodation and not is not a clear bright line: it has changed over time and varies by industry as well. It is legally a case of judgment calls, not straightforward yes/nos, and those judgments calls have demonstrably shifted over time–that’s all I meant. If you genuinely thought I was equating “line up man-woman-man-woman” with “don’t feed peanut butter to the person with a nut allergy” then I apologize for apparently being drastically unclear.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            I wonder how one would explain that in a “why did you leave your last job?” kind of way. “The company is moving in another direction”/”I’m seeking new challenges” sort of doesn’t cover it.

            “On my first day, I found out that the patterned shirt I was wearing was unacceptable as it didn’t fall within the guidelines. My manager made me go out and purchase a new one/cover it with a sweater and I was strongly spoken to about never wearing it to the office again. Three months later, I forgot to wear a ring on my opposite hand and was written up for it. I was then put on a PIP a few weeks later when I forgot to line up for the bus in the company mandated male/female/male/female order.” Geez, I’m tired now. Just remembering all the accommodations would be like having another job on top of your job.

            1. Larz*

              Our administration just hired our first nonbinary or gender neutral employee, who prefers they/them pronouns. I wonder if they would not be allowed to line up for the bus at all.

              1. Chinook*

                I was just wondering what would happen if they had an employee missing finger or limb. That would definitely throw off someone’s symmetry.

                1. Larz*

                  Good point. And are people with less symmetrical faces required to get plastic surgery? Must we all part our hair in the middle? I’m kind of taking the piss, but as far as I can see, there isn’t really a logical line–or if so, it’s already been crossed.

                2. Julia*

                  Obviously, they’d have to chop off the corresponding finger/limb on the other side.

                  I was wondering about the rings as well: If you wear a 1 carat + engagement ring on your left ring finger, do you need to buy a second for your right finger? Can Casey tell diamonds and cubic zirconia apart?

                3. Venus Supreme*

                  I just realized my piercings are uneven- I have three piercings in one earlobe, one lobe piercing + cartilage piercing in the other year. (Silly college decisions). Would I need to get more piercings to balance it out? The company took these accommodations way too far…

                4. Sassy Sally*

                  I get that this office policy is ridiculous, but Julia seems to have taken this mockery to an entirely new level. No need to attack someone because of their mental illness. Would you ask them in person if they could tell the difference between diamonds and CZ? No, probably not, as it would be in poor taste. No need for that here, either

    4. Ye Gods*

      It’s one of the most unreasonable things I’ve ever heard of too – and I have OCD! What kind of ADA nightmare does this company expect when-not-if Casey’s coping strategies override anyone else’s coping strategies?

        1. Annonymouse*

          Like in that episode of “Monk” when he and another OCD person were watching the captain eat donuts.

          Since they each have a different way of seeing things as even their “suggestions” on which donuts he should eat were conflicting. They both decided he should eat all the donuts (he had eaten ONE in a box of TWELVE) and instead the captain just threw the box out rather than deal with it.

      1. KBo*

        Agreed. What would happen if the company hired someone with OCD tendencies clashed with those of Casey? What happens then? It’s a pretty bad precedent that’s been set by over-accommodating and not setting a structured approach that would better arm Casey for not just this job, but any other in the future. Sorry, OP, this sucks.

    5. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Suffering from mental health issues of my own I would be horrified and absolutely embarrassed if this happened at my workplace. This isn’t helping and the company is making this problem worse while hiding under the umbrella of “accommodating”. The poster needs to gang up and fight this, preferably with some legal backing defining what is considered to be reasonable.

      1. Expat*

        Yeah, the accommodations I receive for mental health concerns are as follows:

        -Noise-cancelling headphones (which are allowed anyway, but I wear them nonstop, unless I’m in a meeting)

        -Flexible working hours, to attend therapy appointments and whatnot

        -A computer in a fixed position. We have one of those open office task-oriented working environments, so normally people sit in a different spot each day.

        I’m horribly embarrassed that I need these accommodations at all. If my office required every employee to conform to my quirks, I’d resign out of pure shame. (Unless they ditched the demonspawn open office plan because of me. Then I’d be doing everyone a favor.)

    6. Dean Vella*

      I don’t think the entire culture and environment should have to change to accommodate one person. While doing that it is putting the rest of the team off. It may be a case of weak management or inexperienced management allowing for beyond normal accommodations. There are some options I found in this article that may work in situations like these and be good for the organization in any event. http://www.notredameonline.com/resources/intercultural-management/leading-intergenerational-teams-to-success/.

    7. Vicki*

      Also, it’s supposed to be “reasonable accommodations” that don’t interfere with the company or the work.

      These “accommodations” are interfering!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The bar for “undue hardship” is actually pretty high and is usually (although not always) based on money. Many legally required accommodations to interfere with things.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If all the employees quit or they find they cannot keep employees that would be an undue hardship, most certainly. But I hope our laws do not make companies wait for the to happen in order to prove that could happen.

          1. KG, Ph.D.*

            “If all the employees quit or they find they cannot keep employees that would be an undue hardship, most certainly.”

            I can imagine all sorts of situations in which your idea of an exception would be wildly problematic. Imagine a company whose employees have always been white. Now imagine that the company hires its first non-white employee, and many of the white employees threatened to quit as a result. Undue hardship is narrowly defined and difficult to clear for a reason.

            1. Federal Procurement Analyst*

              Apples and oranges. Racism is a whole different moral and ethical issue, and if people quit because of integration, so be it. Losing workers because of implementing intrusive and ineffective accommodations could be a valid undue hardship.

            2. Yorick*

              But the need for a diverse workplace would likely override the undue hardship of losing employees. And the loss of employees in your example isn’t likely to be ongoing, as it is with OP’s company.

        2. Federal Procurement Analyst*

          Reasonable accommodations are to enable the disabled person to accomplish the essential functions of the job, without which they could not do so. Employers are not required to implement accommodations that cause undue hardship or are ineffective.

          It doesn’t seem like this employer did any research on what a reasonable accommodation should be. Resources like the Job Accommodation Network are rich in potential accommodations. Employers can also ask the doctor that documented the disabilty to suggest effective accommodations.

          In any event, what the employer did here is a big ol’ nope. Yes, the bar for undue hardship is high, but not all levels of all disabilities can be accommodated. Besides, how does bus line up order enable the employee to perform an essential job function?

          I would refuse to do any of these things, because trying to have a trigger free workplace and bus stop for one person’s mental illness is just not reasonable. The employees are making the accommodation, not the employer. Perhaps the ill person needs to take time off for treatment, but the employer needs to revisit all of this, I think they lack any understanding of the law and what it requires.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It doesn’t seem like this employer did any research on what a reasonable accommodation should be. Resources like the Job Accommodation Network are rich in potential accommodations. Employers can also ask the doctor that documented the disabilty to suggest effective accommodations.

            My employer did nothing like this, to my knowledge. I couldn’t have done the job the way it ended up anyway, even with accommodations, but all they did was try to make me take Excel training, which I did, but which I also knew was completely useless because it did not address the problem.

            The information is out there. It’s not hard to find. I found some of it myself. I don’t mean to put any burden on the OP, because it’s not her job to obtain it, but I wonder if it would help to give them a link to JAN at least.

        3. Green*

          I think requiring that people line up “boy/girl/boy/girl” outside of work while waiting for a bus would be viewed as an undue hardship, but it would be a case of first impression…

  2. Mike C.*

    So what happens if a complete stranger wants to get on the bus and doesn’t follow the gender order in line?

    I mean come on, when you start managing things outside of work it’s a sign that things have really gone too far.

    1. DaniCalifornia*

      I was wondering the same thing. Or if they deal with clients or vendors, is the employer going to start telling them what they can/cannot wear. They would lose business in a heartbeat! This is so totally absurd and I’d be looking for a new job.

      1. k*

        If the OP gives an update I hope we can get more details on how they handle this. How far do they take this? Even a business that doesn’t have frequent visitors onsite is still going to have some outsiders in the building. Does the UPS guy have to comply?

    2. Q*

      That was my thought. There’s a bus stop outside of my work building but its not exclusively ours to use. Its called public transport for a reason.

    3. Lawyer (Canadian government)*

      Or there isn’t an equal number of males and females. Where do all the “extra” people go?

    4. KBo*

      Exactly. This has gone way too far. Are clients, vendors, service providers, visitors and complete strangers also expected to fall in fine. That will never fly.

    5. Temperance*

      Seriously, if I rolled up to that bus stop, and was told to get in line behind a man to keep order, I would absolutely refuse. It’s a ridiculous thing to request.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Am wondering the same thing, what is Casey’s reaction to it? Does she have to have a reaction for people to get a write up or is this enforced whether or not Casey sees the rule breaking?

      I am trying to figure out why a company would go to this extreme to accommodate one individual. Other companies flat out refuse to accommodate groups of people with a shared concern. How long has this company been doing this?
      It’s just too weird, I feel like I am staring too long and too inappropriately at a large train wreck.

  3. BadPlanning*

    This feels like something that started out sort of reasonable (“Can we do this odd, but easy thing for Casey?”), but then went to crazy town (“I don’t care if it’s the one ring to rule them all. Take it off or find a second one.”)

    1. Web Developer*

      Yeah, I can see something like… I dunno, “we’re only going to buy blue folders for the office instead of mixed colors”, which is a little out there but wouldn’t be an undue burden on anybody, but once it gets to the level of specifying how people can wear patterned clothing and telling people to take their wedding rings off and LINING THEM UP AT THE BUS STOP BY GENDER, that’s just crazy.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Just as an example of how even something as minor as colour changes could be an issue – in my office colour codes are used for different file types and it makes it considerably easier to scan a cabinet and get the right one.

        On the face of it, it wouldn’t be a huge burden – but that kind of change would add a bit of stress to everyone every single day. Not to mention that in my office there are several people who Don’t. Cope. Well. With. Change and arbitrary stationery changes would cause them a lot of annoyance.

        That’s not the same as difficulty to the level of diagnosable mental illness but it does potentially cause an undue burden.

        1. JaneB*

          I also read that using different colours for different parts of a Filing system is actually a recommended coping strategy for ADD/ADHD – battle of the accommodations?

          1. Oranges*

            YES! I actually have ADHD and color coding things makes me happy inside. Chaos is reduced so my mind is more able to focus on code.

          1. JaneB*

            I don’t know! Maybe different intensities too? All my files are labelled clearly too, colour just helps speed up access and suits my particular brain structure… guess real point is everyone has different needs, have to balance…

          2. ScarletInTheLibrary*

            No one who uses our colored coded labels is color blind, but it would not be the end of the world. Ones for one sort of documentation with have different lingo than ones for a different type of documentation. Color coding just makes finding the files quicker, but folder titles are also used for clarity.

      2. Catalin*

        And does the gender rule apply by apparent or biological gender? If a woman looks butch, is she counted as a woman? What about gender neutral people?
        Also, who the he)) is monitoring this?

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Yeah, I was wondering about this too. Does Casey get to decide who’s a man and who’s a woman? Because people kinda like to decide that for themselves.

        2. tigerStripes*

          I wonder if Casey is sitting where she can easily see people line up at the bus stop (in which case maybe she should move to another area) or if she’s walking out to check on this?

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I figured Casey must use the bus or else she may not have noticed otherwise. (Assuming the parking area is away from the bus area.)

            1. Jadelyn*

              …okay but now I legit want to see a huge parking lot with a literal rainbow gradient of cars. Because ART!!

    2. MashaKasha*

      If it was the one ring to rule them all, the wearer would not actually get written up, because they would be invisible… Hey, I think we just found a solution! But seriously, yes, I agree, this does look like something that spun out of control. I cannot believe though, that the manager who wrote an employee up for wearing a wedding ring didn’t stop at that moment to think, “Wait. What am I doing? Why am I writing up this person for wearing their wedding ring and for not owning a second ring?”

        1. Natalie*

          Even if marital status was protected, I’m not sure it would automatically mean a company couldn’t prohibit rings, provided they prohibited all employees from wearing rings.

            1. Sparty*

              Most nurses can’t wear diamonds that exceed the top of the band (i.e. no rocks but 3-4 diamonds set into the band are ok) as it is a scratch hazard for gentle skin.

            2. Erin*

              My uncle was a mechanic and lost his ring finger in a work accident. My father never wore a wedding band because of his uncle.
              But if someone told me I couldn’t wear my wedding band because they had problems with asymetry I’d go tell them to mind their own business.

      1. violet*

        If someone had the One Ring, they would be dark lord of mordor, and bending everyone to their will.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              They’re going to leave a visible gap in the line, and that’ll just ruin the whole idea of symmetry.

      2. Annonymouse*

        Wouldn’t the fact Sauron only has one eye cause greater concern?

        Would Sauron have to work remotely so his lack of symmetry would not cause Casey to face a trigger?

        Is that partly the reason he set up base at Mount Doom instead of Gondor?

        1. Shelby Drink the Juice*

          The eye is in the middle so it’s symmetrical. She could work with a cyclops, but not a pirate.

      3. Annonymouse*

        Weirdly my first thought is “Because they’re a man.”

        Most men I’ve met who wear rings only really wear a wedding band. I’ve met a few that wear rings for decoration but it’s generally one or the other not both.

        And would that cause problems for that persons home life?

        “Sorry honey. I forgot to put my ring on after work. It’s not because I don’t respect our marriage but because work has a policy of symmetrical jewellery or no jewellery. Since I don’t have a second ring I have to take mine off or be written up.”

        As a spouse I’d be very sceptical.

    3. Liane*

      “I don’t care if it’s the one ring to rule them all. Take it off or find a second one.”
      I love that line. I wish I had reasons to use it!

      Now the OP’s situation is another matter. This is not what is meant by reasonable accommodation and I agree with Alison on the chances that her reasonable resources will help.
      If I was the OP, the bosses would be issuing yet more irrational directives to avoid Liane skewering them with her lightsaber again. (Can you tell my group’s Star Wars game was postponed this weekend?)

      1. sstabeler*

        to be fair, I can sort of see why they might not argue with someone wielding an actual lightsaber.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, I’ve definitely seen this kind of thing happen (in social groups, thank god, not workplaces) and it almost always happened that way–starting out with little things that were trivial to accommodate, then larger things that were less trivial but you felt churlish saying ‘no,’ then at some point you realized that the whole thing had become absurd. I had a roommate who had issues around control of belongings because her parents had had a habit of taking away her things and sometimes destroying them as a means of control. So when she had requests early on about not bringing in her mail or similar small things, I agreed immediately. I was less thrilled when ‘don’t touch my stuff’ expanded to ‘even if I have stored it all over the common areas, and also don’t ‘nag’ me to move it,’ but at that point I figured, well, it annoys me to have her stuff all over but it hurts her badly to have it be moved, so I’ll go along. It wasn’t until I realized that our living room had become a forest of stacks of her papers and boxes, and that she was beginning to get into “telling me what I can and can’t eat reminds me of my parents’ control over me, so you can’t say boo when I eat your entire box of chocolates without asking” that I realized how absurd things had become.

      After the fact, people have asked me, “Do you think it was a manipulation tactic?”–ie, was she deliberately testing my boundaries to find out exactly how much I’d let her have her way? And I actually don’t think so, or at least not entirely. I think she really did find all those things upsetting. It’s just that requests for help are prone to scope creep. I think that at first she only felt comfortable asking for me to not do the most upsetting things–taking her mail out of the mailbox, throwing away anything of hers (even if it seemed to me to be clearly trash)–but once those things stopped happening, the second-most-upsetting thing became the de facto new most upsetting thing, so she asked for that to be fixed, and then the former third-most-upsetting thing became the most upsetting thing, and etc. etc. etc.

      Looking back, it is baffling to me how I got to a state where I felt I couldn’t throw away the communal empty milk carton, or tell her not to eat the fancy ice cream I was saving for Friday night, precisely because we did get there bit by bit. So I wonder if that might be what happened here. It is surprisingly easy to do.

      1. FiveWheels*

        I feel for you. I have a similar ongoing situation with a sibling. As one of many examples, he thinks nothing about moving my laumdry but insists that nobody touch his, even if he leaves it hanging for weeks in the laundry area making it impossible for anyone else to use it. Another family member once moved his by mistake, leading him to have a literal temper tantrum against me for three or four days.

        A lot of things were once “certain things upset him, try to be nice” which eventually became “nobody must ever to anything to set off his undiagnosed issues – it is everyone else’s responsibiliy to keep him calm at all costs.”

        Ahh the joys of living with mental health issues! Ultimately there are many people with mental health issues who do not shift a huge proportion of the burden onto their allies, and there’s a difference between being reasonable and understanding vs always prioritising one person’s needs over those of everyone else.

        1. Artemesia*

          And everyone did’t take that as their cue to boldly do what needs done after that? After that tantrum, his clothes would have gone into the designated basket every time I encountered them in my way. Catering to prickly always gets you more and more of it.

        2. Kalamet*

          I think this is really true. My husband and I have to renegotiate this kind of stuff regularly, on a smaller level. I have some undiagnosed issues with anxiety and my family history, which causes weird reactions to innocuous things like depressive episodes and panic attacks.

          There was a point in our marriage where I realized I’d pushed him to the point where managing my mood was more his responsibility than mine. It wasn’t my intention, but it was still hard to acknowledge and ultimately was making me worse. My husband unfortunately learned enabling behaviors from his brother, who has been medicated for depression his whole life, so he’s really bad at drawing boundaries about this kind of thing. We both have to work at it; even though he wants to be helpful, it’s not healthy for me to be buffered from every little thing.

      2. Marcy Marketer*

        Wow. Thank you for this interesting perspective– I can really see how that could have happened slowly over time.

      3. animaniactoo*

        Off-topic, but I would really like to note here that this is how people who are from perfectly normal backgrounds end up in abusive relationships and don’t know how to handle it/can’t even tell they are. Because it doesn’t happen all at once, it happens bit by bit and so it’s not a simple as “I would never let someone hit me/speak to me that way” – you lose the forest for the trees. It takes someone with a really well-defined almost purposeful sense of “what is too much to ask” to be able to cut it off before it gets too far, and most of us don’t actually get that training. We tend to have a relatively ingrained sense that can be eroded by moving the goalposts of “trying to help” or “being sympathetic/compassionate”.

        1. Natalie*

          Right. I always like the metaphor about frogs in boiling water (that they won’t jump out if the water is slowly heated) even though it’s based on a myth.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I had a professor that told a story about using monkeys for fertility testing in regards to temperature. Throwing a monkey in a hot-tub was ruled cruel due to the shock (as it should be). But putting the monkeys in successively warmer hot tubs was deemed acceptable, and the monkeys appeared to enjoy the process. The researchers tested both themselves and found the former process painful and the latter enjoyable.

            I offer that as an alternative to the frog-killing myth.

              1. embertine*

                Off topic, but if you want to see this for real, put “Japanese macaques hot springs” into google images. These little dudes spend the winter in nature’s hot tubs, it’s awesome.

                1. Carolyn*

                  Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan!!!!! They have a live web cam on their site showing the hot spring (onsen) they use and the macaques actually use the onsen all year round, not just in winter (though they use the onsen a lot more in winter)! I was there this past October and it was amazing – macaques EVERYWHERE – some chilling in the onsen, some peacefully grooming each other, some fighting and cavorting in the rocks! We were worried we wouldn’t see any because it was a pretty warm day, but they were there! Our next trip to Japan we are thinking of staying at the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) at the park … apparently it is not uncommon to wake up to monkeys staring in your window or joining you in the human onsen!

                  (Over lunch, I was watching a news story about macaques that live near the inland sea of Japan – when the weather gets cold, they huddle together in what are termed (and I swear I am not making this up!) “monkey dumplings!” Sometimes just a few, sometimes up to 100 cuddle together to keep warm! Macaques are freaking adorable no matter where you visit in Japan!)

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Right. And even when I was so fed up that I was paying lease-breaking money to move out, it was still tempting to frame it as something I was doing for the benefit of my roommate (like, oh, I just think you’ll have so much of an easier time if you have an apartment that’s all yours, with no one else touching your stuff ever!). Because I wanted to feel like a kind and compassionate person who was understanding of her mental health/history of abuse issues.

          But the thing is that it was sufficient to move out because I wanted the cheese I bought on Thursday to still be there when I wanted to serve it on Saturday, or because I wanted to be able to move a stack of books off the couch so I could sit down (because I was paying for half that living room too!). Just like, to bring it back to the letter in a roundabout way, I think that the comments about how this is likely bad for Casey’s mental health are also sort of beside the point. (Quite possibly true, but beside the point, and likely to lead down a rabbit hole of, if not armchair diagnosis, then armchair prescription.) It’s enough that dictating how people line up–or eating all the Godiva without asking–is outside the bounds of ‘reasonable.’

          1. FiveWheels*

            Yes, I agree in that even if these accommodations helped Casey, it is not fair that her colleagues should be the ones to bear the strain.

            To use your scenario (and I almost wonder if your roommate was my family!) if I put my dinner in the fridge for later, my roommate has no right whatsoever to take it no matter how damaging its presence is to her.

            There’s a saying that your right to anger ends at my nose. Likewise I think your right to accommodation ends at my dinner.

          2. animaniactoo*

            The thing is, knowing what does and doesn’t help can actually be very relevant.

            Because part of it is about the person needing accommodation having to accept the limitations of what is reasonable to ask. It would have been reasonable to ask that a table in a common space be dedicated as your roommate’s and you not touch anything on it. But otherwise, they were choosing to share some common space and therefore needed to accept that it was reasonable that the other person would sometimes have a need for that common space which meant the other person would move items they had out in that common space, in order to use it for themselves.

            Understanding that kind of stuff is what helps the person who has to draw the boundary be able to see the bright sharp defining line that THIS accommodation “no, if it’s in a shared space, that you’ve chosen to share, you can’t ask me to limit my use of it like this, that’s not okay, that’s asking me to be more responsible for what you’ve done to accommodate this issue than what you’ve done.” So that they can still see themselves as a kind and compassionate person without allowing themselves to be run over at the tortoise pace. Because you are not just saying “this is too uncomfortable for me”, you’re also recognizing that “this doesn’t help them because doing this doesn’t require them to address this issue in a way that lets them deal with other people reasonably, it only helps them avoid finding a way to face this in a way that doesn’t transfer the responsibility”.

            So that maybe you never get to the point of having to analyze to say “It is unreasonable to ask me not to touch your possessions when you feel free to touch mine and eat my chocolate” or “Yes, I can say boo because it does not belong to you. I don’t care whether you eat chocolate or not, and the fact that this reminds you of your parents is not my problem, that is your problem. My problem is that the chocolate you ate in this instance belonged to ME.”

            1. animaniactoo*

              fwiw, when I say “allowing oneself to be run over at a tortoise pace” I worded that badly and what I really mean is “while being able to prevent oneself from being run over at a tortoise pace”. Because it’s a lack of knowing how to prevent it (and part of that is one’s own ingrained sense of self as compassionate/kind and needing to keep that perception) that allows it to happen.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Hm, I’m not sure I’m understanding you–you seem to be saying that if something is helpful, it’s not unreasonable to be asked, and if it’s unreasonable, then it’s not helpful. Or that ‘is this helpful to her?’ and ‘is this reasonable to expect of me?’ are questions that have largely congruent answers. Am I misunderstanding?

              I think I’m resisting this framework because, honestly, I feel like even if my roommate’s issues were such that it genuinely was helpful for her to feel secure eating anything in the house, I would still be justified in telling her to leave the Godiva alone please, without having to analyze whether her feeling of need for the chocolates was good for her or bad for her. But I think I may be misunderstanding your point.

              1. animaniactoo*

                No, I’m saying that understanding that *anything* that impinges too hard on another person is not a good thing for somebody to be able to have as an accommodation* is useful in being able to continue to see oneself as kind and compassionate while still defending their own boundaries of property/space/etc.

                Separately, helpful to her does not mean it is required to agree to or reasonable to expect, because part of the equation is “how much work/impact is this for me” on the other side of it, and that’s something that will vary with individual personalities.

                *because while it may short and long term make them feel secure in their home, it longterm does not help them in being able to face their issue and be courteous to other people in not (purposely or accidentally) inflicting their issues on others. In the case of don’t eat the goddamn Godiva, it’s transferring the insecurity from her to you, in terms of what you can reasonably expect regarding your own possessions. So it does not help her as an overall person who is living with someone else for her to be able to eat your chocolates willy-nilly or for you not to be able to ask. It doesn’t help her understand that it’s not okay to transfer the insecurity and make it someone else’s problem instead.

                I’m not saying that you HAVE to have this framing – just that having this framing can be useful for oneself in being able to continue to see oneself as kind and compassionate and therefore more willing to enforce such boundaries and not accept the logic of her thinking “because it reminds me of my parents”.

                1. animaniactoo*

                  “useful in being able to continue to see oneself as kind and compassionate while still defending their one’s own boundaries of property/space/etc.”

                  Sorry, my pronoun usage slipped there and made that less clear than I meant it to be.

                2. Bend & Snap*

                  I agree with this. Accommodations for mental illness shouldn’t undermine other people’s comfort and productivity.

                  I have an anxiety disorder with noise as a big trigger. I work in a cube and my workplace is LOUD. Rather than trying to make my cube a quiet zone by dictating my coworkers’ behavior, I work at home when I can, slap on noise cancelling earphones when I can’t, and reserve a conference room when I really can’t handle all the noise.

                3. Turtle Candle*

                  Oh, okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I was apparently totally misinterpreting your first statement (“knowing what does and doesn’t help can actually be very relevant”), so obviously I had grabbed totally the wrong end of the stick. Thank you for clarifying, I understand what you’re saying much better now (and largely agree).

                4. Emi.*

                  I agree, although I caution people against using this framework as a crutch to draw boundaries without having to grit your psychological/spiritual teeth and refuse to provide “accommodations” that are helpful, but still unreasonable. Sometimes you have to do that, too.

                5. Izzy*

                  This may be irrelevant to what you are saying about the reframing. But it just jumped out at me. Her parents abused her by taking away her possessions so that she couldn’t feel secure in knowing anything belonged to her. (I can relate to that actually.) So by eating your Godiva or fancy ice cream, she’s taking away your possessions, doing the same thing to you that her parents did to her. Having been abused does not confer a right to do the same to others.

                  And, thinking about my own life, my parents didn’t take my stuff to control me, so much as not realizing that everything in the house didn’t belong to them. “Oh, I didn’t realize that was yours…”

                  Which all comes down to: My boundaries count. Yours don’t.

          3. Emi.*

            I think your ex-roommate might be my ex-friend’s twin. I’m still in the process of sorting through what was what in that clusterfudge implosion of a friendship, and whether I was actually being cruel, and what you’ve said here helps me a lot, so thank you.

      4. Kora*

        I have an ex who did the expanding requests/boundaries thing in the same way (not to this extreme, although who knows what would have happened if we’d moved in together). And it was definitely the slow pace that allowed things to go as far as they did – each request was only a little more difficult to accommodate than the one before, and I wanted so much to be a good partner to them and no individual thing seemed like too much to ask. Breaking up with them felt really awful but it was astonishing how much space and freedom I suddenly had in my life afterwards.

        1. Vicki*

          The infamous stories of the camel and the straw and the camel with the nose under the tent flap. (Why are they both about camels??)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Camels are wily and vicious. There’s a reason parts of the Australian outback are overrun with feral camels! ;)

      5. SystemsLady*

        Your story does remind me of the idea of abuse itself being the “gift” a victim gets if their abuse wasn’t dealt with properly, especially when she started getting upset by being asked not to eat your food.

        It’s a sad story, and I hope she realized it and eventually found a therapist who helped her properly manage her trauma.

        1. SystemsLady*

          (assuming it came from legitimate trauma and not her being manipulative, but I believe you when you say it didn’t seem that way)

          1. animaniactoo*

            Fwiw, this is also why I frequently find it does not help to demonize somebody who is abusive or talk about abusive people as if they are just bad people. There are very few psychopaths who have planned how they’re going to isolate somebody and be in total control of their lives. There are far many more people who are simply trying to impose control on something that is making them uncomfortable and not dealing with it well and don’t understand why what they are asking is not appropriate.

            Many of those people are otherwise relatively decent people with positive qualities to them and that makes it even more important to recognize that abuse does not just come from the Evil Monsters. So yes, even if *your* person is not a bad person, they may still be doing bad things that you need to remove yourself from for your own protection.

            (and I’ll stop sidetracking there, I just wanted to highlight how Turtle Candle’s experience is how things spin out of control and therefore why it’s rarely useful to blame the victim.)

            1. HR Chick*

              I’m sorry, but if an abuser is one person’s evil monster, then they are an evil monster in general. They may disguise themselves a decent people, but that’s all it is – a disguise. “He may have beat his wife, but he was so active in his church!” Even if they were a victim themselves, the minute they terrorize someone else, they are in a dual role: victim and abuser. Having one role does not negate the other. Giving into urges that damage other people is evil.

      6. Vicki*

        ” I think that at first she only felt comfortable asking for me to not do the most upsetting things–… but once those things stopped happening, the second-most-upsetting thing became the de facto new most upsetting thing, so she asked for that to be fixed, and then the former third-most-upsetting thing became the most upsetting thing, and etc. etc. etc.”

        We call this the “Burnt Cookie Syndrome”. I will remove (and possibly eat) the burnt cookies, because I cannot serve them to my guests. But now these next darker cookies look “burnt” in comparison, so…

        Eventually, the tray is empty and you have a stomach ache and no cookies to serve.

      7. Anon-as-the-night-is-long*

        Oof yes this. I’m sorry that happened to you- it’s got to be awful to feel like such a prisoner in your own house. This stuff definitely happens little by little, and so much in social situations. I can’t even imagine what that’s like at work.

        I left a similar (albeit way less extreme) situation recently with a roommate who had some mental health stuff they have been working through- depressive symptoms and the like. While I sympathized with their circumstances, I never signed on for a living situation in which I couldn’t tell someone they needed to clean up after themselves/be respectful to our rented appliances by not destroying the washing machine because they would experience a huge mood shift as a result of any perceived criticism. It ended up destroying any hope of a friendship I could have had with that person, and I felt like I couldn’t spend any time in my place without being locked away in my room much less have anyone over when they planned to be home.

        There’s got to be a way to talk to someone in this situation about adjustments or an EAP or something, I just can’t imagine how uncomfortable that can get when it’s a manager/management-employee discussion instead of a friend-friend/roommate-roommate conversation.

      8. Izzy*

        “Requests for help are prone to scope creep.” Thank you. I’m going to embroider that on a pillow or something, It helps explain many situations I find myself in.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      This was my thought as well. I can’t envision hiring a new employee and implementing all these controlling rules immediately thereafter. I would bet that it was one accommodation at a time, each getting progressively closer to insane AND that everyone was just desensitized to how ridiculous it’d gotten because of the gradual progression.

      And how do you bring this up at the interview level? “What’s your office culture like?” “Oh, we’re VERY symmetrical!”.

  4. FDCA In Canada*

    This doesn’t even sound sane. If Casey has trouble at the work bus stop, what do they do when they come to a random public bus stop with people lined up every which way but down? Rearrange total strangers? And people are quitting to get away from this insanity? I just…what…what?!?! Lord, take me now.

    1. Naomi*

      Yeah, what does Casey do when they go out in public and see a stranger wearing non-uniform patterns or a wedding ring on one hand? What happens when there are more women than men at the bus stop and it’s not possible to strictly alternate?

      I feel for Casey, but I think this crosses the “undue hardship” line for accommodation.

      1. Anon for this*

        That’s what I am wondering. I am a recovering alcoholic and I fully acknowledge that my issue with drinking is mine. I do not expect people to change their lifestyles for me. I wonder if at some point Casey would want to say, ‘I have to deal with my mental illness by getting better, and all of my coworkers should not have to do this.’
        I don’t know a lot about OCD, but he is certainly self-aware enough to recognize that this is not appropriate, right? I get that he is mentally ill, but maybe he can recognize that he is being selfish, and tell HR that this should stop and then he can deal with it the same way he deals with the rest of the world. Maybe I just don’t get it, But it doesn’t seem that Casey is a very nice person by allowing his coworkers to shoulder this burden, even if he is mentally ill.

        1. LisaLee*

          I have some family members with OCD and it is totally possible that Casey is not actually aware that this is a burden to others (because their brainpower is being consumed by keeping up with their compulsions) or may not be able to control their reactions to things at all.

          That said, HR should be helping them find ways to handle it (meaning–short term disability, EAP, etc) not restricting everyone else.

          1. FiveWheels*

            Also, if he has always been accommodated then he might not have had reason to think that it was causing a problem.

          2. Newby*

            It is possible that Casey doesn’t notice it is a burden because more orderly is seen as objectively better. It might not occur to them that some people actually prefer things to be asymmetrical rather than just not feeling it was worth the effort to put on a second ring.

            1. Julia*

              I’m someone who doesn’t like asymmetry and actually has slight OCD tendences, but I’d still hate wearing a ring on my right hand because it bothers me. (I’m right-handed.) How would I be accomodated, in theory, were I to work with Casey?

              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                I was thinking this as well. I broke my right hand when I was 17, and the break hit my ring finger the worst. It is now permanently swollen to almost twice the size of my left ring finger, and because it swells (and aches, and stiffens*) depending on weather/humidity/stress/etc., I don’t wear any jewelry on that finger. I felt weird during my entire engagement because I had to wear my engagement ring on my left hand instead of my right!

                *It’s funny, most days I hardly notice it anymore as I have been living with it the better part of 2 decades, but even now when I try to make a fist, it is uncomfortable. (It feels like a deep stretch after a long run – it actually feels like a good hurt, if that makes sense.)

          3. Kelly*

            As someone who has family with OCD, they don’t seem to be aware that it becomes a burden on those around them. In my case, it’s my father and his obsession with cleanliness. Even as an adult, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, the sound of constantly running water faucets, and smell of lysol and other liquid cleaners is anxiety inducing. It also doesn’t help that he still thinks nothing of vacuuming the house at 8 am on the weekends because he’s a morning person who expects everyone to be up by then.

            I almost had a panic attack at work this past week because my boss, a germaphobe who also has some OCD tendencies, went on a cleaning rampage. She was coming into my office filling up the bucket in the sink and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t put on headphones to block the sound of the running water because she has some very dated ideas about workplace efficiency. I had to endure her running the water without a sound block in rare event someone would call my office phone.

      2. Joseph*

        Yeah, what does Casey do when they go out in public and see a stranger wearing non-uniform patterns or a wedding ring on one hand?
        I was wondering that too. General American custom is that the only ring males wear is a wedding band (if applicable), though recent graduates can get away with a collegiate class ring. You can argue whether it should be that way or not, but the custom is strong enough that I’d bet most males in America don’t even *own* a second ring, much less wear one on a regular basis. So it certainly can’t be the case that Casey never encounters people with only one ring.

      3. Observer*

        Yeah, what does Casey do when they go out in public and see a stranger wearing non-uniform patterns or a wedding ring on one hand?

        Given how badly managed this is, and the severity of Casey’s symptoms, I would not be surprised if Casey rarely leaves the house to go anywhere but work, and probably avoids public transportation on the occasions when she MUST leave the house.

        That’s probably also part of the reason why HR thinks that they need to accommodate this under the ADA – it’s restricting common activities of daily life in a serious way, if I’m correct.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes, sometimes the sad truth is that “how does this person deal with the rest of the world?” is basically “they don’t.” I have a very good friend who unfortunately has a panic disorder (diagnosed, but currently not under active treatment because she can’t afford it) such that any situation that she perceives as out of her control triggers a massive panic attack. So she almost never leaves the house.

          It would not shock me too much if Casey actually does manage to avoid most of these issues by strictly limited their lifestyle to a few relatively fixed and predictable routines, and rarely going anywhere but work and home, so while I totally understand the impulse towards “clearly Casey can deal with this elsewhere, so why not at work?” it may be a red herring.

      4. TootsNYC*

        Perhaps it doesn’t bother her because those people aren’t “her” people; they’re not in her sphere of influence. Yet.

    2. Newby*

      How does Casey manage when not at work where many people wear only a wedding ring or a non-uniform pattern. She must have a strategy in place and they should see if that can be implemented at work instead of trying to organize the whole world. That just isn’t a reasonable expectation. I’m not surprised that people have transferred or quit. I’m surprised anyone is left.

        1. What If*

          Or they have groceries delivered via Amazon Pantry, Pea Pod, etc? You can have literally anything delivered now, limiting the need to leave the house or see other people.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Half of my wardrobe is non-uniform patterns (I like prints, what can I say), and I also have a lot of asymmetric dresses. This “accommodation” would involve me retiring and replacing 90% of my work wardrobe. I don’t think “Wendy has to replace her clothes” is by any means a reasonable accommodation.

        1. Ilovemyjob...Truly!!!*

          I have a thing for asymetrical hair styles (long in front/ short in back, side bang on one side of my face, sometimes pulling it back on one side only, etc). This would likely be an issue too. The fact that one person is dictating how an entire office looks is not reasonable. I think the advice is good. OP should get her fellow employees on board and approach the management with the “this is not reasonable and this needs to change!” request. If that fails, OP should be looking for another job.

          As an aside…my husband works in a residential treatment facility with individuals who are treated for a variety of disorders including OCD. He’s worked there for YEARS and has never had to change anything about the way he’s dressed or behaved with his OCD clients. (I asked him today!) He says it’s because they are told that they get to control only their belongings and selves and that the staff are explicitly instructed that they are not to change their behaviors with their own belongings and selves in order to make a client happy. The example he used: my husband likes to place a paperclip at the top center of any group of papers he’s grouping together. A client might feel the need to have everything line up on the right, so she’d put the clip on the right corner. She watches my husband clip the papers which are his and asks him to clip them the way she would like them done. My husband can tell her “these are my papers and this is how I like them clipped so I am not changing them, but I promise that in the future if I’m giving you a packet of clipped paperwork I will make sure they are clipped the way you like them.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. I worked with folks who had all different types of disabilities. It was our job to accommodate and we would never, ever give this level of accommodation. It’s a disservice to the person, the world does not work this way. They would not learn what they need to know to function in the world. This level of accommodation might be construed as abusive by some authority type agency. Yes, OP, I am saying your company could be seen as abusing this person. In trying to avoid a lawsuit, they could end up with… a lawsuit.

  5. Lalitah*

    Their HR office is really incompetent. The accommodation clause of the ADA regulation does state “reasonable accommodation except when it would cause undue hardship.” This is a clear case of undue hardship and they need a lawyer to broach this with the employee **kindly** and legally. But the easiest thing would be to ask Casey if working at home/remotely would help in this regard where he/she could control their environment and not affect the other employees.

    1. AMG*

      Perhaps the legal department can get involved? Or go further up the chain of command on this? Or drop an anoymous tip to a local news station? I’d like to think that a little public shaming would help, since I don’t think pushing back as a group will do any good if the company is this far gone.

      1. Sadsack*

        In this case I do not think that publicity is a good idea. There is a person at the center of this. Publicly shaming the company will likely result in publicly shaming the person, even if she remains anonymous. I don’t think that’s fair. Someone needs to approach upper management or HR or legal, or all three together.

    2. FiveWheels*

      I’d say it fails on both limbs – the accommodations are not reasonable, and they cause undue hardship.

  6. F.*

    Before we get too far into the comments, I would like to point out that OCD is a mental illness, and one that can be very difficult to manage. Using words like “crazy”, “doesn’t sound sane”, and “insane” just feed into the stigma that surround mental illness. Would everyone please try to be more sensitive in their language? Thank you.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes. To those saying “crazy” is directed at the company – the point is that “crazy” is a pejorative derived from mental illness. Not that you’re calling Casey by it, but that you’re describing ridiculous behavior with it.

      It’s hard for me – I grew up using “crazy” that way – but I’m really trying to get it out of my vocabulary.

      Some alternatives that seem to apply in this case for describing the company’s rules: ridiculous, ludicrous, over-the-top, unreasonable, bizarre, untenable….

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I deleted the very long thread that followed this since my earlier request to move on from it wasn’t being followed (in part, I’m sure, due to people not seeing it until after they’d already commented).

        In general, it’s fine to call out and explain a language thing like this once, but I don’t want it to derail the thread.

  7. Starbuck*

    Woah, this is wild, and so clearly not a sustainable solution. It’s hard to imagine that this company is so fearful of potential repercussions from not following the ADA to the letter, but that they must also have failed to consult a disability lawyer, or really any lawyer. Because I cannot believe that they got advice from someone to address disability accommodations in this way.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      My hunch is that it started out with one or two reasonable, realistic requests, and gradually things got out of control. As Casey’s condition got worse, the requests paralleled that, but HR didn’t think to keep it in check for fear of a lawsuit or other blowback. It’s snowballed into the status quo, and no one has noticed how bad it is.

      1. AMG*

        I feel like they are feeding in to Casey’s illness, rather than offering a way for him to function in society or get some help for it.

        1. FiveWheels*

          If Casey can function reasonably well at work, and at home (which is in his control), and as some posters have mentioned upthread he doesn’t leave his home much… Then it MIGHT be possible that he sees little reason to pursue treatment.

          I know it’s not that simple, he didn’t choose to be ill, and there might not be any effective treatment available anyway. But I broke my leg years ago and the physical therapy was brutal. If I had the option of not carrying on with that deeply unpleasant treatment, I might have taken it.

          At the very least, I think the accommodations are counter productive without the appropriate medical treatment.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes—I cannot imagine an ADA-lawyer to have given the green light on this kind of “accommodation.” It’s overly invasive and does not provide meaningful support/accommodation to Casey.

  8. KP84*

    This sounds like a company that completely misunderstands the ADA. It is right there in the description Alison linked to: “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered employers to make REASONABLE accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in UNDUE hardship.”

    Organizing bus lines by gender and writing people up for not wearing symmetrical rings sounds like undue hardship to me and not at all reasonable. The company is not helping Casey’s illness at all – if she cannot function because the bus line outside has two women standing next to each other, she needs to find a new therapist or strategy to deal with her illness. I have all the sympathy in the world for people with mental illnesses like OCD but accommodating these outlandish rules is a step too far for both Casey and her coworkers.

    1. Jade*

      Not to mention how overstepping it is for the employer to impose such restrictions on people outside of work time when they’re getting on/off the bus.

    2. Sherm*

      Yes, if Casey has a competent therapist, then I’m pretty sure that this therapist would *not* be happy to hear that the company is bending over backwards in response to the OCD.

      1. Wait, what?*

        I was wondering what Casey’s medical practitioners thought of these accommodations too. Last year I requested a disability accommodation at my job. I didn’t have to disclose the exact nature of my condition, but I did need my physician to document what accommodation I would require and why it was necessary. I can’t see a mental health professional actually submitting documentation requesting all of this. Is the HR just granting “accommodations” based on what the employee says with no supporting evidence?

        I’m not in the US, so the ADA doesn’t apply in my case. Can American employers require proof for accommodations under the ADA?

        1. Liane*

          It was brought up earlier by Alison herself, I believe, that an American employer can require an evaluation by an appropriate medical professional.

        2. Federal Procurement Analyst*

          Yes, American employers can require medical documentation. It is optional though. My decision maker (manager) made me submit medical documentation before she would consider any permanent accommodations. My agency had someone in the national EEOC office review the documentation and make a determination of disabilty. My manager never saw any of that personal information.

        3. Zombii*

          In the States, if the company elects to go through the full ADA process, that involves having the employee take paperwork to their doctor to fill out detailing the accommodations needed; the company can then accept the accommodations as written or offer other accommodations. This is part of determining the most reasonable accommodations for the employee, and the company.

          However. Sometimes smaller companies won’t go through the full ADA process—because they don’t understand that there is a process, or because they think going through the full process would be burdensome for themselves or their employee—and in those cases, they will often just agree to whatever accommodations the employee suggests or they’ll make up their own, trying to help. This isn’t illegal unless the company is actually attempting to not provide accommodations for a qualified mental or physical issue, but it does rely heavily on no one abusing the trust and empathy of the company’s representative, and the representative has to have a good idea of what is truly reasonable.

          Example. When I worked at a small chain bookstore (about 25 employees), one of my coworkers had migraines and one had an anxiety disorder (both were open about this). Migraines would very occasionally call in sick or leave early, and once chilled in the breakroom with the lights off, and was never disciplined for these things. Anxiety would be scheduled to work in the stockroom unboxing and shelving merchandise during holidays instead of dealing directly with customers on the sales floor. When I asked about accommodations and filing an ADA, my store manager said “Just tell us what you need.” (RIP Borders.)

          1. Federal Procurement Analyst*

            Before accommodations are granted under ADA, a person must first be found to be a person with a disability.

            Informal arrangements for conditions that may or may not rise to the level of a disability do not replace ADA requirements.

      2. Tequila Mockingbird*

        YES. This! Casey’s therapist will definitely NOT be happy that the company is doing this for her. That’s not proper OCD management!

    3. Is It Performance Art*

      Yeah, the most effective treatment for OCD is controlled exposure to the obsessions and then prevention of the rituals.
      I would be interested to see how much of this comes from Casey and how much is HR thinking they’re doing a good thing. There is a wealth of scientifically inaccurate information on psychiatric conditions out on the internet and it’s not all that easy to evaluate it if you don’t have a scientific background. Not to mention if someone you know is suffering seems uncomfortable, there is an impulse to try to get rid of the discomfort.
      Either way, this isn’t a reasonable accommodation.

    4. SystemsLady*

      I have ADHD and this would be the equivalent of me telling my boss to exempt me from boring tasks (something an adult dx will have trouble with meds or not) and give them to all of my coworkers, rather than understanding I have trouble with them and might stumble, while I’m still practicing to improve. The temptation to do that was certainly there when the nature of my disorder was explained.

      I could see it being very easy for Casey to take good advice from a therapist and warp it into “I have the right to everything uncomfortable being fixed”, then report back “everything’s fine at work and the temporary accommodations you recommended are helping”.

      I could also Casey telling their manager what all makes them uncomfortable (for disclosure and reasonable accommodation), then the manager incorrectly deciding every single item needs to be accommodated. Repeating, several times.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I think the idea behind the law is to ensure the person’s success. But instead of settling in and doing the job it seems that Casey is just making more and more outlandish requests for accommodations. I don’t think that is what success looks like.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m not an HR expert, but I can confidently say that your HR people have no idea what they’re doing. I’m not going to reiterate the obvious here, but I am going to suggest you push back as much as you can.

    Clothing patterns, rings, lining up by gender? Nope, nope, and nope. I have a hunch that once you start vocalizing your intentions and then follow through with actions, others will follow. (Plus, couldn’t one argue that an employer ordering people to line up by gender is regulating employee behavior based on gender? Might be a stretch for discrimination but who knows.)

    Much like Amy, the woman in a previous column who was asking coworkers to drive her home and stay with her because she didn’t want to be alone, Casey cannot and should not expect every employee to go to such bizarre lengths to accommodate his/her disability. It’s not actually helping Casey, and, if anything, it’s making the problem worse.

    It doesn’t matter how nice Casey is. Controlling everyone else is not an option; Casey can only control his/herself.

    1. Newby*

      HR thinks regulating how people line up outside of work and whether their rings are symmetrical are reasonable accommodations. If someone complains it is gender discrimination they may not know that it doesn’t qualify.

      1. Federal Procurement Analyst*

        HR needs to ask itself how these so-called accommodations help the
        employee to perform the essential functions of their job. That’s what ADA requires, not whatever makes a person feel comfortable.

  10. eplawyer*

    This happens so much with the ADA. Employers either don’t know or don’t care what “reasonable accomodation” means. So they go overboard like this because they think they have to go all out like this or be sued.

    We have somebody HR who read AAM. On the other hand, some companies seem to have HR people who have no idea what they are doing. They seem to operate based on what they “heard” needs to be done instead of, you know, developing a reasonable policy or checking with a lawyer. That’s how you get directives like lining up male/female.

    1. hayling*

      I work for a small company and they also are terrified of not being ADA-compliant and not totally clear on “reasonable accommodation.” They let an employee who had a “service dog” totally snowball them and it was a pain for the entire office.

      (To be clear, I think service dogs are great for people who actually need them, but it was pretty clear from this guy’s attitude and the way he treated the poor dog that he was just abusing the law and didn’t have a legit disability.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I understand why people become worried/scared about ADA compliance, but I have very little sympathy for not paying an attorney to spend 1-2 hours explaining it to you (or, call a disability rights advocacy group or visit their webpage—they’re more interested in an employer reasonably accommodating someone than in creating weird stigmas and bad policy re: accommodation).

        That said, I’d be careful about speculating about whether a person does or doesn’t have a “legit disability.” It’s possible your coworker was gaming the system, but it’s also possible that he has a difficult to recognize/identify disability for which an ESA/service dog is necessary. With the exception of disability placards, it’s fairly difficult to game the system with respect to service animals (and such “gaming” is not widespread).

        1. fposte*

          I’m going to disagree with you there on the ESAs, given that there are several thriving online businesses whose model is paid provision of an ESA prescription letter to people they’ve never seen, and “My landlord doesn’t allow pets and found I have an animal; how can I get it declared as an ESA so they have to let me keep him?” and “How do I get my pet declared an ESA so I can avoid paying the pet deposit?” are highly popular recurring questions on legal boards.

          I’m not for a moment saying that such animals don’t provide psychological and even physiological benefits, but that’s what pets do across the board. Which is a reason to consider the possibility of being more permissive about pets across the board, IMHO, and not just tightening up the rules on ESAs, but right now ESAs are in a really muddy place.

          1. fposte*

            I should probably be explicit that this is recurringly asked about housing; people aren’t generally trying to get their ESA brought into work (which the law wouldn’t cover) or brought on an airplane (which the law would).

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I should have been clearer. I meant that it’s difficult to game the system re: service animals, and I didn’t mean ESAs when using that term. :)

            (But it’s also true that an ESA certificate is often insufficient for workplace accommodation, although it can work for housing.)

            1. fposte*

              Right, it’s perfectly legal to forbid ESAs in the workplace and public places because they’re not covered under the ADA; they’re only legally protected under the FHA (and therefore in most housing) and the ACAA (and therefore on aircraft).

              Though then you get into the irony that you can request certification for ESAs but not for service animals. However, I agree with you that gaming the service animal claim at work is pretty rare; it’s mostly on the ESA side that the slippage is showing.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                My understanding was that ESA’s are specifically not covered under the public accommodation facet of the ADA, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t potentially be needed as a reasonable accommodation under the employment discrimination facet of the ADA. It would have to go through the same tests as any other accommodation request.

                1. fposte*

                  Ooh, good and interesting point; it’s a higher bar, but it’s certainly meetable. AskJAN has a good discussion of this, too, along with guidelines for the problems of allergies at work with a working animal.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Generally speaking, however, ESA’s require the same documentation as service animals in order for the ADA and Rehabilitation Act’s requirements to apply to the actual building in which the workplace exists. When the employer is the landlord, however, they go directly to an ADA reasonableness analysis.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Sorry, what I’m trying to say is that the analysis differs slightly if your company is a tenant versus when it’s a landlord. Usually if you’re a tenant, you have to demonstrate that your animal is a service dog/animal to be accommodated under the ADA’s rules re: places of public accommodation. So you don’t get to the ADA accommodation at work issue until it’s clear that an animal is allowed on site at all (basically there’s two steps before an animal is allowed as accommodation). But if your company owns the building where you work, they can decide whether to allow ESAs as a form of workplace accommodation (i.e., there’s one step of analysis).

                4. fposte*

                  @PCBH–Ah, thanks; I get it now. The “landlord” thing made me think you were talking about the FHA, which confused the heck out of me!

              2. Tequila Mockingbird*

                Yes. You’re correct on all counts! It’s pretty damn difficult to “game the system” with a service animal, because service animals undergo a lengthy training period, and there’s often a waiting list to receive one. It’s not necessary to certify a service dog because they wear an official ‘service animal’ vest; it’s illegal to put a vest on an animal that isn’t specifically trained as such.

                Contrary to what many companies think, having an ESA merely means that one’s pet is registered in a database of animals whose owners have paid a fee to an organization that recognizes ESAs. These organizations are not recognized by the government. ESAs do not have the same coverage as service animals – ie, owners are not legally entitled to take them into restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. Service dogs, on the other hand, are protected under the ADA and allowed to go anywhere. This is because, unlike ESAs, a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks, such as crossing at a red light or responding to seizures. Also, service dogs are a deductible medical expense with the IRS, whereas ESAs are not.

                Of course, an employer can allow an ESA as a reasonable accommodation for an employee, but not if it’s an undue burden on others. (I still remember the letter from the poor allergic employee stuck in an office full of dogs!)

                1. Jessesgirl72*

                  ” it’s illegal to put a vest on an animal that isn’t specifically trained as such”

                  Unfortunately, this isn’t universally true, and is only starting to become true even on a state level. Unless you live in Florida and I think one other state, you can legally buy a vest off the internet and pass off your family pet as a service dog. I have a couple friends who are very much involved in the fight to MAKE it illegal, but there is still a long way to go. And part of the difficulty in making it illegal is the ADA, who doesn’t want anyone with a service dog to answer anything other than the 2 questions businesses are legally allowed to ask: “Is the service animal required because of a disability” and “What work or task is the animal trained to perform.” They are not allowed to ask for any kind of identification, and there is no legal certification process anyway.

                2. fposte*

                  There is no official service dog vest, nor service dog papers, nor is it currently legal to require them. Some organizations that train service dogs have their own org’s vests and some people choose to put them on their dogs, but there are plenty of service dogs with neither.

                3. Tequila Mockingbird*

                  Unfortunately, Jessiesgirl72, you’re right: I know many people who have bought a service dog vest on Amazon and tried to pass off their pet as a service dog. It’s a big problem in the Bay Area, actually. Some states do prohibit this, but not all of them!

                4. Biff*

                  I’d really like to see ESAs get appropriate recognition and limitations. I have one, and she NEVER goes into restaurants or shops that aren’t already dog friendly. I think that ESAs should be subject to laws that basically give all of them similar limitations. An ESA never needs to be in a restaurant or grocery store.

                  At the same time, my life is significantly better due to my dog. I can stop ‘checking’ things. I can sleep. It’s important.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          You just gave me an idea. The OP could contact the disability rights people herself and get info on reasonable accommodation for this disability. That would give information to be used for the group pushback with HR.
          The second thing to point blank ask if HR actually talked to legal about this issue. If not, then push back on that too.

          1. Natalie*

            There is no one standard of reasonable accommodation to get a hold of, though. What is reasonable depends too heavily on the intersection of that person’s disability and how it affects their life and the specific nature of their job and work space.

            1. OhNo*

              True, but having a few examples would give them a jumping off point when addressing it. It would be even more helpful if they could get a few opinions on how not to accommodate OCD, since I have a feeling that what this company is doing would be on that list.

              That said, I really doubt HR is going to listen at this point. The fact that they let it go this far means that they are not likely to listen to reason.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This is very true. Although accommodation requires the individualized analysis that Natalie describes, it can’t hurt the OP to be able to present additional accommodation options that are less burdensome.

        3. Accounting Manager*

          Honestly, if you are remotely familiar with service dogs and how they act/behave, it’s pretty easy to identify dogs that are not legit service dogs. I also echo fposte in that A LOT of people have no understanding of the difference between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs — and people use that to game the system.

          1. blackcat*

            I was recently on a plane with a not-real-service-dog. Before boarding, it growled and snapped at anyone who walked by, including a child and one of its owners. It tried to steal food from a passerby. It was a standard poodle, and those things are BIG. It was at least 50 lbs. It also barked for two hours of the flight. Sure, it wore a “service dog” vest, but it was 100% not a service dog. It was the most poorly behaved dog I have ever seen while traveling, and I blame its owners people for that. I also blame the airline: a parent of the kid who nearly got bit complained that it wasn’t safe to bring a large, threatening dog into the cabin of an airplane and the airline staff said there was nothing they could do…

            1. JessaB*

              Which is not true, because even if it IS an absolutely certified, trained service dog, you can exclude it for bad behaviour. Someone with a disability is not entitled by law to take a dog that barks and snaps and tries to bite people on a plane.

          2. Kelly*

            I live in a Midwest city that is fairly disabled friendly and we’re starting to see more of the animals that are questionable service or therapy animals. I take public transit and those types of animals that the owner/handler claims as its service animal are becoming more common. It’s allowed to bring pets on the bus if they are in a carrier that can be held on your lap and not taking up a seat, but that lady with the birds in a baby stroller that she was talking to was a strange site.

            The one animal that stands out to me as a possible fake service dog is an overweight older yellow lab. His owner doesn’t have very good control or much of a connection with the dog because he’s usually yanking at the dog.

            My father has a Weimaraner that is well trained and a big pet that doesn’t have the temperament to be a service animal and that dog is better trained than this lab. I don’t have to use much force with my dad’s dog to get him to follow my requests and he responds to most verbal commands right away. He’s well trained enough that we’ve suggested having him certified as a therapy or emotional support animal to help my dad deal with his grief over the recent loss of my mother. It would help my dad but we’re not sure how well the dog would react to being in new settings around more people.

          3. Amy the Rev*

            This- a cousin of mine got a license for her puppy to become her service dog for PTSD, and trained him as such. He goes everywhere with her and is one of the most well-acclimated dogs I’ve ever seen. We’ll be at a loud bar and he’ll just sit or lay quietly at her feet, he rides escalators without a problem, and is surprisingly chill on airplanes. At home he’ll goof off a little more, but that’s mostly because his tasks are related to being in public/crowds, and so at home he isn’t ‘at work’ as much. Ah I miss that little guy- my cousin lives far away so I don’t get to see them very often.

  11. Vandelay Industries*

    As someone with OCD, this is the opposite of managing Casey’s illness. Not only is this totally unreasonable and time consuming but this goes against everything Casey’s therapist is recommending (most likely). OCD is managed and improved by CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and ERP (exposure and response prevention). Essentially the more an OCD sufferer is in uncomfortable and anxiety-producing situations, the more they overcome the need for rituals (like counting, checking, organizing). I think it’s great that Casey freely shares their struggle as OCD is very misunderstood, frustrating and isolating. However, this is not sustainable for Casey or the company.

    1. HistoryChick*

      Yes. This. I don’t personally have OCD but was married to someone with severe OCD for 11 years. We spent quite a bit of time in therapy – together, apart, and within an intensive inpatient program – to learn how to manage. Accommodations like this are the opposite of CBT and ERP are probably more harmful to Casey’s OCD.

      1. Kennedy*

        This is off-topic, but your comment really hit home because I am newly married to someone with OCD, and we’re really struggling right now. I’m afraid to ask if you were divorced because of it because I’m afraid that is going to happen to me. Would you care to talk to me privately? If so, email husbandwithocd@gmail.com Any tips or experience you can give me would be helpful. Don’t respond here since this is not related to the topic at hand. Thank you very much.

    2. Anon for this*


      Normally I would say that exposure is consensual, planned, done with the help of a therapist, etc. But there is so much enabling happening here that it really isn’t good for Casey. Or, obviously, anyone else involved.

    3. many bells down*

      My daughter has mild OCD and one of the things she fixates on is whether or not the front door of our house has been accidentally left open. Her therapist said not to reassure her when she brought it up, but merely to change the subject. Logic doesn’t fix it, because it’s not a logical fear.

      1. Ye Gods*

        I just cringed. That’s one of my fixations too – and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away or teach me anything. Hearing “Yes, I watched you lock it” or “Yes, I locked it,” on the other hand, shorts out the fear feedback and is, one hopes, a simple statement of fact anyway.

        1. many bells down*

          I hear what you’re all saying, but there’s a misunderstanding here. It’s not whether or not the door is locked. That actually doesn’t bother her. It’s whether or not the door is *physically open*. Which it never is.

            1. blackcat*

              Oh, yeah, that does make a lot more sense. Forgetting to lock a door? Happens all the time. Forgetting to close it? Not so much.

      2. General Ginger*

        Caveat: not a therapist, but as someone with this particular fixation — changing the subject would not have made my fear and anxiety go away. It would have increased it. I do hope this strategy works for your daughter, but it’s kind of making me cringe.

        1. Kennedy*

          This is getting off-topic, but the point of changing the subject is NOT to make the anxiety go away. It’s to let her exist in it and breathe through it, be exposed to it, and re-train her brain’s reaction. that’s the whole premise of ERP. if this mother reassured her daughter every time, it just reinforces that pathway in her brain.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            This exactly. The point is that the situation was not dealt with and you did not die. It’s OK for this to happen.
            That helps to normalize it.

          2. General Ginger*

            This is off topic, but my “need to check that the front door is locked” was at one point sufficiently bad that I’d turn around halfway on my commute to work and come back home and check. Sometimes more than once. There was no retraining that by ignoring it, unless someone was in the car with me each time. What ended up working incredibly well for me — and something I do still have to resort to now on occasion when I’m having a not so good day/week/what have you — taking a photo or video, with a timestamp, of me locking the door. Feel panicked about the door — instead of turning around, pull over, review video. Repeat as needed.

            1. Marzipan*

              I used to get halfway down the street, become convinced I hadn’t locked the door, so walk back to check. Only, I lived in a street in the middle of the city and the door opened right out onto the pavement, so just walking up to it and pushing it to check it was locked looked really dodgy. So I’d end up having to unlock it and go in, while pulling the face of someone who’s just remembered they need to pop back into the house for something, and then go back out, lock it again and once again attempt to walk down the road. Rinse and repeat as necessary. I actually now find consciously remembering what day it is when I lock the door/check the gas is turned off/whatever does the job. (“It is MONDAY, and I HAVE LOCKED THE DOOR”.)

                1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  Habitica. It’s kind of a game for developing habits, but you could totally set a daily habit to reward yourself for locking the door.

              1. General Ginger*

                I used to do that, too — the “go back inside, do it again” — because just pushing it and trying the handle sometimes didn’t do it for me. And the — “I’m Name, It’s Date, I’m Locking The Door”. I started each video like that. TBH, the first few times with the quick phone video, I was still panicking. Initially, I had to save the videos, too, and eventually even that became reassuring — look, man, you locked the door for 15 days in a row! So that was a big help, knowing that hey, you are not very likely to have messed this up, look at your trove of 25 days in a row! 30! Then I was able to delete the videos in the evenings. Right now most of the time I am in a pretty decent place with my overall anxiety and haven’t needed a video in a while.

            2. Ye Gods*

              Oh, I like the video idea!

              I’ve got a ritual. Doesn’t take more than 2 minutes to complete it and it includes both doors, so I just deal with it that way. Except when I’m under high stress and end up repeating it in an infinite loop until I can rip myself away… but that’s rare.

              1. Biff*

                I once, after losing count after 23 loops, called a friend t about 2am in the morning and asked them to stay with me. I cringe remembering this. But, hey, their brother was the person who tried to punch me out and triggered the anxiety, so I kinda feel less guilty than I should.

            3. Lynxa*

              TAKING A VIDEO! That’s genius! I feel so dumb for never thinking of that!

              (Another anxiety sufferer here, and home safety is a HUGE trigger)

            4. Rural Psych*

              That’s called a safety behaviour, and is discouraged by therapists when treating anxiety and OCD. What tends to happen is the person relies more and more on safety behaviours, which then escalate to be come overwhelming. (real life psychologist speaking)

          3. TootsNYC*

            Also, the more you experience the anxiety, the more tolerant of it you become. You have to suffer, unfortunately.

            Also, the anxiety cannot last forever–biologically, it has to fade. The body just does it. The body cannot stay at hormonal fever-pitch for very long.

            And when a person (like my son) goes through the process of: OCD trigger, mild anxiety, higher anxiety, higher yet anxiety, abating anxiety, worn out anxiety, recovery, calm…
            they start to instinctively recognize the beginning of the recovery period, and can help it along.

            It’s most effective when it’s accompanied by CBT and mindfulness training, but all those anxiety are to be viewed as “practice sessions” or “practice opportunities.”

            In fact, the exercises my son was supposed to do at home was to deliberately touch the dirty thing, and then sit there and NOT wash his hands, but to chant the mantra, or to “talk back to OCD” by saying, “No, I am not going to be sick because I touched my foot; there are no deadly germs on my foot; no one in the house will be sick…”

              1. Turtle Candle*

                That’s actually exactly the metaphor that my psychiatrist used! Temporarily deeply uncomfortable but with a goal of reducing lifetime limitations and discomfort. (And like allergy shots, best done in care of an expert….)

            1. Biff*

              Does this really work? I ask because if I put off washing away ‘unclean’ things, I will scour my hand,s , rip out body hair, etc. It’s hideous. For me, it’s so much better if I just prevent the touch in the first place or wash/lick my hands as fast as possible.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                It can (I speak from experience), but it’s best done in expert care, and a good expert won’t throw you in the deep end of the pool–you start with much easier exposures and work up.

                One of the complications of discussing this sort of thing is that often laymen will go “gosh, CBT/exposures sound straightforward, I’ll try them out on myself/my family member/my coworker!” But they’re real medical treatments, and simply throwing the triggering situation at someone to expose them is sort of like trying to treat someone’s gangrene with kitchen herbs: they might get better, through good luck or simple chance, but leaving it to an expert would be a hell of a lot safer.

                1. Candi*

                  I remember hearing the term OCD back in my teens and reading up on it…

                  One of the cases was a woman who had to wash her hands -soap, scrub, all of it- at least half a dozen times if she handled money. (This was before hand sanitizer was a thing.) Part of her therapy was, in the therapist’s office counting out bills and change under his observation and direction.

                  It was a layman’s book and didn’t go into a lot more detail, but after six months of weekly sessions, she was able to quit the scrubbing every time she handled money. It still made her nervous, but it was a manageable nervous.

                  There was a big don’t try this on your own discussion, saying the psychology professions had training to help the therapy actually work, especially where pacing and individual treatment were concerned.

                  The other lesson I got from that book was “sometimes the brain acts up and has weird programming. Asking for help can make it bearable to live with.” (Very sledgehammer on you can’t cure everything.)

              2. TootsNYC*

                You have to couple it with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy–you have to tell yourself WHY you are doing it. You have to “talk back” to the OCD urge.

                So you’re supporting yourself.

                If you can get to a “coach” of some kind (a CBT therapist), do–they can help you tackle this and support you through it.

                And then there’s the book “Talking Back to OCD” by John S. March. It’s what our NYU Child Study Center experts sent home with us.

        2. blackcat*

          Yeah, ever since my (unlocked) car was “broken” into and some stuff stolen *just feet from my font door,* I can’t go to sleep without checking the locks. Before then, I was like “Whatever. This neighborhood is super safe.” I used to leave my car unlocked, as did my neighbors–thief made off with at least $50 in parking meter quarters we all kept in our cars. Thief also made it into a neighbor’s unlocked house and took a laptop and wallet.

          Is my fear that someone will waltz right into my house if I don’t double check the locks logical? Yeah, it is. All I need is one moment to see the locked door and go “Yep, that’s locked.” Not checking is much worse for me. I did actually discuss this with my therapist, since it felt like an unreasonable *need* to check the locks. Her response was, “Well, now I’m gonna check my locks, too!” (She lives in my neighborhood, but about six blocks away and missed the neighborhood hubbub about the break-ins). As long as it’s not a fixation that continues after checking (such as a persistent concern that the door magically opened/unlocked itself since the last time you looked), she assured me that not being able to sleep without checking the locks is reasonable.

          YMMV, but not all mild fixations are a sign of a real problem. Sometimes they’re our minds’ relatively logical response to past events. The general rule of thumb I was given is “Is this interfering with every day life?” My door checking doesn’t–I built it into my getting ready for bed routine.

          Now Casey’s fixations…. oof, I have no idea how someone can function like that. I feel sorry for the OP, but also very sorry for Casey.

          1. many bells down*

            As I said above, you’ve misunderstood me. The issue isn’t whether the door is locked, it’s whether it is actually standing open. Leaving it unlocked actually doesn’t faze her.

          2. Marcy Marketer*

            Such a hard line! If I can’t remember if I turned off the waffle iron or turned off the stove, I get really distressed. Especially now that I have a dog–I just worry about the house burning down with him in it, or someone opening the front door and him escaping. These fears are not irrational, because I actually have left the stove on overnight, my husband has left a burner on overnight, etc.

            But at night when I’m home alone, and I hear a noise, if I go check, I somehow become even more scared than if I told myself I was imagining things and to just go to bed. I can see how ignoring the irrational fears might help, and maybe this advice will lead me to stop checking if I’ve locked the front door so many times!

      3. Kate*

        Yes, this! I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I find that letting myself check only once that the door is locked and that’s it (as opposed to checking three or more times) sort of crushes the fear. I feel bad in the moment, but when I wake up the next day and I haven’t been murdered (one of my irrational fears about what will happen if I don’t check the lock a million times) I feel a lot better.

  12. JMegan*

    To take this to the logical (?) extreme…what about piercings and tattoos? They’re often not symmetrical IME. For example, I have three piercings in my left ear, and only one in my right. A large tattoo on my right arm, and a small one on my left wrist – does that count as symmetrical? Do I need to get a tattoo on my left ankle, to match the one on my right? I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s honestly not a lot more ridiculous than telling me what patterns I can wear, or how to line up at the bus stop, to accommodate another person.

    Definitely talk to your management about this. And depending on if you think Casey would be receptive, it might be worth having a talk with them as well. It’s possible that they also think that management is overreacting, but don’t know how to push back since they asked for the accommodations in the first place. Maybe they think the overreaction is better than a non-reaction? Of course, you may also find out that Casey is delighted with all this, and thinks everything is hunky-dory, but I think most reasonable people would be horrified to find out what your management is asking people to do in their name.

      1. k*

        I was thinking how much this opens them up for discrimination issues. What if someone wears something for religious reasons? Would a trans or gender nonconforming person be aloud to wait for the bus? The list could go on and on with the way this company has begun policing their employees.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        No, they’re not discrimination. But they’re a bad idea, and the company should not adopt “accommodations” that do not actually help the employee.

        1. Mae*

          I meant more that it had potential to arrive at the point of discrimination… fast. My comment was in response to the poster about asymmetrical piercings and tattoos. You start critiquing what people put on their body–it’s discrimination.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Not legally, though, at least not in the U.S. Certainly there are things that people wear that can be linked to religion, but in the majority of cases telling people what they can and can’t wear is not going to trigger a discrimination law.

            1. Opal Glow*

              Interesting. I was thinking of the requirement to wear something that doesn’t impact job performance. I had a co-worker who belongs to a back to basics Christian group. The only jewelry anyone in her church is allowed to wear is a wedding ring and watch. They wear very simple clothing. No t-shirts with logos. She wore suits, but always a solid blouse. You get the image.

              Requiring her to wear another ring would be a violation of her religious beliefs. How do you handle dueling accommodations?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                At a reasonable company interested in complying with the law, you’d let her wear the ring (assuming the ban wasn’t for safety reasons). But then, at a reasonable company, you wouldn’t have this situation with Casey’s accommodations in the first place.

    1. Sadsack*

      I am also wondering about Casey’s stance on all this. My assumption was that she requested all of these rules to be made as she noticed these things, but that may be incorrect. I hope doctor isn’t telling her to request these rules.

      1. Grey*

        I was wondering if Casey perhaps didn’t make these requests at all. Popular fiction has made people think all kinds of strange and incorrect things about people with OCD; it could be that management is making assumptions about Casey instead of asking her or waiting for her to make requests.

        Like the joke about people with OCD needing to call it CDO. Not everyone’s works that way.

    2. Marzipan*

      Mmmm, I have non-symmetrical piercings and tattoos. Actually, come to that, I have a non-symmetrical face; there’s a dimple above one eyebrow/a slightly droopy eyelid from where I got whacked in the head by a swing when I was little and it basically permanently dented my skull. Hopefully in this context HR would not be coming for me with a blunt implement…

        1. Marzipan*

          Oh yes, totally. But that’s really why the company really aren’t helping Casey, here. I have every sympathy for Casey; it’s horrible to feel anxious about anything, and Casey’s OCD sounds all-consuming and terribly, terribly hard to live with. But, no amount of trying to rearrange the world to fit it is going to really resolve that, and really it only makes things worse.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I was thinking how often people break one arm or leg, not both. Or there are amputees… There are so many situations where there is no reasonable accommodation for symmetry in a person.

        1. Emi.*

          What if I gave half my liver to my boss’s brother? Do I have to give him the other half as well, for symmetry?

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            No, you give the other half to the boss’s sister. Gotta make sure it goes male/female.

    3. animaniactoo*

      fwiw, I suspect that they don’t see this as a logical continuation, because they are seeing all of these as temporary accommodations that are over in 5 minutes or so (choosing an evenly patterned item *on this day*, switching around the lineup, etc.), whereas asking to change piercings and tattoos would be permanent things.

      They’re wrong about the impact of those temporary things both on the other employees and Casey, but it’s unlikely they’d go after permanent stuff without realizing they’d tipped over the line.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        The word is pervasiveness. There are now so many of them that they are pervasive and negatively impacting people’s lives.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Because the rule applies to everyone you’d have to show it has a negative impact on people of a particular sex, which I’m guessing you couldn’t. So it probably isn’t illegal but it sure is dumb.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Probably not. There’s no discrimination on the basis of gender because the lining up policy doesn’t involve segregation by gender and applies equally to both/all genders.

    3. Peter the Bubblehead*

      What happens if there are three more men taking the bus one day then there are women? Does the company require two of the men cannot go home that night? Are they required to kidnap two other women who were not planning to take the bus that night? This opens a large can of worms!

      1. Kate*

        I’m probably the only one reading this who thought – nope, just establish another pattern, 2M 1F 2M 1F, or 3M 1F 3M 1F… there’s almost always a way to organize a group of people into a pattern if you need to see one…

        Note – I’m not recommending this as a solution, just saying that there’s more weird brain tricks out there than you may think!

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      They’re being lined up based on whether Casey perceives them to be male or female. I’m assuming that no one at this company is non-binary, trans, or identifies in a way that goes against Casey’s perception. It could eventually be a problem.

      1. bohtie*

        I was thinking about this too. My partner is trans and hoo boy this would not be a fun situation.

  13. Sadsack*

    Has anyone refused to comply with any of the rules and been fired? I am curious how that unemployment claim would go.

    1. Mike*

      This was my thought as well. Personally, I would wear what I wanted (including my wedding ring, watches, and patterns) and if I got written up for it, continue to do it.

      Tell them they’re welcome to fire me, and I can get the state workforce involved.

      Meanwhile, I would be looking for a new job immediately.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s nothing really to involve the state over though. The government can’t enforce laws that don’t exist, and there’s no law preventing employers from regulating dress and jewelry, as long as they’re applying it evenly and not based on a protected characteristic like race or religion (and as long as they’re making exceptions for religious requirements, etc.).

        1. Sadsack*

          That makes sense. I just wonder f the topic being brought up in an unemployment claim, whether it is successful or not, would cause the company to look into the matter further.

          1. Zombii*

            This. Serious hypothetical question.

            If my company fires me for failing to follow dress code, is that considered “for cause” and they won’t have to pay unemployment while I look for another job?

            Does the determination change if the dress code is ridiculous? or only results in a write-up after you’ve failed, with no warning or no option to correct it?

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              Yes, it’s firing for cause- it’s insubordination, which is simply defined as a refusal to obey orders. They can refuse to allow you to collect unemployment over it.

              Alison repeats over and over than unless it’s for an explicitly illegal reason (mainly having to do with discrimination or whistle blowing) an employer can set any rule it wants to set and fire you for not complying. Or they can fire you just because they feel like it.

          1. fposte*

            In this company, there’s no way to tell because their reaction is unreasonable. In a reasonable company, they’d try to find an approach that would accommodate both. There’s no inherent priority to one or the other, though.

      2. Natalie*

        I have an asymmetrical hair cut that is both something I’ve wanted for a long time, and something that wasn’t cheap. I would have to be in a fairly desperate circumstance to agree to have it cut again.

        1. Brandy*

          and people tend to wear their hair to one side. Unless your hair is parted straight down the middle its not symmetric.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Oh that’s a great point. And how about balding men? This can (and is) get out of control quickly.

      3. BananaPants*

        Yup. I’d let them write me up, and if it extended to firing me, then my attorney would be involved so fast their collective heads would spin.

        But I have the means to retain an attorney and a good likelihood of somewhat easily finding a new job. OP may not.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Companies can fire you for any reason, or no reason, excepting for the few illegal ones having to do with protected class discrimination. There is no law that protects you from being fired for insubordination because you refused to comply with their wacky dress code.

          1. Dzhymm, BfD*

            Likewise, anyone can sue anyone for pretty much any reason. I’m sure a good lawyer could figure out a way to spin this situation such that it crossed the line into actionable territory (e.g. “creating a hostile working environment”). The OP’s employer is tying itself in knots to avoid getting dragged into an ADA lawsuit, but they may very well find themselves facing some other lawsuit instead.

            1. fposte*

              That’s not what a hostile work environment means, though. That’s only legally an issue when the environment is hostile for a specific reason forbidden by law.

              There really aren’t that many causes for action in U.S. employment. Merely being treated crappily isn’t enough.

            2. Jessesgirl72*

              This is technically true, but good luck finding a lawyer to take that case. It doesn’t even begin to fall under hostile work environment, and again, as long as the rule is being applied evenly, it never will be.

              The honest lawyers wouldn’t take the case because it’s frivolous. The dishonest ones wouldn’t take the case because there is no way they’d get any money out of it.

            3. Stylish Entrepreneur*

              Agreed. “You can sue anyone for anything at any time. You just might not win.” -High School Criminal Justice 101

              1. fposte*

                But even that’s not really true. You can’t find a lawyer for every case, because they’re not going to take a loser on contingency and even people who’d take it hourly are likely to have standards–you’d need to be rich and find an unethical lawyer at the same time. You also have to get a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC first, before you can take it to court (and you have to do that within a fairly small window).

                1. Anononon*

                  (Possibly depending on the state?) you can just file in state court under state law, and you don’t need a right-to-sue letter. At least in New Jersey, you can file a complaint under NJLAD (New Jersey Law Against Discrimination) without having to go through any hoops first.

                  Also, getting a right-to-sue letter isn’t hard. It’s not that the EEOC has to let you sue – you get a right-to-sue letter after they dismiss your case (after they fail to find anything).

                2. fposte*

                  @Anonanon–yes, if states give you additional recourse, you can go through them.

                  And I’m not saying a right-to-sue letter is onerous; just that you can’t walk into a court and say “I’m suing under the ADA!” without doing your homework.

  14. Mae*

    Can Casey be asked to work from home? She can mange everything she wants, in the order she wants, that way. I see no other solution if HR won’t budge at all. Poorly handled.

        1. fposte*

          That doesn’t mean it’s an unacceptable accommodation, though. The obligation isn’t to ensure everybody can come to the office.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s possible, but it also defeats part of the purpose of the ADA (to integrate employees with disabilities into the workplace).

      1. Natalie*

        Eh, that is certainly part of the purpose, but I feel like there’s some recognition that full integration might not always be possible and in those cases being able to have productive work is still a worthy goal.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, definitely. I guess my point is that first the company should try reasonable accommodation (which they don’t seem to have done here—none of the accommodations they’re suggesting are reasonable), and next should try to make things work for the purpose of ensuring that an otherwise capable employee is able to continue to work.

          1. Jesmlet*

            I would argue that letting her work from home is the only reasonable accommodation they could be making, and certainly more reasonable than what they’re currently doing. The only way to let her control her environment without putting an undue burden on the rest of her coworkers is allowing her to WFH. It seems the things that bother Casey are things that can’t really be adjusted in the workplace without burdening all other employees.

            1. hbc*

              Eh, they could let Casey have a private office so the bus line and the asymmetrical jewelry isn’t in his face all of the time. (I’d be cool with putting on an over-sized lab coat if I was going to go talk to him in his office so he didn’t see my zany shirt or unbalanced wrist.) They could shift his schedule so he doesn’t have to see who’s lining up for the bus all willynilly. They could let him call in to all-hands meetings so the chaos of unassigned seats and uncoordinated ties doesn’t get him all at once.

              It sounds like all they’ve done is try to modify his coworkers, and they haven’t even tried making other changes.

              1. Jesmlet*

                So interesting that I assumed Casey was female but looks like a lot of people went with male. Just went back and read it and nowhere does it use pronouns.

                That aside, I suppose a separate office could be considered reasonable by some but if it was available, I assumed it would’ve already been done. That’s all assuming an HR department that has a modicum of common sense to suggest other things but I guess I shouldn’t assume that.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I think folks often follow Alison’s convention, where she uses “she” if the gender is unknown or unclear from the letter (but if Alison were a guy, she would default to using “he”).

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I mean, we don’t know what the array of reasonable accommodations could be. All we know is the current approach is wrongheaded and isn’t working. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t better options, short of WFH, that the company could use.

      2. Federal Procurement Analyst*

        Nope. ADA helps people with disabilities get and keep employment. Telework/ flexiplace is actually an allowable and popular accommodation. That is what I negotiated.

  15. Retail HR Guy*

    While management is definitely handling this poorly, I can see how they got there. What is considered “reasonable” under the ADA has grown and grown over time, and there is case law out there where companies have gotten in trouble for not accommodating absurdities such as OP mentions. Attorneys are more concerned with avoiding being sued than with running a business and so they give advice accordingly. And keep in mind that it isn’t just the fear of LOSING such claims; even winning an EEOC claim and/or lawsuit still costs the company a lot of money.

    At some point, yes, the company needs to decide that the risk of losing or demoralizing all their good employees is not worth the risk of paying out a little bit of cash to an attorney to defend a ridiculous EEOC claim. (And that point was passed long ago by OP’s company.)

    1. neverjaunty*

      I really doubt that any lawyer gave the OP’s company advice to do the things they are doing. This sounds much more like “well I heard from my cousin’s high school teacher’s dog walker on Facebook that…”

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Like any profession, there are bad eggs out there. And bad attorneys tend to focus exclusively on what will ultimately make them the most successful in their hypothetical courtroom appearance down the road, instead of taking business considerations into account.

        Of course, this is all just speculation on my part as to how the company could have ended up in such a bizarre place. Another possibility is that they received great advice from an attorney and are horribly misinterpreting it.

    2. Mike C.*

      Yeah, no. Show us a case similar to what the OP describes where the courts have ruled in favor of these sorts of protections.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I read Retail HR Guy’s comment as saying “lawyers for employers often give very risk-averse advice on this stuff and advise an over-abundance of caution that isn’t actually required by the law,” which is indeed often true.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            No, you had the meaning correct.

            I guess what I mean by case law was more just “the history of who has been sued and for what”. In HR, yes, we care about whether you can successfully defend a lawsuit but we care more about not being able to be sued in the first place. Going through several rounds of appeals and spending huge attorney fees doing so never counts as a “win” in my book no matter the ultimate ruling. The only win is having the EEOC or state labor board dismiss the claim right off the bat.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, but I don’t believe that there is actual case history of such a case being brought by the EEOC, or of such a case being brought by an individual and going through multiple rounds of appeals.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                A very similar case? No, probably not. But there are indeed some ridiculous unreasonable accommodation request cases out there, and that combined with bad reasoning might have helped lead OP’s company to the bizarre place they are in right now.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Case law has a very specific legal meaning. “The history of who has been sued and for what” is not only not case law, but has nothing to do with this situation – it’s impossible to protect 100% against nuisance suits, but good HR practices and reliance on actual attorneys, instead of ‘I kind of remember this from the internet maybe’, cuts way down on the risk (and makes it a lot more likely that any such claims will go nowhere).

              And their actions are especially stupid when you don’t just focus on the risk that Casey might sue, but on the risk that literally anybody else might sue. Say, the people who left for other jobs, who might claim constructive discharge.

              1. Observer*

                Or the people who were told that they had to line up by gender.

                Sure, they would probably lose, but lots of people could easily see this as SOMETHING THAT MUST BE STOPPED.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Employment attorneys are risk-averse, but I honestly cannot think of an attorney in employment law or disability rights who would recommend the kinds of accommodations OP’s employer is making.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right, I don’t think one would. But I think Retail HR Guy is saying that he can see how a poorly-run company would get there on their own (wrongly, but that you can imagine the path they went down if they didn’t have critical thinking skills in place).

            It’s hard to ever say “I can see how they got there” without sounding like you’re endorsing that line of thinking or saying there’s validity to it, but I think he was just commenting on how this could happen.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I absolutely agree that employers often wrongly make poor decisions because they don’t fully understand their legal responsibilities. I take issue with the assertions that: (1) because bad lawsuits have been filed, employers are justified in making poor decisions; (2) all/most employment attorneys poorly advise their clients for fear of litigation; and (3) there is case law out there that supports employers making bad “accommodation” decisions because employees have won lawsuits on the basis that their employer denied them a similar/analogous accommodation.

              1. Jesmlet*

                Just because you understand someone’s reasoning doesn’t mean that you agree with it. I don’t think this is what Retail HR Guy was trying to say. Not to sound preachy, but I think the world would be a lot better off if we attempted to understand how people and groups arrived at decisions we disagreed with before criticizing them.

                1. Amy the Rev*

                  Yes! One of the best pieces of (literal preaching) advice I ever got was that if you’re going to preach about something controversial, say, pro-mint chocolate teapots in a church with many anti-mint chocolate teapot members, you should understand the anti-mint chocolate teapot position so well that you can describe it to the anti-minters and they’d agree with your description and think it was both accurate and fair. All about meeting people where their at- doesn’t mean you have to agree, but if you fully understand the ins and outs of their argument/perspective, it makes it so much easier and productive when you engage with it from an opposing perspective.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I was trying to understand his point, and I apologize if I misconstrued it. I’m not trying to be “right,” I’m trying to add texture to the conversation because it relates to legal issues, some of which I think were not accurate.

                  These were the sentences that led me to think that he was making the three points I identified:

                  there is case law out there where companies have gotten in trouble for not accommodating absurdities such as OP mentions. Attorneys are more concerned with avoiding being sued than with running a business and so they give advice accordingly. And keep in mind that it isn’t just the fear of LOSING such claims; even winning an EEOC claim and/or lawsuit still costs the company a lot of money.

                  Issue #3 maps onto the first sentence, #2 is found in the second sentence, and #1 is in the last sentence.

                  But if those sentences were all provided to back up the argument that “employers do dumb things for fear of ADA lawsuits,” then I agree with the conclusion (if not all the supporting sentences).

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        Here’s an example of something similar. An employer is in trouble for not providing a completely fragrance-free workplace: http://www.employerlawreport.com/2012/08/articles/eeo/employer-refusal-to-provide-a-fragrance-free-workplace-may-violate-ada/
        Telling all employees not to use perfumes, colognes, or scented lotions is certainly in the same ballpark as telling them what patterns of clothes or jewelry to wear.

        And, again, it doesn’t matter which way the courts ruled. It costs money to defend against these claims no matter the ultimate outcome, so the only way to truly win is to avoid the claim in the first place.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think this is in the same ballpark at all, actually! This is a company that’s telling someone not to wear a wedding ring and to line up by gender.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            Enough of the same ballpark, though, for a not-so-great HR department following advice from a not-so-great employment attorney?

            Again, I’m not defending the OP’s company. They suck. I’m just saying I can kind of see how they got to where they are.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh, no, I totally agree with you that I can see how incompetent managers without, uh, very strong critical thinking got to where they are. I think the only part people are disagreeing with is where you said that “there is case law out there where companies have gotten in trouble for not accommodating absurdities such as OP mentions,” since that’s not actually true, as far as I’m aware.

              Beyond that, though, I agree that some employers really misunderstand the law and misapply it in silly ways (see: companies afraid to fire people), although this letter is an unusually egregious example of that.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                Yeah, going back and looking at it that was a communication failure on my part. By “absurdities such as OP mentions” I implied that I was talking about things that had the same level of absurdity as OP’s more egregious examples. But that’s a really high bar. I just meant that (a) Casey’s accommodation requests are absurd, and (b) there are plenty of absurd accommodation requests that have cost employers big bucks when denied (especially when you consider I’m including cases in which the employer “won”).

                1. Jesmlet*

                  Yeah I think it was just a word choice issue, but I’m assuming it still costs money to defend against silly claims so if that falls under your definition of ‘gotten in trouble’, then it’s not completely wrong to say that. Their logic was probably, better to just accommodate this absurd request than to waste time and money defending against a potentially incoming frivolous lawsuit.

            2. Observer*

              There are also some significant other differences, as well, though. One of them is that the employer didn’t do things that might have been appropriate and less intrusive before it reached a point where the employee asked for the policy.

              And with all that, the judge didn’t say that they did the wrong thing, but that history indicates that maybe the plaintiff has a point. So, it’s going to trial.

              1. FiveWheels*

                This is maybe a little OT, but I do think a blanket ban on “fragrance” (as opposed to certain specific chemicals) is absurd. Ultimately “fragrance” is either so broad as to mean “everything with a scent” (which includes a wool coat after rain, ballpoint ink, and each of your colleagues) or it’s nonsensical. There isn’t a special class of chemical called “fragrance” which only exists in scented toiletries.

                1. Amy G. Golly*

                  While banning “anything and everything that does or could possibly emit a detectable scent” would be absurd, “fragrance free” environments are actually not that uncommon. You can define “fragrance” as “scented toiletry items” (or any other specific, definable scent categories) for the purposes of a company policy; you’re not limited by any and all dictionary definitions of that term.

                  It is true that the success of maintaining a fragrance free environment relies heavily on the people in that environment acting like reasonable, compassionate adults. In the case that Retail HR Guy linked, not only did the workplace not take action when a ban on one specific fragrance was requested – they also failed to act when their employees began to intentionally use that fragrance in order to retaliate against their coworker, and to mock that coworker for experiencing health problems related to the fragrance.

                2. FiveWheels*

                  Amy – I think our thread is too deep for me to reply directly but this is basically my issue: hypothetically, toiletries with added scent are banned. Is it acceptable ford me to buy a rose at lunchtime and leave it at my desk until I get home?

                  If that’s fine, can I use toiletries where the only added scent is rose?

                  If so then the problem is clearly not “fragrance” in general; if not, then the problem would seem to be far wider than scented toiletries.

                  I have no issue with banning a specific chemical or group thereof which causes genuine medical symptoms, but blanket bans on “fragrance” seem nonsensical to me.

                3. Amy G. Golly*

                  Five Wheels – Yep, we are pretty deeply entrenched, so I’ll just reply once more before begging off!

                  In short, sure: you could create endless hypothetical situations to discredit such a policy. That doesn’t mean such a policy can’t work or shouldn’t be created if there’s a compelling need for such a policy. (And I would call an employee who ends up needing medical attention due to their coworkers’ use of fragrance a compelling need.)

                  To be honest, if an employee came to me with the hypothetical you described, I’d accuse them of arguing in bad faith. If the policy is “no perfumes or scented lotions”, then it doesn’t matter if the scent in question can be tolerated from another source. It would be nigh-impossible (and highly inefficient!) to try to describe and specifically prohibit every scent that bothers the employee or employees for which the policy is created, hence the blanket ban on “perfumes and scented lotions”. The policy may not address every possible scenario of infraction or misinterpretation, but it shouldn’t have to.

                  Think about workplace dress codes. I’ve sure we’ve all seen absurdly-specific dress codes that have fallen down the rabbit hole of trying to address every possible scenario of potential infraction. Yes, “professional dress required” is open to interpretation: one employee thinks a blazer and slacks is just as professional as a suit, and another sees no problem with sandals as long as they’re dressy. Some employees will even intentionally flout the dress code, and cite the lack of specifity as justification. (Or they’ll cite the over-specificty of the rules, as in the case of an old supervisor of mine who took to wearing black jeans because the agency dress code prohibited “blue jeans”.) In those instances, you address people on a case by case basis. (And leave room for mistakes! If people are just getting used to the policy, it’s possible they’ll forget in the beginning and wear perfume without thinking about it.)

                  Sure: some people will have trouble understanding the policy, and others will intentionally disregard it. That doesn’t mean you can’t make the policy, and make it work for your employees.

                4. Kate*

                  Just a quick comment to say, I agree with you. For one thing “chemical sensitivity” isn’t real. Many studies from multiple respected medical institutions have proven that. It is completely psychosomatic.

                  I also wonder about the idea that her asthma is set off by “perfumes”. I have never heard of that before, and it isn’t a big sample size but neither of the two asthmatic people I know are set off by perfume, though they are by cigarette smoke.

                5. Beaded Librarian*

                  @Five Wheels I worked at a hospital/long term care unit for many years that was “fragrance free” I forget how exactly they defined it, but it really wasn’t to hard to follow. Basically it meant that you did not use perfume or scented lotions. Scented deodorants and antiperspirants were okay to use as long as they weren’t strongly scented because they usually weren’t noticeable when used as directed. Housekeeping used minimally scented products and laundry didn’t use anything with scents either. It was important as we did have some people both staff, residents and patients who were sensitive and could tell if scent was being used. Flowers were okay as long as they weren’t in large amounts.

                  I think the reason that flowers were okay was two fold most of the people who had sensitivities were susceptible to the more artificial chemicals used in many things. That and flowers are nice to cheer people up.

                6. blackcat*

                  Kate, I’m an asthmatic who is allergic to a lot (but not all) perfumes. Those perfumes can cause significant asthma attacks–my asthma is largely allergy-induced. I am also allergic to other highly inconvenient things, such as all types of grass and whatever common fragrances they put in detergent (can you imagine what it’s like to be allergic to your underwear? It is as bad as you think). Basically, I am allergic to life. Modern medicine keeps me alive, and I am grateful for that.

                  It is impossible for me to predict what perfumes will set me off. I can’t give you a list of chemicals that will set me off, because sometimes things are close enough chemically to mimic other things that I am allergic to. I *can* tell people that I’m super allergic to lavender derived products and most other flower oils, but I really don’t like to get into the rabbit hole of “will this be okay? how about this?” I’m probably going to react to less than 25% of perfumes, but the chances of a reaction being bad are pretty high if it happens, so I ask people close to me to avoid perfumes. And (high end) essential oils are THE WORST. One day, I suddenly got super itchy, had hives everywhere, and couldn’t breathe: Anaphylaxis Alert! The culprit: lavender essential oil in a diffuser.

                  Also, for what it is worth, I have met two people who get migraines trigged by *any* super strong sent. In addition to cleaners and perfumes causing problems, neither of these people could go to a gas station–the strong gasoline smell would set off a migraine. This was deeply inconvenient to their lives, and they did not wish to live that way.

                  So those of us with real reactions to many fragrances. We’d rather not. Please don’t assume someone who says they react to fragrances is lying. “Fragrance” may be short hand for “particular chemical but I don’t trust friends/coworkers to read labels.” Asthma attacks are no fun. Neither is anaphylaxis. I have experienced the first due to fragrances a lot and the second once.

                7. fposte*

                  @blackcat–I think part of the problem may be that these responses aren’t necessarily allergic in the technical sense–but they don’t have to be actual allergens to cause an asthma attack.

                8. Zombii*

                  @Kate I have worked with two people who had severe asthma that was mainly triggered by excessive perfume/cheap body spray/Axe or cigarette smoke. May have been psychosomatic, sure, but they both had bad reactions at least twice a year and the ambulance was called more than once (I worked with them for over three years).

                  @FiveWheels ExJob referred to it as “scent sensitive,” as in, there were signs in the bathroom that said “We are a scent sensitive workplace. Please refrain from applying scented products and only use unscented lotion.” Also banned: any pollinating plants, including floral bouquets. Because many people had allergies and being stuck in a building full of recirculated air + your allergy trigger is no fun.

                  Then they had to eff it up by not enforcing their own policy and getting mad when people complained about people not following the policy/being forced to follow the policy when others didn’t (“eyes on your own paper,” was bad management in this scenario).

                9. fposte*

                  Following up to myself–I don’t mean that your asthma isn’t related to allergies, blackcat–just that many people have asthma triggers that aren’t allergies.

                10. Amy the Rev*

                  @blackcat, that line about being allergic to your underwear reminded me of the time i accidentally bought scented tampons…. it was….unfortunate, to say the least.

                11. Hrovitnir*

                  Re: asthma and perfumes, I once saw our lovely sales rep have to run outside and get his inhaler having a moderately severe (but not hospital severe) asthma attack as another sales rep wearing tonnes of perfume came and sat next to him. :/

                  I have pretty mild asthma, but I use unscented basically everything because I prefer it, and strong scents absolutely make me bronchoreactive. It *may* be psychosomatic but it sucks.

                12. Perfumecouldkillme*

                  A blanket ban on fragrances that are detectible more than a few feet from a person is not absurd. It’s life-saving.

                  It may be 1 in 100 perfumes that cause me to react. The ones that do? My throat swells shut within 20 minutes. Dead.

                  I also have this reaction with a few flowers.

                  If I’m walking out in public, there’s enough ventilation and space that I can avoid heavy perfume wearers. In a non-vented small office? It’s torture.

                  Before boarding a plan I have to take a cocktail of anti-inflammatory drugs “just in case.”

                  I would not wish this condition on anyone. Ok, maybe I’d wish it on Trump.

              2. Federal Procurement Analyst*

                There is a lengthy appeals process available when an employer denies a reasonable accommodation request. An employer has a good chance of prevailing if they carefully adhere to EEOC guidance. Its all published online. No need to operate out of fear.

          2. Perfumecouldkillme*

            A day late, but I happen to be a lawyer with perfume and fragrance issues.

            While it is MCS may not have been proven, that doesn’t mean people don’t have issues. Anyone who dismisses this out of hand as being “impossible” is being either unscientific or heartless.

            I could die from a reaction to a triggering perfume or natural fragrance. (e.g., roses are ok, but some strong-smelling flowers cause a contact allergy that causes my throat to swell shut)

            I was working in another industry when the issues developed and were diagnosed – by several doctors. After rigorous testing. One where I was blindfolded and didn’t know if they sprayed water or fragrance.

            The company didn’t issue a blanket ban on all fragrance, but did inform people they weren’t to wear anything that could be detected by someone more than a few feet away, people were told no flowers in my work area except for x, y, and z. People were also told no meetings where I had to sit close to others – particularly in a non-ventilated environment. The lotions and soap were all changed to Ivory products (which are great!).

            There were a few people who groused, but most everyone understood it wasn’t being asked based on some whim.

            This is practically and legally different that telling someone what they can and can’t wear as clothing. Asking someone to refrain from strong smells is not that onerous a burden on anyone.

            How can people understand the lethality of peanut allergies but not perfume allergies?

            FTR, I used to believe a lot of chemical sensitivity was psychosomatic. Then it happened to me.

        2. animaniactoo*

          It doesn’t indicate what the result of that case was. I suspect that the court wanted the case to go forward to push back on how badly the company had handled this whole thing.

          Asking people not to wear something that triggers a physiological response that *cannot be prevented* is one thing. Asking people to spend a lot of money (because unscenteds often cost more money when you get into shampoo and body wash) to accommodate a co-worker is a different thing and I suspect would be pushed back as unreasonable accommodation. All the court did, however, was refuse to dismiss the motion on its face and allow additional evidence to be presented for a future determination.

        3. hayling*

          The main difference is that the person who is sensitive to fragrances is asking for one concrete, specific thing: do not wear perfume or scented products. And if the a-hole employee had just stopped wearing perfume, it probably would have been fine–chemical sensitivity tends to be cumulative, and her coworkers were actively spraying *more* perfume to physically torture her. Also, there’s pretty much nothing else that someone can do about fragrance sensitivity other than avoid fragrances.

          Casey is asking for an increasing number of “accommodations” that could actually cost her coworkers money (like buying new clothes that don’t have patterns) and also interrupt their day (making sure they’re standing in the right order in line!). There are also other treatments for OCD.

        4. Jenbug*

          I disagree. The fragrance issue is a fairly common one for folks with allergies and doesn’t put undue hardship on other employees.

          1. Newby*

            I agree that it isn’t really analogous. Not wearing perfume at work doesn’t really pose a hardship. If they have to replace all lotion and shampoo with unscented fragrances, that would be different. Not wearing patterned or asymmetrical clothing means many people would have to buy new clothes. Not wearing clothes isn’t really a valid option.

        5. neverjaunty*

          The article you linked to does not say that the employer was required to tell all employees “not to use perfumes, colognes or scented lotions”. The request that other employees not wear fragrances around the severely allergic person (who had a doctor’s note, and who had to have emergency treatment for her allergies) came after the employee’s request that her co-workers not wear a specific perfume was not only ignored – her co-workers made fun of her and some of them wore the fragrance on purpose, while her employer did nothing to stop them. Her ‘fragrance-free’ request came after the employer dragged its feet on making other accommodations, ranging from asking employees not to wear a specific darn perfume to having an isolated environment at work to work-from-home.

          So no, unless you squint real hard, I’m not seeing how that has anything to do with the OP’s situation.

          1. sstabeler*

            agreed. In some ways, the lawsuit is more that there’s a prima facie (“on the face”- basically, at first look) case that the employer was retaliating for the request for accommodations by not stopping the other employees from what was almost certainly assault at a minimum. (IIRC, not only did other employees deliberately wear the perfume, but they actively sprayed the perfume on her.) originally, it would have been a reasonable accomodation to ban that one specific perfume. However, after the harassment, it’s entirely possible the employees would try to find a perfume that was close enough that it would still trigger the allergies while not being banned. hence why banning fragrance becomes reasonable- it’s metaphorically the equivalent of people abusing Work From Home being banned from using it.

    3. paul*

      Can you cite some cases or instances of companies actually being (successfully) sued or fined for *not* doing stuff like this to accommodate?

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Again, the “successfully” part doesn’t matter as much as everyone seems to think. Defending a claim that ends up in court is expensive.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It matters insofar as it’s relevant to upholding accommodations. The truth is anyone can sue anyone for anything, even if their lawsuit lacks merit. It’s not helpful to encourage bad policy or to blame lawyers for the proliferation of bad policy (in this case, I seriously doubt the company consulted a lawyer) b/c of fear of having to defend a lawsuit.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            …which is why OP’s company sucks. Keep in mind my point was just that I could kind of see how they ended up in the ridiculous situation they are in.

          2. FiveWheels*

            Yep, especially when sensible companies (and individuals, really) should have legal expenses insurance – though again I don’t know if this is widely available in the USA.

            Otherwise a single piece of litigation can destroy you – as can not being able to sue someone you have to.

        2. Recruit-o-Rama*

          I wanted to just give you a “I understand the point of your original comment” thumbs up because there is a ton of nit picking of your language going on. Having been in many many many HR meetings I can ALSO see how the company got to this point and I can see it at the same time as understanding why they reached the wrong conclusions. Winning a lawsuit and avoiding one altogether are related but not exactly the same end goal and HR is mostly interested in compliance that achieves both objectives which oftentimes lead to erroneous policy making.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            Thank you! I feel I must have been pretty bad at communicating my original point, though, because everyone seems to think I’m defending OP’s company, attacking all lawyers, and trashing the ADA.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I understand what you’re saying much better right now, fwiw. I think the references to litigation and case law threw me off (and possibly other commenters).

          2. Marcy Marketer*

            +1. When Retail HR guys says, “gotten in trouble for not accommodating absurdities” he does not mean ‘lost a case for not accommodating absurdities.” He means, having to pay lawyer fees and court fees and go through a bunch of hassle because of a claim– whether or not the company actually wins or the case gets thrown out or whatever.

    4. hbc*

      Can you please cite an actual case with this kind of absurdity where the employer was deemed to be at fault? Because I have a very hard time believing that “letting other employees wear one wristwatch” and “not policing gender order outside the building” are things that get you slapped with a fine.

      In my experience, these stories of awful findings are 1) missing some crucial facts–like McDonald’s having previously been cited for too-hot coffee, and/or 2) cases where the company caved rather than risk a negative outcome.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Attorneys are definitely risk-averse, but I can’t imagine a good attorney advising a company to adopt all of these “accommodations” in order to avoid a lawsuit.

      (Are there really EEOC claims/lawsuits where an employee won for being denied an accommodation of this variety?)

        1. Perfumecouldkillme*

          I’d say this wasn’t an attorney at all, but someone in HR or management who read the law and didn’t not understand it, but thought that they did.

      1. Emmie*

        It is unwise to over accommodate any one person for a disability like this. It sets a horrible precedent for what a reasonable accommodation at that company looks like (albeit an extreme one.). Others could use this extensive accommodation as an advantage in several scenarios – the collaborative process, EEO complaint, or lawsuit. I’m thinking of numerous scenarios now.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          But I’m asking for proof of a person winning their case based on a fact pattern like this. I agree that there are plenty of bad attorneys out there, but I have a feeling no one has consulted one in this case.

    6. Observer*

      and there is case law out there where companies have gotten in trouble for not accommodating absurdities such as OP mentions

      Citations, please? I know that we normally don’t ask people to provide citations for every little thing, but this is a statement that is almost certainly not correct.

    7. FiveWheels*

      A competent attorney should be properly insured and not give unreasonably risk-averse advice out of fear of being sued.

      Especially in this unusual environment, if an employment attorney advised complying with every single accommodation and that caused actionable harm to another employee, the attorney is opened up to a case anyway.

      YMMV – in my jurisdiction attorneys must be insured for claims against them, and getting sued is unpleasant but not horribly unusual.

      1. Emmie*

        Even if an attorney has malpractice insurance, claims are financially and emotionally costly. Not only in terms of increased premiums, but a state bar investigation and potential license consequences for alleged malpractice. Even so, seasoned employment attorneys who keep up with the law know to balance the risk on all options (the risk of accommodating, of turning down specific accommodations, of documentation questions, etc…).

        1. Perfumecouldkillme*

          Just an FYI wrt to “alleged malpractice”

          malpractice = threat of civil suit (usually settled by malpractice insurance company)
          ethical violation = state bar action and penalties up to loss of license

          A action may be one without the other or may be both.

    8. Federal Procurement Analyst*

      There is a lengthy appeals process available when an employer denies a reasonable accommodation request. An employer has a good chance of prevailing if they carefully adhere to EEOC guidance. Its all published online. No need to operate out of fear.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Until the EEOC starts paying employers’ attorney fees, there will be cause to fear even legally unsound claims. Prevailing after a lengthy appeals process is no victory, it’s just less of a defeat.

        1. Federal Procurement Analyst*

          Not everyone appeals. The employer can request that the losing employee pay its fees. There is no way to avoid employee claims and appeals, and a wise enployer will have a plan to deal with them without automatic capitulation. Besides, employee pockets are typically not as deep as employer pockets!

  16. JKP*

    So are coworkers expected to go out and buy whole new wardrobes (if they own a lot of patterned clothes)? What if they can’t afford to replace clothes that would otherwise be work appropriate? This could really put a financial hardship on coworkers that are paid less or are struggling with a lot of other bills.

  17. Delta Delta*

    Would this mean everyone who wears a watch now has to wear a watch on the other wrist? As a runner I have a couple different wearable devices (a Garmin and a Fitbit) but they don’t match. Would this be a problem? Or what if someone had a broken leg and a cast on that leg. Would they have to get a matching other-leg cast?

  18. EddieSherbert*

    Oh! My SO is totally works in psych… specializing in OCD! I’ll see if I can get him to comment ;)

    My guess (based on hearing about OCD treatments from him) is that accommodating Casey like this is probably negatively affecting her OCD treatment.. but I’m just guessing.

    And I suppose that doesn’t help the OP, but I’m incredibly curious!

      1. Whats In A Name*

        On a completely unrelated note we once watched a news-station’s crawl scroll the word ‘pubic’ for about 4 minute before someone caught it and updated it to public. Talk about starting your day with a good laugh.

        1. Momonga*

          Years ago I saw a massive subway station ad encouraging HIV testing. The organization mentioned was “Chicago Department of Pubic Health.”

          Had to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.

  19. Allypopx*

    It sounds like the employer is coming from a well-intentioned place, even if the execution has gone horribly awry.

    Because of that, I agree that pushing back as a group, armed with some data about reasonable ADA compensation, is the way to go. They’re trying to handle it correctly and have become misguided, a little course correction along with a strong statement that this is seriously impacting morale and work performance for other employees (can anyone take their work seriously in this kind of environment?) may turn on the lightbulb for them.

      1. Allypopx*

        Valid, but it’s a lot easier to write up one person for violating a rule than to shut down an organized pushback. It wouldn’t necessarily work, but a unified front is more likely to be taken seriously in most cases.

  20. BritCred*

    So one day Female number 4 doesn’t come to work because she’s sick. What happens when the bus stop is MFMFMFMM? Female number 4 gets written up? Male number 4 can’t get on the bus?

    How on earth does Casey manage their work since there is always going to be some aspect of a job where something is out of “order” and if he needs things *that* organised that is likely to be an issue to him?

    There is a point at which you just have to say “enough” and this employer is way past that. There is accommodating people and there is this OP’s situation which I cannot honestly think of a nice enough word to write here…

        1. anon for this one*

          My own (not officially diagnosed) brand of OCD would want them at either the beginning or the end. Or the exact center, but then the M/F lines on each side of them would have to be mirror images of each other.

    1. Raine*

      I was genuinely wondering how Casey and HR can possibly be doing actual work at this point, if these examples of what is being monitored and enforced are just the tip of the iceberg.

    2. LoiraSafada*

      Yeah, this is just insane. I find it hard to believe Casey is a productive employee if everything is noticed and micromanaged to this extent. Sounds like everyone is wasting time trying to accommodate someone that doesn’t even work because they’re too distracted.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have been thinking the same thing. I will say, Casey has received all this accommodation, she should be right on top of her job. Does anyone ever evaluate Casey’s productivity/effectiveness?

  21. animaniactoo*

    I think the strongest argument here (on top of the unreasonable level of accommodation being required of others) is that this is not an accommodation that is helping Casey. This is a level of accommodation that is allowing Casey’s illness to drive the bus, giving Casey an inappropriate understanding of what is within their control. Therefore it is actually detrimental to Casey to be requesting/requiring this of others. Because the more accommodations are made which should not be made (because they impact and impinge on the freedom of others to live their lives in these fairly innocuous ways), the more Casey will feel entitled to such accommodation and push back against others for not doing it, rather than working to push back against the disorder.

    So this is not just a question of being tolerant/intolerant, this is actually a question of undermining Casey’s progress. If Casey is getting worse, the goal is to work with Casey to get them out on FMLA for additional dedicated therapy or whatever is necessary to get them functioning again to the point where they can handle dealing with people who wear only their wedding ring and no other jewelry.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      Yes. This. I have an OCD student on my caseload and this entire situation staggers me. I’ve been learning a lot about it over the last several months and this runs counter to everything I am learning about how to handle OCD. Good luck OP. I hope you and your coworkers can get your company to see reason.

    2. hayling*

      I totally agree, but it’s not up to the employer to determine what is beneficial to the employee’s disability.

      1. Natalie*

        Indeed, and unless the LW is actually a doctor themselves, they don’t really have the expertise to make that argument. Which isn’t to say I disagree – my understanding of anxiety disorders, my own included, is that this sort of accommodation does more harm than good long term. Just that I don’t think the LW will benefit from getting into whether or not these accommodations are actually helpful.

        1. TootsNYC*

          No, but the OP might suggest to the company that they request a doctor’s note before they implement or even preserve these accommodations.

          Because I bet Casey can’t get one.

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        Yep. Our company has had make accommodations before that we were convinced were enabling and ultimately detrimental to the employee. But if the employee’s doctor disagreed with us, then we had to go with what the doctor said.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Legally, no, you don’t. Doctor’s notes aren’t binding. You’re allowed to suggest different accommodations than the one the employee or her doctor has suggested.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Q: My understanding is that in that case, you would need to have your own “expert advice” (having consulted a professional yourself) on why the alternate accommodation would adequately address the issue. Is that correct?

            NB: The majority of what I know about ADA and accommodations come from what my hearing-impaired SIL has had to do in order to get the accommodations she needed when less acceptable alternatives were being pushed on her. But that could easily just be “lawyer says it’s easiest to go this route”.

            1. paul*

              From the EEOC guidelines “reasonable accommodation” seems to be entirely fact specific–it depends on both the employer and employee’s situation. If you’re going to argue it before a judge that the accommodation isn’t reasonable, you’d need to present reasons; excessive hardship, that the accommodation isn’t related to the claimed disability, whatever. You’ll need some way to back up your statements. But since most businesses don’t have expertise in medical stuff, I’d imagine most wouldn’t touch the “this isn’t related/beneficial” with a 10′ pole. They’d focus on it being an excessive burden to the business if they’re going to argue about accomdations not being reasonable.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              There’s no requirement that I know of that the employer have their own expert. However, if the situation is later challenged legally, they’d need to be able to defend why they refused the suggested accommodation and were determined to go with a different one.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Alison will jump in here if I am off base but:
                Costs was one I always heard. Let’s say the business is small. It grosses a half million per year. Then there’s expenses. The company may be able to show in court that it cannot afford the $10K desk that the employee says they need and has offered to get a smaller $2500 desk with similar attributes. Accommodation would cause financial hardship.

                Conversely a company can show that something is a requirement of the job. This can be found in a job description. A trucking company cannot accommodate a truck driver’s loss of sight.That’s a rather simple example. Other settings could be less clear and those end up in courts.

                Companies don’t always need an expert to explain the nature of the hardship.

              2. Perfumecouldkillme*

                You are correct. The expert is evidence that they tried to do research and follow suggestions rather than base their actions on limited or no knowledge of the condition.

                In some cases, however, such as a fragrance/perfume allergy, there are really no “experts” and it’s all individual. This is no different than the situation 30 years ago with peanut allergies. We are only now beginning to understand them.

                If you had someone with a peanut allergy in the workplace, you might hire an expert to tell you a range of actions you could take. You’d have “ideal 100% plan” and “non-negotiable points”. You would do more than the non-negotiable accommodations, but less than the 100% ideal plan.

                The key thing is to show you put in reasonable efforts and took it seriously.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            Sure, but sometimes the accommodation requested is perfectly reasonable and in fact our preferred accommodation (if there were to be any accommodation at all), we just doubt that the doctor has made the right call from a medical perspective. And since we aren’t doctors, it’s not really our place to second guess it.

            1. Zombii*

              Why would you prefer to accommodate someone in a way that you thought was enabling and ultimately detrimental to them? And why would you disagree with the doctor if they were recommending your preferred accommodation?

              I’m not trying to be difficult, I think I’m missing something here and I’m trying to understand.

              1. TootsNYC*

                well, maybe the doctor’s note says, “don’t make her walk very far; give her a desk by the door.” That’s easy, and the company does it.

                But the managers of this employee personally believe that she’d better off having to get up and walk a few feet now and then.

                (My ILs have taken to not going almost anywhere because they say “it’s too much for us.” And I worry and suspect that they are in “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” territory)

              2. Retail HR Guy*

                Mostly I’m thinking of situations in which we become an enabler, and we feel the employee would be better off in the long run learning coping strategies instead of using the ADA to remake their workplace.

                One example would be an employee with anxiety who didn’t like to talk on the phone. She could do it, just didn’t like to. So she got her doctor to say that she was medically unable to talk on the phone and we accommodated. While ultimately not a problem for us (she was a salesclerk, so work-related phone use was minimal) based on my experience with her I didn’t feel like that was the best solution for this individual. (But then, I have absolutely no medical credentials whatsoever.)

                1. Jaydee*

                  An accommodation isn’t necessarily about treating the employee’s condition or about making them healthier in the long run. It’s about changes to policies, procedures, or the work environment that will allow the employee to do the job. Some of these may ultimately improve the employee’s condition. But some of them may be work-arounds that allow the employee to avoid tasks or situations that aren’t compatible with their disability.

                  Also, just because it seems from the outside like being able to use the telephone for work-related purposes would be better for this employee in the long run doesn’t mean that’s the case. She may have had much bigger fish to fry, and learning to do an anxiety-provoking task that was not essential to her job may not have been a priority from a treatment perspective.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              If a business person decides they cannot make an accommodate it is from the business side of the story not from the medical side of the story.

              I tell you I need a million dollar car to function effectively at my job, you are going to let me know that will not happen in no uncertain terms. Why. Cost/insurance/no need for such a car/no security for the car/ etc. None of these reasons have anything to do with my health issue. They are all reasons from the business side of the story.

          3. Federal Procurement Analyst*

            AAM is correct. Negotiating accommodations is a collaborative process. The employee makes requests, the employer says yes, no, or asks for changes to the requests. The employee responds in kind. This iterative, interactive process continues until an agreement is hammered out.The agreement is not set in stone forever and can be revisited at the request of either party.

            There are a lot of misunderstandings bout how tbe ADA reasonable accommodation process actually VB works.

      3. animaniactoo*

        Actually, it is to some extent. One of the provisions of the ADA is that the employer can request a determination from a professional as to why the accommodation is necessary for the employee. Part of the reason for that is to make sure that what the company is being asked to do from a financial/other perspective is actually beneficial to the employee and not simply what they think will help them.

        So while it’s not up to the employer to determine per se, it is up to them to require that somebody whose business it is to make the determination do so (and if you find a therapist anywhere who would advise these accommodations be made, they should have their license yanked immediately).

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But an employer IS allowed to determine what is a reasonable accommodation. And accommodations are intended to support an employee’s disability treatment and integrate that employee into the workplace, neither of which seems to be happening here. Although the employer can’t make that decision without evidence, they could certainly request a doctor’s note or send Casey for an evaluation for the purposes of determining what kinds of accommodations would work best.

    3. paul*

      I’m not sure the help/not help divide is relevant here; that isn’t something a company is competent to decide (generally speaking).

  22. Data Lady*

    These types of accommodations make things more difficult for other people with mental health issues who themselves know how to draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable. People like Casey who agree to or even encourage this sort of self-centered enabling on their behalf ruin workplace inclusivity for everyone else, even if they refuse to realize that that’s what they’re doing.

    1. Retail HR Guy*

      Yes! I have had employees with legitimate issues deprive themselves of simple, much-needed accommodations because they didn’t want to be “one of those people”.

    1. No, please*

      That’s what I’m wondering. Lining up by gender could be problematic. But what about some who has their own anxiety, depression or even PTSD. Controlling employees appearance for one person may feel abusive or overly controlling. I would hate that and I’m not anti-dress code. But I’ve lived with someone that told me how to look, bought me the clothes I “should” be wearing. I would probably be written up quickly.

    2. Fafaflunkie*

      Just about to pose the same question. You beat me to it, Jenbug. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that HR meeting.

  23. Nephron*

    Have you tried writing down all of the Casey specific rules in one place and showing them to Management or HR? I am wondering if there is a disconnect between what you are dealing with and what Management and HR are aware of. It could be that one person made a set of rules and another person made some more, then a third person added another bit so that those in authority do not realize how much is being asked. Depending on how severe Casey’s condition is, she may not even realize everything she has asked if it has grown over the 2 years. In addition you could include some limited notes on how these rules are being enforced, try to keep anecdotes short and sparing so it doesn’t look like a pile on just the strong examples of overreach and not for ever point.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. It could be that they’ve had “accommodation-creep” (i.e., adopting one thing b/c it seemed like no big deal, but then ending up with 30 rules that are cumulatively harmful).

    2. LSP*

      Plus, it might help management if they can see where some of these rules could be a problem for someone else, who may also have a mental illness or other condition that could be in complete contrast to Casey’s.

  24. KimberlyA*

    As someone who has suffered from OCD for going on 16 years now, your workplace is being completely unreasonable. One of the big things I had to work on with my therapist is accepting outside environmental triggers and learning how to deal with them accordingly. The big thing was learning how to modify my own behavior in order to deal with outside stimuli that might set off one of my rituals. Casey is not managing their illness well and your employer is likely contributing to it getting worse. When you’re deep in the throes of it, it is SO easy for something accidental to suddenly become another ritual.

    1. Anon for this*

      Just jumping in to agree with you here. I have OCD (as does my brother) and I would never ever ever expect this level of “accommodation,” which I agree is likely exacerbating Casey’s illness. It sounds to me like the OP’s workplace wants to help Casey but has little to no understanding of what OCD is or how to manage it… I wonder if there’s any way for OP and/or her coworkers to convey that they’re likely causing Casey more harm than good; since they do seem to be coming from the right place, perhaps that will help snap them out of this?

      Even if that argument weren’t true (or was ineffective), this is still absurd on the employer’s part and the employees have a good case for themselves, given the extent to which this is impacting them. I agree w/ Alison that a collective effort is the way to go; I just hope the employer will listen.

    2. Sfigato*

      I don’t want to derail this on a political tangent, but this reminds me a little of when trigger warnings (or companion animals, or any other myriad of methods to manage mental illness) go wrong. It’s a similar situation – something reasonable and genuinely helpful gets misinterpreted/misapplied by non mental health experts, generally in an effort to avoid lawsuits, and suddenly the focus seems to be trying to get the world to stop doing things that exacerbates someones mental illness rather than giving the person with the illness tools for managing it. I’m not a mental health expert, but it seems like a losing battle to try to insist that the world conform to your illness rather than trying to figure out ways that you can manage your illness in the world. I’m not suggesting that this is the most pressing issue of our time, but it does seem like a trend I see. of course, extreme cases are pretty rare, which is why we hear about them.

    3. Perfumecouldkillme*

      Also, there are other actions that could be taken. For example, wrt to the bus stop, is there some way of routing Casey around it?

      I can’t believe that Casey takes public transportation. If not, can he/she leave at another time or go out another entrance?

  25. ST*

    I’m afraid that I would be tempted to assemble my most irregular wardrobe (er, well that’s most of my wardrobe, but I digress) and accessories, maybe mismatched shoes, a cane on one side and a crutch on the other, one earring, and maybe an eye patch and tempt the management to write me up, with my attorney on speakerphone.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      As Alison points out, however, employers can fire you for any reason at all- or no reason- as long as the rules are applied equally to everyone. If they were only making the women or ethnic or other protected class to line up or dress a certain way, it would be illegal. Requiring everyone to comply is perfectly legal, and a competent lawyer would tell you so. It’s ridiculous to the extreme, but not illegal.

    2. BRR*

      Except if you’re just wearing them, there’s probably nothing illegal about it. Eye patch and canes though are examples of medical necessities. I have to wonder if something like this has come up. I wear my insulin pump on my belt. That would be asymmetrical.

      1. yasmara*

        Yeah, I had an orthopedic boot on my foot for 2+ months this spring. Are they going to make me wear a medically unnecessary one on my other foot just to match? This company is unreasonable. Do they even have a legitimate HR department?

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But you don’t have to do something illegal to be fired. In a place with management that’s this misguided, I can imagine someone being reprimanded for “intentionally” coming in in an outfit that breaks all of the “rules” they’ve adopted for Casey.

        1. BRR*

          The first part of my post was in reference to ST’s comment on having their lawyer on speaker phone. A lot of the demands like dress code are probably legal to require.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          It would be pretty textbook insubordination, in fact. They wouldn’t fire you “for wearing a wedding ring”- they’d fire you for insubordination.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          But if you have a medical need to be asymetrical – a cast on one arm, for example – would it be illegal to fire you for refusing to remove your cast and/or wear one on the other arm to satisfy Casey?

    3. neverjaunty*

      Your attorney in this situation wouldn’t be able to do much except make sure they followed the applicable laws regarding the timing of your last paycheck.

  26. Joan Holloway*

    As someone who suffers from OCD (though admittedly, due to medication, I have it reasonably under control), I definitely sympathize with Casey, but the extent of these accommodations is absolutely ridiculous. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to suffer from OCD to the extent that what other people wear/where they stand has this much of an effect on you, but it can’t be the responsibility of those people to do things differently. I’m not sure I have advice beyond what Alison has already suggested, but I just wanted to let OP know (from someone who has the disorder) that I don’t find frustration in this situation insensitive at all.

  27. Sungold*

    I am a mental health provider and did some of my training at an OCD research center. I agree with Vandelay Industries and animaniactoo. This is not accomodating, it is enabling.

    The treatment of OCD is exposure to the feared situation in the context of support and training in skills to manage the associated anxiety, often combined with medication. For most people this eventually creates desensitization.

    So here’s one of many example: we might ask someone with contamination fears to dip their hand in a (clean) toilet bowl before OCD group therapy and then sit in group for the entire 90 minutes without washing their hands. Their anxiety would be high at first but by the end of group it would have gone down, even without performing the ritual of excessive (like 10 or 15 minutes or more) hand-washing. So they would start to understand on a deep level that the rituals that interfered with their life were not actually required to manage their anxiety. You can see that this is the opposite of what the company is doing for Casey.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I have to say I’m impressed by that example as you could not get me to stick my hand in a clean toilet bowl and then not wash my hands. Logically I get why it isn’t a problem, but despite a lack of OCD here, every day toilet bowls are icky phobia remains…

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I know that at some mental health facilities, the staff will go “beyond the norm” with patients because the patient will likely regress a bit once they leave the hospital – so then the regression is just to a “mostly normal” level of contamination fears (for this specific toilet example).

        1. Jesmlet*

          Yes this is certainly not the first thing that would be tried but you have to work them up to extremes which will significantly help with the everyday fears.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yep. I did similar things, and they were deliberately scaled against my own personal idiosyncratic “best to worst” meter. I started with the easy stuff and worked up to the most awful. It was incredibly effective for me–but not something I would recommend except under expert care!

  28. Someone*

    Oh, but this situation has so much potential. What do you do when Yesac shows up with OCD, wants everyone to stand at the bus stop segregated by gender (MMMFFF) and can’t handle it when people wear solid colors? Or what happens when Casey’s perceived gender for someone conflicts with that person’s self-identified gender?

  29. Lady Phoenix*

    Riddle me this, Batman! Is Casey actually OK with all these crazy rules?

    I would bring this up with her first, going “A woman got written up for wearing her wedding ring and nothing else, does you think that’s a little much?” Phrase the question so that it doesn’t pin the blame on Casey and see how she responds. Maybe she hasn’t noticed and would go, “Omigosh, what were they thinking?! I just need [reasonable accommodations]!” You can ask her to side with you when you speak up.

    If she actially DOES accept this nonsense, then consider me losing sympathy. She needs to learn that her disability should not and does not control external factors like other people to this mad extreme. If you still want to work at this company, bring a lawyer in to lay down the ACTUAL law.

    If that don’t work, or if working with the company would take to much toll on your sanity, then I would cut your losses and start job searching.

    1. Sadsack*

      No way, do not approach Casey about this. Especially the way it is being suggested above. There is no way that’s not going to sound like blaming Casey. Whether or not Casey is asking for these accommodations, it is the employer who is mishandling all of this. Start there.

      1. Anon for this*

        Agreed. The employer is the one with the power to create and enforce (and hopefully get rid of) these extreme “accommodations”; the employees need to speak with their higher-ups, not Casey, if they want things to change.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed—approaching Casey this way increases the employer’s risk of getting in trouble for ADA retaliation. (It wouldn’t reach that level right off the bat, but if several employees, or even OP, ask Casey about these rules multiple times, it would drift towards harassment on the basis of one’s disability).

    2. Margali*

      “A woman got written up for wearing her wedding ring and nothing else, does you think that’s a little much?”

      Well, if she REALLY came to work only wearing her wedding ring and nothing else, they could probably justify the write-up! :)

    3. Generation Catalano*

      This is a really bad idea. It could come off as harassing her over her mental health problem.

      Sidenote: the whole company should never have been made aware that she has this problem in the first place.

      1. Zombii*

        The whole company wasn’t “made aware.” LW says Casey talks about the issue openly. Different people have different boundaries as far as what they’re comfortable with their coworkers knowing.

    4. neverjaunty*

      I don’t understand why you think “sympathy” has anything to do with anything here. The issue is that the employer is acting unreasonably.

    5. Mookie*

      If you still want to work at this company, bring a lawyer in to lay down the ACTUAL law.

      They’re not breaking any laws and the OP is not a victim of any illegal behavior (with respect to what this employer is doing re Casey).

      1. Candi*

        I think they meant a lawyer who would tell HR and management ‘this is reasonable accommodation under most definitions, that is just ridiculous”. In appropriately professional language, of course.

        If at all applicable, they might discuss any protected class or other people’s ADA issues that are negatively affected by the company’s silliness.

        Contacting a lawyer doesn’t automatically mean “I’m gonna sue! I’ll raid your money bin and take it all, including your first dime!”

        It can be as basic as having a lawyer research city, county/parish*, state, and federal laws and regs to see what the options are and what they actually say, then presenting that information in some form to the other party to start a discussion where both sides are properly informed. The company can ask its own legal dept if they’re suspicious.


    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      I suspect Casey’s response would be “All she had to do was wear a ring on her other hand; that’s not too much to ask, and there’s no reason for her not to do it.”

    1. Bookfish*

      Yeah… I didn’t see anything OCD-related, either. But it does have a “psychiatric” page. It’d be nice if they broke it down more specifically. But I guess the tricky thing about psychiatric disabilities are they are so broad and varied.

  30. IP*

    While well intentioned the execution fails miserably. If you had someone with a sensitivity to scents you would ask your staff to avoid perfumes and colognes in the workplace. You would not insist that they all start using a specific detergent, shampoo, shaving cream, deodorant, etc. and you definitely wouldn’t ask them to conduct their grooming in the office to ensure adherence.

    What happens if Casey develops another trigger for anxiety with the physical layout of the office? The phone system? Is that when it stops because it’s now unreasonable?

    Your HR is misguided at best. Idiotic at worst.

    1. Jean*

      I would love it if my workplace was fragrance-free. I think I’ve finally gotten them to stop spraying air freshener in the bathrooms (that ends up drifting into my office to the point that I can literally taste it) but our receptionist still often wears very strong perfume. And since she runs a space heater under her desk, walking into that front office is like being hit by a wall of perfume. I’m not even asking that they stop wearing perfume, just dial it back!

      1. Federal Procurement Analyst*

        A topic of doom! I could take this
        before I could stand smelling the vomit of a co-worker who threw up several times during the day!

        1. Zombii*

          ExJob claimed to be “scent sensitive” but they still had an air freshener in the bathroom installed next to the air vent on a timer. At any given time, they used one of two scents: Lemon Warhead or Tropical Sick. Neither of them neutralized the smell of vomit, and I heard that Tropical Sick was good at triggering it if the person was hungover. Good times.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This works into a great question for OP, when does all this accommodation stop? At what point will the company think that they have done enough?

  31. AnonNurse*

    From a mental health standpoint this company is doing ALL THE WRONG THINGS. They are actually encouraging the obsessive, ordered, and patterned rituals. Therapy helps to break out of these things and teaches discomfort as a way to overcome (I’m generalizing and keeping this simple, not giving a thorough explanation) and regularly control the issues of OCD. Management and HR need to be educated on OCD therapy including cognitive and behavioral, as well as how the ADA works. Maybe if enough of you offer education and information it will make them see that this is a terrible approach and is only enforcing behaviors, not helping them.

  32. Captain Poultry*

    Loved the link! I would love to see more posts with concrete ways to manage requests for disabilities or medical accommodations. What is “reasonable”? What if something is reasonable to approve for 1 person, but then 10 more people want the same accommodation and start presenting their own medical notes? What if that accommodation was reasonable for 1 person but becomes unreasonable for 10 people (like if your entire staff wants day shifts and you have way more people than work to get done on a day shift, and then have to hire extra people to be able to cover the night shift)? Can you review the accommodations at a later time and change them? And of course…how do you manage the feelings of others on your team who feel it is “unfair” to accommodate others (even when the accommodation is reasonable and not egregious like in the OP’s case)?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Nope, I mean attorneys. :) If the question is “what is reasonable?” under the ADA, and the issue is balancing accommodations between different employees, then usually a competent attorney can help you understand your obligations and process, and if need be, how to mitigate competing accommodations.

        2. Captain Poultry*

          You are not far off with “therapist”! Part of the challenge is that we operate a 24/7 non-profit program for people with mental health and addictions. We value personal experience when hiring…but shift work, overnights, etc. proves difficult to balance out when so many of our employees identify with mental health and addiction issues that are being triggered by the working conditions!

    1. Observer*

      Well, if someone feels that a truly reasonable accommodation is “unfair”, that’s on them and they need to grow up a bit.

      For the latter, yes, you can revisit accommodations, but you do have to show that something changed. For instance, there have been cases where companies have decided to take back an accommodation because of a change in policy and lost because nothing had actually changed in the circumstances of the job or workplace. Someone just decided that policy needs to totally consistent, and therefore these particular accommodations were being withdrawn. But, a genuine change in circumstances is a different matter. And shutting down your night shift would almost certainly be considered well out of the range of “reasonable accommodation.”

    2. fposte*

      There’s a really good and detailed document by the EEOC that walks you through a lot of this; I’ll post it in followup.

      And the management issue is that you expect people to be adults and understand that different employees have different situations. (This is probably easier to sell if you’ve already demonstrated that that’s the management approach.) It can be helpful to contextualize it with the various kinds of needs, not just ADA-related needs, that your workplace accommodates–that some people need time off to be with dying parents, some people need flexibility when they’re pregnant, and some people have medical needs that affect where their desks are, and your work does its best to accommodate all of them.

        1. Captain Poultry*

          Thanks for you link! You do always have such meaningful contributions to the comments :)

    3. Not So NewReader*

      What if something is reasonable to approve for 1 person, but then 10 more people want the same accommodation and start presenting their own medical notes? What if that accommodation was reasonable for 1 person but becomes unreasonable for 10 people (like if your entire staff wants day shifts and you have way more people than work to get done on a day shift, and then have to hire extra people to be able to cover the night shift)?

      -Then it’s no long a reasonable accommodation. You can’t shut down second shift. Typically from what I have seen with shift work, people are told that is the job, there is no openings on first shift so they have to figure out their response to that.

      And of course…how do you manage the feelings of others on your team who feel it is “unfair” to accommodate others (even when the accommodation is reasonable and not egregious like in the OP’s case)?
      Bosses manage work. It’s not up to them to manage people’s feelings for them. People are in charge of their own feelings. However. A good boss could explain that in some instances the company is able to accommodate certain needs. “Hopefully, you (complaining person) will never have a need arise. But if you do, you can expect to be treated in a similar manner. The company will take your request seriously and will try to do something to be supportive.”
      If I catch them complaining again, I do less explaining and remind them that I have already explained this and the topic is pretty much done. People who are asking a genuine question are usually satisfied with this type of answer.

  33. MuseumChick*

    I wonder if this company either 1) Got in trouble in the past for not accommodating someone and is now over reaching as a reaction to that. 2) Has been threatened with legal action by Casey. 3) Has someone who is close to Casey (friend/family) in a high level position in the company.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I think it’s probably 4) The company appreciates Casey and wants to help, but has a fundamental misunderstanding of the ADA and what constitutes “reasonable accommodation,” as well as of what’s therapeutically appropriate for OCD specifically. It goes to that old saw about not attributing to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance.

      1. Anon for this*

        This was my thought as well. It sounds to me like the company means well and wants to help but doesn’t understand what OCD is or how to appropriately accommodate someone who has it. And even if they don’t mean well, assuming they do is a good place for the other employees to approach this from.

  34. NotNewtoAdminButConfused*

    I am wondering if Casey, for whatever reason, has stopped treatment but hasn’t told anyone. Since from what I see that her therapist would not suggest such accommodations, if she stopped therapy, this might explain the uptick in her anxiety. If her anxiety was impacting her work, and if her work was important, I could see the employer then trying to manage it for her, instead of Casey trying to manage the anxiety herself. Because where would the issues stop? It’s not going to get any better.

    Can the employer legally ask if she’s still in therapy?

    1. Anon for this*

      What would the point of that be, though? The issue isn’t whether or not Casey is in therapy—and that’s not the employer’s business… (What could they do if they found out she wasn’t? It’s not like they can force her to go.)

      1. NotNewtoAdminButConfused*

        One could argue that since the employer is making it the business of everyone else to accommodate her, based on the assumption that she’s getting therapy, it could be the employer’s business.

        Since this is starting to get out of hand, the employer could start asking for a note from the doctor detailing what reasonable accommodations are needed, instead.

          1. NotNewtoAdminButConfused*

            In the OP’s letter: “Casey is on medication and currently in therapy, but it isn’t enough any more. “

            1. Anon for this*

              Ohhh, I see—my mistake! In any case, I do think that whether or not Casey’s in therapy isn’t the employer’s business & isn’t really relevant to the issue at hand. What the employer is asking of Casey’s coworkers is unreasonable, whether Casey is in therapy or not.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      No, the employer cannot and should not ask if she’s in therapy. There are circumstances in which an employer can condition accommodation on participation in treatment (e.g., substance abuse). But generally speaking this is a really fine legal line, and most employers don’t navigate it well.

      They can request a professional evaluation for the purposes of determining accommodation, but they should not ask about her treatment plan at this point.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I hear you—I’m super sympathetic. This is not a great situation for anyone, including Casey :(

          (Also, sorry if my post came off brusque! I just had an “ooooohhhhh nooooo, doooooon’t!” moment, but I’ll try to be more careful about tone.)

      1. Zombii*

        Can they request the professional evaluation for the purpose of determining accommodation on the basis that they realized the level of accommodation they have in place now isn’t fair to their other employees and they need to revisit the situation and come up with another solution? (Assuming that they even went through the collaborative process in the first place—which I doubt, because this sounds like Casey said “These are the things that are triggering to me…” and the company was like “Done! We’ll take care of it!”)

        I mean, from a legal standpoint, does the company now potentially have an issue due to letting this level of accommodation be enforced consistently for years? How exactly do they walk it back after letting it go on for 2 years without any apparent resistance? How do you explain that to Casey?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes—an employer can almost always avail themselves of the ADA’s professional evaluation provision, even if they have made certain accommodations in the past and even if they have not previously required a professional evaluation.

          This will sound cruel, but the accommodated employee doesn’t actually have a right to any specific accommodation. They have a procedural right for their employer to engage in an individualized assessment to determine what reasonable accommodation means in this context. And the ADA advises that the individualized assessment should be iterative—that is, you don’t accommodate once and then put the employee on the shelf. You should revisit the accommodation plan as needed and as circumstances change. (There are, of course, limits to whether reopening an assessment is fair because bad employers often pick a non-accommodation and call it an “accommodation” in order to constructively fire the ADA-qualifying employee, but I don’t think that’s a risk in this situation.)

          I would argue that the sum total of the accommodations they’ve chosen, collectively/cumulatively, combined with Casey’s worsening symptoms, constitute a changed circumstance. I think there’s a gentle/kind way to explain to Casey that they’re going to need to go through the assessment process. I won’t pretend that it will be a comfortable conversation—it has a high likelihood of increasing Casey’s anxiety. But there have to be better approaches to accommodation than whatever process they’re currently using.

      2. Candi*

        Can they ask for a re-evaluation based on the fact it’s been two years and, in a reasonable environment, accommodations might have to be tweaked to remain at maximum usefulness?

  35. MaddieB*

    This company ranks up there with the company that wants your liver. So bizzare you hope it’s made up.

  36. Aphrodite*

    OP, your company’s HR department has to be one of the most incompetent ever. If I were in your situation I would see if I could bring in outside information like a government regulatory body or medical specialists. At any rate, I would not allow this to continue because it sounds like there will never be an end if it is not stopped. Can you see your lunches being regulated by management (two bags with the same contents, folded the same way, eaten at the same time)? No? From your description of the “accommodations” now, I’d say it’s not far off.

  37. Leah*

    I suffer from OCD and this is completely bonkers. It’s gotten a lot better now with treatment but it used to be really bad. Even at my lowest point I never expected as much accommodations as Casey is getting, and if I had been treated this way it would probably make my issues worse.

    Maybe Casey could get some sort of closed off workspace where they won’t be bothered by the distracting non-uniform things?

  38. Generation Catalano*

    I work for a mental health charity. I am completely and utterly flabbergasted. Accommodations need to be reasonable – which these clearly aren’t. And this isn’t helping Casey either. Wow.

    If the LW is in the UK I suggest Casey self-refers to the Remploy/Access to Work mental health support scheme.

    1. Generation Catalano*

      PS I also have OCD. My accommodations are entirely centred on me, my work and my workspace e.g. my manager doesn’t physically put things on my desk. I wouldn’t dream of expecting anyone else to change what they do. That wouldn’t help anyone, including me.

  39. FiveWheels*

    Disclaimer: I give terrible advice.

    I’d be tempted to deliberately “accidentally” violate every single rule and if and when I got written up tell them it was going straight to my lawyer (and union, relevant government regulators, city council rep, congressman, Navy SEALS, commissioner of the NHL and at least five NFL referees).

    Even if these requirements are legal (and I think in my jurisdiction they wouldn’t be – eg forcing someone to remove a wedding ring) this is so outrageous that it should be broadcast to the world.

    One of the most outrageous aspects is it makes public perception of mental illness considerably worse, by enforcing an assumption that mentally ill people can’t cope in the real world and it’s up to everyone else to accommodate everything.

    Of course it would be wonderful if another employee had OCD or ADHD or any other condition that made them unable to cope with symmetry.

    I’m not even touching the male/female lines. Enforcing gender roles (of any kind) on people because another party finds it easier to function? Yeeesh.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re in the U.S., the only thing I can see here that might be illegal is the thing about lining up by gender (and even there, probably not). The rest of it, no. Like I wrote above, the government can’t enforce laws that don’t exist, and there’s no law preventing employers from regulating dress and jewelry, as long as they’re applying it evenly and not based on a protected characteristic like race or religion (and as long as they’re making exceptions for religious requirements, etc.).

      That said, a company like this one that clearly doesn’t understand the law may be cowed by this kind of threat, who knows. But in a more general sense, it’s usually not useful to make legal threats when there’s no basis for them in law.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Oh, I’m not saying it would cause legal repercussions – but I would still make a huge song and dance about it. And if that ended up with me letting the world know I got fired for standing beside my same-gendered friend at the bus stop, so be it.

        I think I’d also go out of my way to find potentially protected reasons for being asymmetric (eg injured ankle running, wearing visible ankle brace; or putting my medical alert on a prominent bracelet rather than my necklace).

        For that matter, I wonder how the company would react to someone who could prove a valid medical reason for asymmetry – that would create a situation in which attempts at wedding ring bans could be answered with “Jeremy’s medical bracelet apparently doesn’t interfere with Casey’s OCD, so how can you say my ring does?”

        I’m not familiar with USA discrimination laws but the wedding ring business looks to me like it could have mileage, as it potentially discriminates against married people and women (if it’s more common for women than men to wear wedding rings).

        As I said my advice should be followed. My plan would likely leave me unemployed, destitute, facing a defamation suit… and smug.

        1. neverjaunty*

          If you think you have a legal issue at work, always go to your lawyer before telling your employer “I’m going to tell my lawyer”.

          1. FiveWheels*

            I disagree – “I’m taking legal advice” is entirely reasonable to say before you actually take it.

            Already having instructed your attorney doesn’t give you any advantage except that he might say “you are stupid, do not do this stupid thing”

            1. fposte*

              The thing is, it gets you nothing and is likely to lose you a lot, so in most situations it’s a strategic error. (Exceptions would be things like a criminal accusation, where you shut the hell up *except for* saying you need to talk to a lawyer.) Odds are high that you’re bluffing and that you’l be regarded accordingly going forward, and odds are reasonable that your business then will only deal with the issue by bringing their, which means some successful options may have been closed to you and stonewalling is a lot likelier.

              Admittedly, the OP’s workplace sounds like one where a “huge song and dance” and a good old bluff might well get you some traction. But at a sane workplace it really doesn’t.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Finding out that you’re about to do a stupid thing before you do the stupid thing is a really, really big advantage.

          2. Trout 'Waver*

            In my experience there is virtually no overlap between the group of people telling you that they’re going to sue and the people who actually sue.

            1. fposte*

              My favorite was the internet tough guy who told me I should call up his lawyer. Like, dude, you can’t even bother to threaten that your pretend lawyer will contact *me*?

              1. BritCred*

                TV’s fault I think. The amount of times you see “well you can talk to my lawyer in future…” and they don’t even hand over a card or something is rather high! It doesn’t work like that!

              2. Marzipan*

                I was once phoned by a fake lawyer, who turned out to be the niece of a client. It was an odd conversation…

    2. JMegan*

      One of the most outrageous aspects is it makes public perception of mental illness considerably worse, by enforcing an assumption that mentally ill people can’t cope in the real world and it’s up to everyone else to accommodate everything.

      Agreed. This approach isn’t helping anybody. And I do think it’s most likely accidental – that it started off with a couple of small and easy accommodations, and snowballed from there. But now that it’s gone this far, nobody – least of all Casey – knows how to fix it.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m not sure lawyering up or righteous public anger is the right (or most effective) approach. On the “legality” issues, as Alison noted, it’s not illegal to “force someone to remove a wedding ring.” I also worry that blasting this information does more to drive down public perceptions of mental illness and accommodation than simply trying to work within your company to fix it.

      1. LoiraSafada*

        But no one is trying to ‘fix’ anything. They’re creating an increasingly rigid, unaccommodating, unaccepting work place by catering to the needs of literally one person, and in doing so are actually creating a positive feedback loop wherein this one person has more leverage than the totality of other employees to make increasingly pointless, tedious, and nit-picky demands. Guarantee more people are going to walk away from this situation looking down on mental illness than thinking this was a reasonable accommodation (which it’s not, and people are right to feel that way). Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean it’s not patently unreasonable. I’d be looking for a new job if I worked at this place.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I agree that what they’re doing is bad policy. I’m just questioning the wisdom of threatening legal action or bad press when neither would actually help OP get what s/he wants (a more rational employer/workplace) but would burn a lot of bridges in the process.

      2. FiveWheels*

        Yes it’s true that a song and dance may harm perception of mental health. But this company appears to be dancing over the rights of its employees, and to me that is something which should not be hushed.

        That the law doesn’t acknowledge the right to wear an asymmetric shirt doesn’t mean people don’t have the basic right to choose, within reason, how to dress. That the law might not recognise the right for two women to stand beside each other at a bus stop does not mean the right doesn’t exist.

        To reframe it slightly: this company is ordering its female employees to be flanked by two men at a bus stop, for the supposed benefit of another man. This company is refusing to allow people to demonstrate their marital status in the accepted and non intrusive way, for the benefit of someone who has no interest whatsoever in the marriage.

        In genuinely ignorant of this, but are wedding rings traditionally worn only by people of a Christian background? If so in the EU there would POSSIBLY be a case for indirect discrimination as an arbitrary policy was having more effect on members of one religion than another.

        1. Opal Glow*

          I inquired above this. For religious reasons Co-worker couldn’t wear another ring and asking her to remove her wedding ring would be asking her to remove a religious symbol. In hypothetical land how would this be accommodated?

          1. fposte*

            It’s okay to ask people to remove a religious symbol, though; and in this case it falls into a broader category of “jewelry,” which it’s okay to ask people not to wear in the workplace.

            Something’s being a religious symbol isn’t the same as its being obligatory to your religion to wear it all the time.

            1. fposte*

              Answering more broadly: the problem here is that the company’s initial response isn’t reasonable, so it’s impossible to predict what they’d do when somebody brought up such a request. But even reasonable accommodations can be mutually exclusive–I wrote elsewhere here about the company with a service-dog-using employee and a dog-allergic employee. In that case, employers figure it out as best they can, but there’s no advance guarantee even hypothetically which accommodation is likeliest–it will depend on the employees, the needs in question, and the employer. So I don’t think you really can get much traction with hypotheticals.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think our differing contexts might be driving why we’re coming to different conclusions on this.

          In the U.S., if your employer is a private entity, there’s no affirmative right of expression in the ways you’ve described (dress, marital status, who you stand with). So while this company is making terrible decisions that aren’t good for anyone, it’s not “dancing over the rights of its employees” in the legal sense. It’s likely that the employer is losing talented people, burdening its employees, and creating resentment towards Casey, but they’re not technically doing anything “illegal.” Conversely, flouting the accommodations they’ve requested could put OP at risk of losing her job. And going to the press about it is not particularly newsworthy, but even if such a story ran, it would either make OP look callous/unkind, or it would further stigmatize individuals with disabilities.

          I say all this to say that I think OP’s best strategy is to try to figure out how to bring her (unreasonable) employer around.

        3. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I think that the cultural differences may be playing a part here. In the US, with a very few exceptions based on state law, there is no “basic right to choose, within reason, how to dress”–even outside the workplace. You can be fired in most states if your employer sees you after-hours at a club in an outfit they don’t approve of. For instance. I mean, people have been fired for having a beer on a Saturday night a full 24 hours after the last time they were at work and 24 hours before their next time at work. (The ‘who you stand next to at the bus stop’ is the only questionable one, and even there it would be iffy in US law.)

          And in the US, while if you claimed a religious right to wear a wedding right it might be feasible, there would be no reason the employer couldn’t require you to wear a ring on your other hand to balance it. Even, in most contexts, if you had to buy the second ring yourself.

          I think you’re operating from a very different context, where there are a lot more implicit rights that are potentially actionable. In the US context, the vast majority of this kind of “dancing over the rights of its employees” is perfectly legal, because the rights you’re talking about aren’t legally-protected rights here.

    4. Jesmlet*

      “One of the most outrageous aspects is it makes public perception of mental illness considerably worse, by enforcing an assumption that mentally ill people can’t cope in the real world and it’s up to everyone else to accommodate everything.” (aside: someone should really show me how to italicize stuff)

      Even if Casey’s mental illness isn’t that debilitating, there are plenty of people with mental illnesses who can’t cope in the real world and either need major accommodations or just choose to stay isolated. Doesn’t mean that in encountering someone like that, you should assume they’re all like that. The greater variety/number of examples one sees of any group one doesn’t belong to, the less likely one is to generalize about that group, and this needs to include the most and the least extreme examples.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ah, it’s html! So <i> before the text you want to italicize, and then </i> to close the command. You can do something similar with the “blockquote” command.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Ah, no, it’s more html ;) I’ve linked to a guide to special characters and their HTML codes in my username (it’s not the most comprehensive, but it was the most legible for non-coding folks, imo).

            Hopefully this will show up, but you use the following characters (with no spaces—I’m using spaces to make them show up):

            < = & l t ;
            > = & g t ;

            “lt” stands for “less than” (the beginning bracket for HTML coding purposes), and “gt” stands for “greater than.” But HTML also uses number codes (kind of like the special character shortcuts in MS Word, PC edition), so you can use either the HTML “name” or the HTML “number” for the special character you want to use.

    5. Misc*

      “if another employee had ?.. ADHD or any other condition that made them unable to cope with symmetry.”

      Hahaha, yeah, if I worked here I’d go along with it for about of week out of novelty, then I’d get bored and start deliberately pushing to see what I could get away with. And then I’d just forget it was even a thing (I forget to eat, I definitely forget to plan outfits, and I’d probably climb on top of the bus stop rather than have to stand in a specific way in front of it).

      1. Misc*

        Also it would be so distracting! I would constantly be noticing all the things that needed to be symmetrical.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Oh my lord, I’d never get anything done. Symmetry tends to snare me into hyperfocus really, really quickly and I’d probably “come to” to find that I’d been spending four hours trying to perfectly tweak the column and row layouts on the spreadsheet I was supposed to take 5min to edit…

      2. Chinook*

        As someone who every so often stands I am different spot just to annoy my fellow passengers (who silently fall in line at the bus stop and glare in silent judgement at those who don’t – we joke about it being a small town thing and nonconformers usually do fall “in line” within in 2 weeks without anything being said), I can guarantee thathat I would end up intentionally either standing out of order or start making up new patterns with my fellow transit folk who arrive earlier. What can I say, I am easily amused.

  40. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    These accommodations could easily violate the ADA for someone else! Maybe they already are.

    Suppose someone breaks an arm or leg or has carpal tunnel or similar. Would they either have to stop wearing their brace and risk further injury, or needlessly get a costly second one, to the tune of hundreds of dollars if insurance won’t pay for it?

    Also, I don’t know about this, but could making someone buy new clothes to fit the unnecessary OCD rules, if they already have work appropriate but patterned clothes, for instance, rise to the level of a uniform and thus cause an issue of whether the worker is to pay for it? I mean, if the clothing rules are really specific.

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      Ha, you beat me to it! I was just wondering what would happen if I worked in that office and needed to wear my (prescription, custom, over-the-pants) knee brace one rainy day? Would I have to have another one prescribed and made for my perfectly healthy other knee? Would I have to replace my cane with crutches?

  41. Looby*

    Oh, I’m sorry sweetheart, I can’t wear the beautiful engagement ring you gave me because you didn’t buy me two of them..

      1. Julia*

        Would they need to be two of the same? Or can I have a moissanite solitaire in platinum for my left ring finger and a yellow gold sapphire halo for my right?

  42. TheBeetsMotel*

    As a likely sufferer (never diagnosed, and against self-diagnosis, but all evidence would point toward it) of OCD, I can tell you that the steps the company is taking are not helping AT ALL. OCD, and other anxiety-related conditions, are essentially a desperate attempt to get control over a world that is often uncontrollable. Teaching Casey that her workspace, a part of her “wider world”, actually IS going to bend over backwards to accommodate her obsessions is to do her a huge disservice.

    In my own experience, the only way to get past obsessions was my own version of exposure therapy; understanding that my compulsive acts were not going to guarantee safety, and that they were actually keeping me prisoner; that to slowly allow that which made my uncomfortable into my daily experience was the way to normalize and move past it.

    This kind of excessive accommodation will only make Casey worse, I fear.

    (Not A Doctor, Casey’s Milage May Vary, etc etc boilerplate boilerplate)

  43. FD*

    Oof, what a mess.

    I do understand Casey’s situation to a certain degree–anxiety disorders really mess with your ability to judge situations you encounter because your brain isn’t processing stimuli in the same way other people’s are. I mean, if you believed truly and deeply that someone would be seriously hurt if they weren’t wearing a balanced number of accessories, it would seem utterly bizarre that people would resist that. They don’t want to get hurt, right?

    But HR hasn’t handled this well and they’re almost certainly making the situation worse. It reminds me a bit of when a small child falls down but aren’t sure if they’re surprised or upset. If their parent shows distress, they’re likely to cry, whereas if they don’t, they may just get up and go on. I have to believe that this behavior is only reinforcing that these rituals are vital.

  44. Mazzy*

    Can we back up and ask a basic question? Everyone is commenting with the assumption of what OCD is or isn’t. Maybe I don’t get it. I thought it was when you liked to wash your hands multiple times or obsessively clean or check the locks or do any other such action repetitively and worrying that it still wasn’t done or done correctly.

    The examples given in the letter don’t sound like things that I’ve heard associated with OCD at all.

    Also, I thought that OCD was when you focus more on yourself, your immediate environment. Not trying to control stuff in the outer world. For example, I thought an OCD person would obsess over others left food crumbs in the shared sink because they use it as well. But they wouldn’t care about what is going on 3 doors down because they never go in there. Which is why I don’t get why dictating how people dress has anything to do with OCD.

    If anything that reminds me of autism. No, I am not an expert. But two of my siblings have worked in mental health for well over a decade and dressing to accommodate their patients or students is something I’ve only ever heard discussed when one of them worked at a school for autistic children.

    1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

      OCD meaning obsessive compulsive disorder comes in different forms. The OCD type you are familiar with is expressed in the obsession to be “clean”. The one described by the OP is an obsession relating to check (as in the need to count or in the above case for symmetry).

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh I’m a pattern matcher and have an absolute need to be very early to things (I still don’t know what my brain thinks will happen if I’m just on time, but a friend once called me pathologically early.) I’m the sort that counts tiles and if the pattern is off just freaks out. I’m a collector (cannot play Pokemon of any stripe because I’d go berk if I didn’t have all the things and I’d spend way too much money to make sure I did.) I could care less about clean (and yes I mean could care less – I could but I don’t want to bother.) I’m also a minor hoarder but luckily it’s not too bad.

    2. FD*

      I am not a psychologist but I do have an anxiety disorder myself and have family with OCD, as well as two siblings with ASD.

      Short version–OCD is an anxiety disorder. People with it can have both obsessions and compulsions, or one or the other, or different ones at different times. Compulsions are basically a need to do something to reduce or avoid anxiety, such as hand washing over and over or checking a lock a certain number of times. Obsessions characterize thoughts that a person cannot control having. These may occur in isolation, such as a person who cannot stop thinking and fearing hurting someone, even though they don’t want to do so, or in conjunction with a compulsion. For example, if a person doesn’t touch a door latch three times they may find obsessive thoughts welling up that a loved one will be hurt because of it.

      OCD is generally characterized by a disconnect between the belief and the outcome. For example, touching a door latch three times does not make it more or less likely your family will be safe, and extreme handwashing is no more likely to deter illness than regular (thorough) hand-washing. The reason for this is that OCD tends to occur when the brain is setting off ‘danger’ settings without a good reason, and since there’s no explanation, the brain latches on to anything it can think of to ward off the perceived danger.

      Autism does sometimes lead to similar behaviors. Some–though not all–autistic people engage in repetitive behaviors or seem to have ‘one track minds’, focusing on one detail to a disproportionate level. However, in autism, this seems to happen due to issues with how data is processed.

      People with autism tend to have difficulty processing data, and may have trouble filtering essential from nonessential information (for example, in a busy mall, a neurotypical person ignores irrelevant sounds, but an autistic person may have trouble doing that and can find it overwhelming). Repetitive behaviors and thought patterns generally for two reasons. First, when an autistic person finds a behavior that works, they tend to want to repeat it. Because many autistic people have trouble processing the complex cues that help us navigate day to day life, they often cling to ritual because it’s a known behavior with a known outcome. Second, some autistic people may use repetitive behaviors to calm themselves and reduce the stress of sensory over-stimulation. Unlike in OCD, there’s more of a link between behavior and outcome–for example, a person feels overstimulated, they rock back and forth, and they feel calmer.

      (That said, it’s really common for autistic people to also have anxiety disorders.)

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Yep. My sister has autism and anxiety. We try to show her ways to cope with things that give her anxiety (like children, for example! or the weather.) … most of the methods we try don’t work, I’ll be honest. Her obsessions are similar to mine (with the OCD) in that we will fixate on something until it’s “correct.”

        The difference between the OP’s workplace and how I see things is that, the burden is on me to cope and not on others to make life easier for me. In my sister’s case, she can wear headphones but she can’t demand that children be banned from the elevators. In mine, it means that I can have everything at my desk in odd numbers but I can’t demand that my coworkers do the same. Though I realize that how Casey handles his/her OCD is out of the employer’s control, they need to seriously consider the requests they’re making of their other employees.

      2. Tau*

        Autism does sometimes lead to similar behaviors. Some–though not all–autistic people engage in repetitive behaviors or seem to have ‘one track minds’, focusing on one detail to a disproportionate level.

        Thanks for mentioning this! I was feeling a little bewildered because a bunch of the things people with OCD were saying sounded pretty familiar to me. Should’ve known it was the spectrum rearing its head again.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Found out due to living with someone with OCD, OCD and ADHD can also manifest in incredibly similar ways! We had so many of the same behaviors with diametrically opposite underlying reasons for them, and before we both got our dxes we kept suggesting coping strategies to each other that were massively, massively counterproductive.

    3. neverjaunty*

      We really don’t need to armchair-diagnose Casey, or to question the OP’s correct statement regarding Casey’s issues, or to expect someone to explain OCD, because it literally doesn’t matter. The employer is going way overboard and acting irrationally in trying to accommodate her.

      1. Mazzy*

        What do you mean it doesn’t matter? I thought they were accommodating the wrong mental illness, which would matter.

        1. fposte*

          To the person with the illness, sure, but not to the employer. As an employer, you don’t get to say “That’s not how you treat OCD!” if they’ve got support from a valid health professional saying those accommodations would be useful. What matters is what accommodations are sought and what accommodations the office can give, not the reason those accommodations are medically helpful.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Right. If Casey has an OCD diagnosis (which there’s pretty good indication that they do–they’re clearly under a doctor’s care, since they take medication for it) the employer doesn’t really have standing to say, “I’m not a doctor, but this sounds more like autism, so your accommodations are changing.” To be clear, they can and should alter accommodations because these accommodations are pretty bizarre–it’s just that the reason for the change should be “not reasonable” rather than “I don’t think you have OCD.”

            (I say this as someone with somewhat atypically-presenting anxiety who gets REALLY tired of laymen saying “that sounds more like depression!”)

        2. Observer*

          In this context, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the person has a problem and is getting certain accommodations that are simply not tenable. That it’s not a really good accommodation for OCD is simply the “icing on the cake.” The fundamental problem is not that, but that the accommodations are absurd, impractical in the extreme and incredibly burdensome and intrusive to the rest of the staff. That would be a problem no matter what the diagnosis is.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            It doesn’t matter legally, but this isn’t a case where Casey wants accommodations and is suing the company over their refusal to do what s/he demands. This is a case where the employer wants to do these things, and the rest of the employees want to convince the company to stop. Pointing out that not only are they not legally required to do these things, but it’s also probably detrimental to Casey isn’t just icing on the cake- it may be the bit that gets through to the HR rep or other higher up who thinks that anyone complaining is just not being “tolerant”

            1. neverjaunty*

              It’s really, really not the employer’s job to second-guess what is or isn’t detrimental to Casey absent something from her medical treaters saying so. “Well, we’ve decided you don’t really sound like you have OCD, you have autism!” is the opposite of reasonable.

    4. MuseumChick*

      There are a variety of “types” (not sure that is exactly the right word) of OCD with widely varying severity levels and manifestations. I personally know someone who has mild OCD. She cannot have colored pencils or markers on her work desk because she will spend over an hour making sure they are in the exact color order she needs them to be in and perfectly lined up.

    5. Not Karen*

      There are a variety of manifestations of OCD, including an obsession with things being the same / in the right order / in a pattern, as is described by the OP. When things are not in order, it causes anxiety because it is not RIGHT and when things are not RIGHT bad things happen.

    6. Jesmlet*

      I have a cousin with OCD who explained how his manifested to me like this: he has obsessions about bad things happening, and his brain ties these bad outcomes to random things in his world that he’s compelled to do that someone without OCD could tell you are completely unconnected. An actual example he gave me, he’s afraid his mom is going to die (obsession), and believes he has to pick up the pencil in front of him exactly 7 times in order to prevent it (compulsion).

      It’s a lot easier to understand germ related OCD because we get the connection between washing your hands and not getting sick, but Casey may believe that something terrible will happen if there’s asymmetry or non-matching patterns. It’s sort of like the child’s rhyme – step on a crack, break your mother’s back.

      I think it’s good that you asked. The more people know about this stuff, the less stigma there will hopefully be.

  45. Elder Dog*

    I am allergic to most metals. My wedding ring is a protected expression of my religion and if you try to force me to remove it I’ll sue you under the discrimination laws. I cannot afford another ring of a metal I can wear without an allergic reaction. If you try to force me to wear a cheap ring, I’ll sue you under the ADA.

    The only solution is for you the employer to spend $$$$ on another ring for me.
    Or stop undermining Casey’s treatment by letting s/he control the entire work place and the bus stop outside.

    I guess if there are an uneven number of men and women lined up at the bus stop, the company has to send somebody out to even things up. I suggest they send Casey.

    1. fposte*

      Though most religions don’t require people to wear their ring 24/7, and there are plenty of industries and fields where people don’t wear rings at work for safety reasons.

      1. LSP*

        I don’t think that’s the point of this comment. The point is that if someone holds a deeply religious belief that they want to always wear their wedding band, they should not be forced to buy another one or remove this one because of someone else’s mental condition. Safety is a different issue entirely.

        1. fposte*

          My point is that it’s pretty clearly a pretextual objection of discrimination.

          I get that it’s a lot to ask and, I would argue, inappropriate, but it’s not discriminatory.

      2. LoiraSafada*

        Doesn’t matter, and you’re being disingenuous by dragging safety into this. You don’t get to tell other people what their religious beliefs are, and frankly, it’s insane to think it’s reasonable to micromanage all employees to this extent to accommodate a single person.

        1. fposte*

          And not a single person here has said it’s reasonable to do so. However, I also don’t think there’s a great chance that anybody would get traction with a discrimination suit at an office based on this ring-wearing policy.

  46. BrownN*

    I can’t help thinking of the mental health issues that may arise for other employees due to these “accommodations.”

    I, for one, imagine that I would have major anxiety/panic attacks all AND every day because I wasn’t sure I remembered all the rules, thus triggering OCD behavior I didn’t have in the first place.

    Wouldn’t be a good place for me to continue working there, or anyone else for that matter including Casey.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If I got to accepting this as normal, then I would know it was time to get out. Can you imagine going all day hoping no one notices that you forgot your other ring or your shirt only has a pocket on one side? How does anyone get any work done? How do they concentrate?

  47. LSP*

    My question is, what would the company do if someone came along who had a mental illness with needs that directly contradicted the needs of Casey? What if they needed all the women to board the bus first, then all the men? Or if they needed everyone to only wear rings on their right hand? What exactly is the company’s long-term plan in coping with the mental illnesses of their employees?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair, this comes up in lots of discussions of reasonable accommodations too (although this isn’t that), and the answer is that you work it out as best you can and it may require changing the original accommodation. But the fact that one person’s need may in the future conflict without another person’s need isn’t in itself a reason not to accommodate someone.

      1. LSP*

        I understand that may sometimes happen. My point is really that they are setting up so many rules to accommodate Casey that they are making it increasingly more difficult to make room for anyone else’s accommodations. How can they justify people being sure to get on a public bus in a certain order as something vital for Casey’s mental health, if they may then have to switch up the order for someone else.

        If it were dueling reasonable accommodations, of course you have to make the best of it you can. When you overstep so fully with unreasonable accommodations, the juggling becomes even more difficult because you have already asked employees to change their behavior to suit one person, and when they have to change again to suit another person, and another and another, those employees will start leaving in droves.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          But employers do not have to anticipate any potential dueling accommodations. They just have to deal with it appropriately if and when they crop up.

    2. FD*

      For a practical example, imagine that one person had a violent allergy to dogs. Another person is vision-impaired and uses a seeing eye dog to help her navigate.

      As I understand it, the company would need to try their best to accommodate both needs. That might mean something like letting the allergy-sufferer work in a different office area from the person with the seeing-eye dog, and letting her teleconference in if they needed to work in meetings.

      If there was truly no way to do it, then the company could say there was no reasonable accommodation available.

      1. Natalie*

        If both can’t be accommodated, I assume someone has to quit. How does a company decide which one?

        1. FiveWheels*

          Well a company can’t, by definition, decide someone quits. They can fire (which would be illegal) or lay off (which would be fictional) but by definition only the employee cam choose to quit.

            1. FiveWheels*

              And I thought mine was too – which is that in such a situation, the employer doesn’t get a say in who leaves.

              Either one person leaves voluntarily, or one person leaves because they are less able to function than the other with the limited accommodations available.

              But the company isn’t deciding.

              1. fposte*

                The company does get a say in what accommodations are available to whom, though, and whether they’ll be offering the accommodation requested. And sometimes the intersections are delicate and people not always as compliant as you’d hope.

                There was an interesting post on reddit last year which was complicated by the fact that the employer was too small to be covered by the ADA–but not by a similar state law. The poster had a bad but not life-threatening dog allergy and had been there several years; a new employee had a service dog; they all worked in one room on work that couldn’t be done remotely. While initially there seemed to be a fair amount of good faith in trying to figure out a solution, it turned out that the new offsite space the poster was found was only in order to be sure she was retained through a key work project. When the employer and the employer’s lawyer said this wasn’t sustainable and requested her resignation by the end of the month, the poster quit on the spot and the fabrication’s failure led to the cancellation of the order and subsequent layoffs. (Including the person with the service dog.)

                If there’s a moral to that story, it’s for management to handle things a lot better.

                1. Julia*

                  It’s really not smart to alienate your key player on a major project. I’m not saying “important” employees should get away with everything – you may end up losing all your support staff over that – but surely this could have been handled better..

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            It’s not illegal to fire someone for being unable to perform the essential functions of their job due to a disability if no reasonable accommodation exists.

            1. fposte*

              I think Natalie was talking about weighing contradictory reasonable accommodations when each would cost you the other employee. Of course it’s legal to be unable to accommodate, but it’s a complex situation when one accommodation interferes with the other.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                Yep, I agree with Natalie. It’s hard to follow the thread indentations now but I was actually responding to FiveWheels.

      2. fposte*

        And keep in mind that in practice a lot of times what happens in ADA stuff the company makes its best guess (or bungles it) but no formal complaint gets filed and certainly no court case decides, so it’s never really decided what the law thinks of their specific arrangement.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      I used to work somewhere with employees in the same department, one with a guide dog and the other with serious allergies. What they ended up needing to do was to do their best to accommodate both of them, which did mean that neither accommodation was the ‘ideal’ for an office without that particular issue but was workable. It’s been years now, but IIRC the office had a dog-free zone which was where the allergic employee sat and where the employee’s dog never went, and when the two had to be in the same enclosed space–say, for a meeting–the dog was left outside the room and the blind woman guided to her seat by another employee. Stuff like that.

      But all that didn’t need to be sorted out ahead of time; there was no ‘what if we hire someone with an allergy?’ policy when the woman with the dog was hired (or vice versa, I actually don’t know who was hired first). The same thing would apply with mental health issues: they’d have to figure it out when hiring someone with the issue, but not before. (And in fact it’s almost impossible to figure it all out in advance, because it depends so much on circumstance: someone with a more severe allergy might have required one or the other of them to be seated in a private office or even on a different floor, whereas in this case, just having a corner of the open-plan office be dog-dander-free was sufficient. Someone with a phobia of dogs [if such would be protected; I don’t actually know] would have to be handled differently than someone with allergies. Etc.)

      The same would apply with two conflicting mental health issues, I believe, if both were protected under the ADA. In this case, it seems worse because the accommodations they’ve chosen to go with are so ridiculous, but the problem would be the same if it was two sets of totally reasonable accommodations that clashed.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of “What if” in this kind of situation, but that’s not really something you have to do when you’re creating an accommodation. You do, however, need to be reasonable about its impact on your workplace (clue’s right there in the name “reasonable accommodations”) right from the get-go, and that in its own right should limit this kind of egregious excess.

  48. BrownN*

    Not exactly a nice thought, but could help thinking that maybe the HR person who makes these decisions has OCD and is “using” Casey to try to control things in the workplace.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I was wondering if there was some vindictive controlling thing running in the background here. Like someone wants to lash out at the world and they are using Casey to do it.

      I had a boss one time who interpreted a statement as “we all have to do x.” This is where x involved personal risk and sometimes crushing stress. We did x and grumbled the whole way. It took years to find out from another source that we should never, ever do x. That is not what that original statement meant. The boss tormented us with write ups and silent treatment or huge workloads when we failed to do x. And the boss thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      The OP says that Casey is open about her condition, so your theory would require Casey to be in on it.

      1. Candi*

        The archives contain some pretty odd collusions between employees, and the Not Always X sites (Right, Working, etc.) and Behind Closed Ovens/Off the Menu have a few as well.

        It’s far end of the bell curve and much rarer then ignorant management, but it’s a realistic possibility.

  49. Boss Cat Meme*

    Unfortunately, Casey’s behavior does not have to necessarily “get” worse for the situation to become more difficult for her co-workers. It’s as one person had mentioned earlier – -once a problem is resolved (like the folders need to be the same color, or something else that can be adjusted easily), then that person has another problem, BECAUSE they have OCD. For example, a buzzing car alarm outside might make you so irritable and distracted that you can’t get any work done. But then the alarm is silenced and you go back to work. With severe OCD, non-matching folders will irritate and distract you so you cannot work, but once the problem is fixed, instead of going back to work, there is a different problem, like non-matching jewelry, then non-matching clothing. Left untreated, as it looks like is the situation with Casey, these problems will only intensify. What will the company do when Casey has a problem with someone’s non-uniform grey hair, or Mary’s crutches for her sprained ankle, or a veteran’s artificial leg, or Joe’s bald spot on his head, or Sue’s growing pregnancy belly? The company needs to figure out how to best manage CASEY, not the rest of the staff. Casey’s situation can only escalate from here.

  50. Allie*

    This is just insane – what if the coworker decides everyone should have the same hair color? Or control facial hair? Or colors people can wear.

    Honestly, your workplace isn’t doing this person any favors either. I don’t want to get into how I know this, but part of coping is learning reasonable nonharmful methods but also trying to accept the difference between things within and not within your control (like putting a silky ribbon in your pocket that you can rub when you get the compulsion to touch something you shouldn’t (like someone else’s hair), this is super super common especially for children). By sending a message to your coworker that everything can be as the person’s compulsions have said, isn’t going to help this person out at all.

  51. Mimmy*

    ACK!! I’m the last person to deny anyone with reasonable accommodations, but this one makes me twitch. This might fall under the “undue burden” component of the ADA since it sounds like there is a ton of administrative work to be done in having to put all of these policies in place and enforcing them.

    1. Mimmy*

      After reading all the other (very thoughtful) replies, I have a new appreciation for the issues relating to employees with invisible / non-apparent disabilities and have some new perspectives about dealing with my own disabilities *makes mental note to write in Open Thread on Friday – don’t want to derail this thread*)

  52. Lilihob*

    I use a walking stick, one walking stick, a frame or a wheelchair.
    Would accommodating Casey mean that I had to use the chair exclusively?
    Nuts to that!
    Seriously, a lot of people use a stick, a white cane, one assistance dog.
    So Casey has to be the only ADA person forever.
    This company, in catering, not accommodating, catering, to Casey, has made a hostile work environment to other disabled people.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      While I agree that they can’t make you use more than one cane or otherwise choose an accommodation that would be harmful to you, it’s not technically a “hostile work environment.” We don’t really know how they’d handle a second accommodation request (or if such requests already exist).

      1. Candi*

        I’m of the opinion that even if a place isn’t legally hostile, it can still be dictionary hostile -an unpleasant to horrible place to work, but with all the legal i’s and t’s in line.

  53. Miss Elaine E.*

    As with the earlier post about dealing with a coworker vomiting daily due to morning sickness, I sympathize with the OP and the coworker with the mental illness.

    While I don’t have any advice to offer, I can’t help but chuckle about the job interviews by people who have left over this issue:

    “So tell me, Mr./Ms. Jones, why are you leaving your current position?”

    “Because my current employer is having difficulty dealing with a coworker diagnosed with a mental illness. We have to line up male/female/male/female for the bus. We have to either balance out our jewelry on our hands or go without. We can’t wear patterned clothing…”


    1. Not So NewReader*

      “Circumstances were such that I felt I did not make a meaningful contribution to any work effort that might have been going on.”

  54. HR That Cares*

    I really feel for the OP. 4 years ago I struggled with OCD myself. I was in therapy and on medication to deal with it. My co-workers were all aware of my issue but I could not imagine asking them to do anything specific for me. That was my issue and was mine to manage. Fortunately, I have it under control now and it hasn’t been an issue in a long time. It is something VERY difficult to deal with and I would hate if the company I was working for tried to make everyone else dress or act a certain way for me. I ended up using the Company’s EAP and was referred to a local MD who was able to help. Its just a terrible situation all around but OP should not be made to dress or do things a certain way for someone else’s mental illness.

  55. The Bimmer Guy*

    This isn’t a sane solution. It sounds to me like the company is going overboard in order to minimize its liabilities for failing to follow the ADA for this employee. I also think it’s interesting to note that the letter writer seems to have deliberately avoided telling us Casey’s gender, probably in order to keep from coloring our opinions.

    1. Anon for this*

      I’m not sure how knowing Casey’s gender could color anyone’s opinion—this doesn’t seem in any way a gendered issue (and even if somebody wanted to make it one, I don’t see how they would)? The letter writer might just be trying to keep Casey as anonymous as possible.

      1. Candi*

        There’s a post I read yesterday where the LW asks for help on dealing with a boss who cried a couple times a month at least in the past, including when a coworker of LW’s left. (Calendar or last twelve months wasn’t specified.)

        In the comments, there was a brief discussion about how social gender norms can influence perception of a man and woman showing the exact same behavior. (Which negative perceptions bite no matter how you slice it.)

        The regular commentators here are generally reasonable people, but in other places on the net where this might be shared, gender might have an influence on the comments, and that tends to get messy quickly.

  56. Green*

    Do employees asking for accommodations need to have a note/medical form stating what kind of accommodation they need and why they need it? For example: “Casey needs everyone to wear the same number rings on the same finger of both hands or no rings at all as part of treatment for a medical condition”. Surely, Casey is not allowed to come up with her own accommodations and then the company has to implement them?

    1. fposte*

      The EEOC page I link to above gives some good guidance on this. Roughly, employees don’t need medical certification to request accommodation, but employers are permitted to seek information from the employee’s relevant health care provider on the functional limitations and the need for accommodation.

      I would highly doubt that Casey’s doctor said that Casey must be accommodated with matching patterns, though; I suspect this is just an employer who got locked in early to a “Always say yes to Casey” approach.

      1. Green*

        I was thinking it must be a blanket “Always say yes to Casey” because of all the OCD sufferers and medical personnel stating this is not a good plan to help her. Surely a medical professional/therapist/doctor would never think this was a good idea and would never write a form saying “do this to help Casey”.

        I’m honestly shocked that Casey’s employer is actually agreeing to all these accommodations. Dictating what pattern your clothing must be or that jewelry must be symmetrical is overreach.

        1. fposte*

          Or communication is getting garbled somewhere–a supervisor was resistant to accommodation and then got read the riot act, so now she’s scared to say no, for instance.

          But yes, this goes beyond accommodation to indulgence, and it hurts real accommodation; I therefore can’t decide if I’m hoping it’s fake or not.

  57. Stephanie (HR Manager)*

    Here’s where their HR department is confused: A reasonable accommodation should not be made based only on the request from the employee; it should come from the physician recommendations as well. They have neglected to put together the “interactive team,” which includes the manager, the employee, HR, and the physician recommendations. A physician would NOT recommend having the entire building change their clothes, rings, etc. The physician (psychiatrist) would be working with the employee on controlling their issues in the environment and helping them understand what they can and cannot control, and not allowing the behavior to control others to that degree; it would be counter-productive to their treatment. So not only is HR not following proper procedure, they are probably exacerbating the situation. (I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know the exact circumstances, but if you cannot function in a normal environment to the degree HR is accommodating, you’re usually a candidate for inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment.)

    1. Valerie*

      Yes, this was my thought, too. I would push HR to push Casey to bring their therapist into the situation. My guess is that Casey hasn’t told their therapist about these “accommodations” because 1. any competent therapist would be horrified and 2. telling their therapist means the therapist will be challenging Casey to overcome these specific disordered thought processes, which is hard. Asking for these accommodations makes life in the short term “easier” for Casey. In the long term, they make life harder. Casey is in therapy and no doubt understands that what they are asking for is counterproductive to their long term mental health, but they are letting the OCD make the decisions because right now, in the short term, it feels better. That’s the disordered thinking.

  58. Newt*


    I’m a mentally ill person who needs some accommodations at work. Specifically, regarding other people’s behaviours – I get violent intrusive thoughts and depressive intrusive thoughts in response to certain sounds (whistling, drumming fingers, loud open-mouthed chewing, rapidly tapping feet as examples… don’t ask me to explain but somehow keyboards and general office noise are completely fine!). I also get some reactions to visual stimulus – seeing drumming fingers will remind me of the noise which can trigger the reaction, for example. And if there’s too much stimulus around me (like say, 3 people sitting on desks around me having a conversation over/around my head will basically make my brain freeze up and put me in panic mode from over-stimulation, because I’ll be unable to understand any of the words anyone’s saying).

    The accommodation I have? Noise-cancelling headphones. And a desk position that a- reduces the risk of sensory overload and b- gives me an easy and quick escape route so I can get up and walk away if I need to.

    That’s it.

    I wear noise cancelling headphones at my desk most of the day. If I need to make/take a call, I slip an industrial-quality earplug into the other under my hair. If I need to talk to a co-worker, I just deal with the issues I have the best I can. If someone is visually doing something, I angle my chair away from them so I don’t see it.

    Because all those things that cause me problems? Those are normal, human things that normal humans do and it is not reasonable for me to ask other people to stop doing them. For one thing, one of my close co-workers is an extremely anxious and high-energy person who *needs* to be constantly fidgeting. My need to not hear fidgetty noise does not trump their need to make it.

    There is nothing reasonable about the accommodations being asked for at LW’s office.

  59. Andrea*

    This letter doesn’t sound at all likely to me. Anyone else think it’s a fake letter?

    My workplace has enough trouble communicating and enforcing a reasonable dress code (no jeans). I am incredulous that any HR department would go further.

    1. AFRC*

      There are dozens of letters here that are totally true, describing totally ridiculous situations way worse than this. An employer like this, who is clueless about the ADA and what “reasonable accommodation” looks like (and is likely terrified of a lawsuit), is far too common.

        1. Andrea*

          But, HR departments aren’t rubes/innocents fresh from the forest. No HR department/professional I’ve ever met would engage in any of these actions. Not a one. The ADA is not a hard law to read or interpret. The only way this letter is plausible is if the HR department (typically the people who have seen and heard it all) have never read the ADA.

          I can see a better take on this is that a creative writer is trolling Alison, or someone who had a beef with their perception of politically correct accommodations in regard to ADA. I see dozens of examples where implausible letters about behavior get posted and then everyone goes into a tizzy of comments about how that situation is nuts…

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Loads and loads of companies don’t have “HR professionals.” Smaller companies often have someone who got stuck with HR duties but doesn’t have much or any professional HR training.

            I obviously can’t know if any letter I receive is real or not, but I don’t post ones that I think are fake. If I’ve posted it, it’s because I think it’s plausible. (And I’m not too worried if it turns out that occasionally I get fooled, because regardless the advice and discussion are hopefully useful to other people.)

            1. LCL*

              Exactly what Alison said, in her first paragraph. This situation seems completely real to me. Not all companies have an HR department. If you asked people who didn’t work in management, and were unfamiliar with HR and ADA, they would tell you that any request made that invokes ADA must be accommodated.

            2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              This. It sounds more to me like a company that may not have a true “HR Office” running things. It’s way more common than most people realize.

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            Bad HR departments exist, I promise you. And nowhere in the ADA does it cover exactly what to do when an OCD employee wants people to line up alternating by gender. There are general rules that need to be extrapolated to specific situations, and that’s where bad judgment and incompetency can creep in.

            I find this letter to be totally believable (sadly).

            1. Andrea*

              Everyone’s comment in response to this letter is, “HR’s response is unbelievable.” I say we take them at their word and call out how unbelievable this is in the real world.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                Actually, the only two instances of “unbelievable” in this entire comment sections occur in the post I just quoted. Quick Ctrl-F to check.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t really get the point of this though. In general, I’d rather we not spend a lot of time debating whether a letter is real or fake for the reason above (and because it can be a crappy experience for the letter-writer).

                1. Jessesgirl72*

                  Emily Yoffe had the same philosophy when she wrote Dear Prudence. She picked letters that were interesting and that she thought would help people. So even if the letter itself was fake, her answer wasn’t and some or all of it could still be useful to her readers. we4r4

                  In this case, not only is calling fake disheartening to the letter writer, but the assertion that it must be fake because HR knows what they are doing is dangerous. HR people (even properly trained ones!) all over tell people that things that are outright illegal are okay and that okay things are illegal. They aren’t infallible. This column gives people the necessary information and tools to fight back against wrong policies. Giving the impression that you should just trust HR is ridiculous. At least as ridiculous as being written up for only wearing a ring on one hand!

                  After all, it doesn’t even take being a Manager to know that you can’t show up at someone’s chemo appointment or wedding to demand they work, or threaten to fire people who won’t sign up to be an organ donor, but those letters happened!

              3. Jessesgirl72*

                No, everyone is commenting that HR’s response is ridiculous, not unbelievable. Unfortunately, most of us find it only too believable.

                1. Andrea*

                  This is the last I’ll say here. I find this utterly unbelievable. A reality check would show that there would be significant blow back to any employer making people change their patterned clothing, making their jewelry symmetrical, standing in boy-girl order in a public space after work to “accomodate” one worker (is Casey really Bill Gates?). I think this is a trolling letter, equivalent of the fake news that has now become so popular. I get that no one wants to step back and look at the plausibility of the letter, because 80% of the fun of AAM is about seeing how screwed up workplaces can be.

                  Why do I care? Faking these scenarios and giving them play makes it seem as if ADA accommodations are off the rails, hard to administer and irrationally applied. A parallel case may be FMLA. I did a bunch of research in grad school on FMLA and public perceptions. The grousing about FMLA became its own industry, centering on how people had to make unreasonable accommodations. So much so that public comment was invited specifically on the impact to employers regarding implementation years later. Actual commentary was minimal and no huge implementation burden was proven.

                  I think we need to be careful not to fan the flames when it comes to these laws. Some people can feel as if accommodations are something that detract from the whole rather than aimed at allowing others to be included in the workforce.

                  Peace out.

                2. Observer*

                  Except that that is not remotely what is happening here. All of the responses here pretty much agree that if the company really thinks that this is what the ADA requires these actions, then both HR and their lawyers need to be fired. No one thinks that this actually what the ADA requires, nor even thinks this is reasonable way to avoid ADA issues. So, there is nothing here to feed a perception that the ADA is difficult.

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  Even if you think this letter is fake, publishing it here and discussing it does the exact opposite of what you’re claiming. If the threat is off-the-rails ADA accommodations, the debate here shows that such accommodations are unreasonable and shows a professional way to push back against them.

          3. Observer*

            I think you should start following some of the cases filed by the EEOC, etc. There are a LOT of crazy things employers do.

            I posted a link a few days ago to a blog post by an employer-side employment lawyer about a case in which a company tried to defend an egregious sexual harassment case by claiming that they have a “blue collar environment” where the kind if behavior at issue is “normal and acceptable.” The thing is that these kinds of cases are so shockingly common that this guy has a crazy case to post about frequently – and so do just about all the other employment law bloggers who use specific cases to make point.

            Apparently there are a LOT of companies with terrible or non-existent HR who do utterly jaw dropping things.

            1. JKP*

              I’m remembering the excerpts from the court transcript posted here where the manager pooped in employee lunch boxes and set off pipe bombs and ended up getting promoted while the employee who complained got fired. And then the company defended this manager’s actions all the way through court.

              Plenty of companies do unbelievable things.

              1. Observer*

                Oh, gosh, yes! Honestly, if someone wanted they could probably find a dozen cases with a quick search.

              2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                I’ve got the PDF of that transcript saved on my computer and I reread it every now and then in sheer amazement.

    2. Temperance*

      Nope. I’ve seen plenty of dysfunction as related to trying to accommodate mental illness in the workplace/life.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      You have been very fortunate in life to have decent employers. Other people are having a different experience though.

      I remember asking a prof in school about a person who had a bomb wired into their car at work. The prof insisted that stuff like that never happens. The prof had a different life experience that is all.

      We are all in Alison’s living room.

      Those of us who do not believe the letter can chose to stop reading and look at something else. Conversely, anyone could read along because they find the comments informative and insightful.

      At some point it no longer matters if the letter is real or not. It’s the discussion that follows which opens up our minds and enlightens us. We keep reading because we feel more informed, we feel we have learned more about what other people think or what they see as important. If the words here do not help OP, they will probably help someone somewhere. And it could be a person who would never write Alison or never post a single comment.

      We are all in Alison’s living room. It would be wise to show some deference to our host’s judgement.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m okay with people judging things differently than I do — I’d never want to imply that’s not okay.

        But I do ask that we be respectful to letter-writers, and I feel like insisting they’re a fake is not a great experience for them. That’s about courtesy to OPs though, not about anyone having to agree with me.

        1. Boss Cat Meme*

          Thank You! I once read a different type of workplace blog that dealt specifically with sexual harassment. I had shared my story, which was made worse by an extremely incompetent HR department. Among the comments was a man who claimed to be a big deal manager somewhere who told me my experience was completely bogus and he could tell that I was a liar, and he would have fired me immediately. That TRULY was a terrible “cherry on top” situation, and a very vivid reminder that even 20 years later, sexual harassment and the boys club was still alive and well in America. It is ridiculous for anyone here to “call out” fake letter writers as “trolls” and throw around “fake news” claims like this is a brand new trend. Men, and now women too, have been dismissing the real life work-place experiences of employees for years simply by saying it’s a lie.

    4. Candi*

      Dilbert creator Scott Adams…

      (Yes, the guy has issues)

      …Adams, in the intro to one of his older collections, said that he would think up the craziest could never happen scenarios for his strip…

      …and people would write in and say this happened.

      Some of the stories on Not Always Right and sister sites, Behind Closed Ovens/Off the menu, and others, show that people can be bizarre.

      Some of the patient anecdotes on Dr. Grumpy are nuts, as well as sometimes heartbreaking.

      Humans are weird, and people do the craziest things that would be rejected for a story or script as being just too absurd -and I love stories of the weird and absurd.

  60. Sarah*

    Would another option be to work together with everyone else in the office to just stop following these rules? Presumably the management is not going to fire every person for how they line up at the bus (outside of work hours!).

  61. Question*

    I wonder if the company would have to pay its non-exempt workers for the time spent waiting in line for the bus. After all, the bus stop may not be on company property and waiting for it may not be one of their official duties; but the employer is mandating what they do there (making them line up by gender) and apparently penalizing them for not performing this act. Is it similar to if the employer required them to walk outside of the building and perform a song and dance promoting the company – which it seems obvious they would have to pay their employees for? Does it come down to if the employer is expecting that other people notice they are lining up this way, and ask why (or that they somehow get publicity for being accommodating and caring because of this) and as long as the employer isn’t expecting a benefit it is OK?

    1. fposte*

      It’s absolutely legal for employers to put restrictions on what employees do out of work without having to pay them for it, excepting when such a restriction is itself forbidden by law. For instance, they can forbid you from swearing off the clock without having to pay you around the clock.

  62. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I have OCD, though what seems like a much milder case (if that’s a thing?) that is mostly under control except when I’m particularly stressed. However, I’m the exact opposite of Casey. I need odd numbers. And I can only cope when there are no patterns because if there are no patterns then I can’t obsess about the one thing that isn’t perfect (and there’s always bound to be one). I also need things to be opposite – if you wear a ring on your left hand then I can’t focus if you also wear your watch on your left wrist. Casey and I couldn’t work together, that’s for sure. HR needs to seriously re-think what they’re asking all of their employees to do … it’s not a reasonable accommodation (and, isn’t the burden of accommodation on the employer, not the employees?). I’m with Alison – speak up as a group. Power in numbers.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think these really work, though, because this company is unreasonable and therefore its reaction can’t be predicted. In a reasonable company Casey’s accommodations wouldn’t be this extreme and wouldn’t involve compliance from her co-workers.


    Okay, so my dad has OCD and he would ABSOLUTELY balk at this. I can’t wait to share this post with him. He is actually on SSI disability because of his disability, however I know that when he did work or did anything social he never felt entitled to make other people have to change their lives for his needs. He’s very open about his disorder and has a really good sense of humor and knows some of his issues are ridiculous and annoying (unfortunately knowing this doesn’t make the disorder go away!)

    I would think he might even say it sounds like Casey is abusing the control that they’ve allowed and that this is unfair and actually detrimental to Casey being able to manage their OCD well. Could even be exacerbating it. In some ways it may even be a game to Casey (unbeknownst or not)

    This has to stop. It’s wildly ridiculous and very unfair and I actually can’t believe everyone has been complying so much without pushing back. This must be addressed, WITH resources to support your claims that they are handling this inappropriately and incorrectly, and it has to stop. However, like Alison said, your company is already ridiculous (employees have LEFT because of this and they don’t see the issue) this doesn’t mean Casey is the problem. Casey is not the problem. Casey deals with something that isn’t their fault and takes A LOT of exhausting work to manage, but your HR and management here are the problem.

    1. Kat*

      I also wondered if perhaps Casey is taking advantage of this.
      At our office we have a program for managing attendance and in the training it talks about how people with a disability or illness that requires treatment do not get an automatic exemption from the program nor do you assume every absence is due to their illness/disability. People with cancer or diabetes etc. get the cold, flu, headache or somethings just feel like taking a sick day for the hell of it, same as a lot of other people. The purpose of the program is to understand what kind of impact the person’s illness or disability and any treatment plan, has on their ability to regularly attend work so we can plan around it. It doesn’t give them carte blanche to show up or not whenever they feel like it.
      They had to do a lot of retraining of management staff because they found that by exempting people and classifying every absence under the banner of the employee’s disability, they created the opportunity for some employees to abuse the system. Or for people with illnesses to take as much time off as they needed even though they weren’t actually treating their illness.
      I don’t think Casey is doing it on purpose but we don’t know for sure that they aren’t. People with mental illnesses can also be jerks just like anyone else can.
      I’m also thinking this fosters an environment where no one can legitimately express concerns with Casey’s work because you’ll have ADA thrown in your face. That’s gotta suck for office morale to know someone is essentially untouchable and you’ll always be in the wrong.

      1. OCD DAUGHTER*

        In regards to taking advantage, at the very least Casey is allowing this environment to relieve him/her from doing the hard work of trying to manage their OCD. Instead of having to work against the intrusive thoughts and rituals, Casey is allowed to coast through the day with them glaring because Casey’s coworkers are accommodating. As hard and disruptive as OCD is to everyday living for people who deal with it, not having to do the hard work is probably a welcomed (but counterproductive) vacation for them during the work-week – even if it’s not deliberate.

  64. Psychiatrist*

    I treat a lot of people with OCD and these kinds of accommodations completely undermine treatment. The best evidence for OCD treatment is exposure and response (ritual) prevention, so you need to be exposed to intrusive thoughts and not do the ritual. I work regularly with parents and spouses on not doing this type of thing so that the person with OCD can do their therapeutic work in real life. If this was my patient I’d ask the workplace to stop having everyone else do the rituals for my client do that they can actually start to get better.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      In my perfect world that is only in side my head, you write a long letter to OP”s HR and thoroughly explain this. Or you pass out coupons for one free visit to all their employees who are starting on their PTSD right now.

  65. Kat*

    I have a question for Alison. I know from other posts you’ve said employers can legally get away with a lot of ridiculous policies, especially with regards to dress code. However, most businesses are smart enough to realize these policies in some way must relate back to the business needs to justify them legally. How can a company legally get away with writing up employees for not lining up by gender on public property? That has nothing to do with their business, moreover doesn’t it constitute some sort of gender-based harrasment? What if you are trans-gendered or gendered independent? Or heaven forbid a member of the public actually uses that bus stop and doesn’t line up male-female-male-female. Isn’t there some law the employees can rely on?
    Also, I don’t doubt this person has a mental illness. But if the employer goes to this length to “accommodate” Casey’s requests aren’t they somehow breaking the law or skirting ethics by lumping all of her demands under the banner of mental illness? Some requests could be due to Casey’s mental illness but how do they know that all her requests are?
    My understanding is that’s why the law (in Canada) requires you to accommodate the employee and to work with medical information from their health team so that the employee doesn’t get to call all the shots and claim any number of things are required because of their illness/disability.
    I cannot believe that this kind of behaviour does not constitute some form of workplace harrasment, especially as the demands are continually changing.

    1. fposte*

      This is where the difference between U.S. and Canadian law (or at least most provincial law) is significant. In the U.S., you don’t need a legal basis to restrict or require something from your workers; you just need to avoid the *illegal* reasons to do it. There’s no law against workplace harassment, except workplace harassment for reasons forbidden by law.

      The way I think of it is that in a lot of countries labor law is the signage telling you where to go; in the U.S. it’s the rumble strips on the edge of the highway that tell you when you’ve driven outside of the lane.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, what fposte said. In the U.S., it’s not the case that policies must relate back to the business needs to justify them legally. There’s a limited number of things that are illegal in labor law (the bigs ones that come up here most often are discriminating based on protected characteristics like sex or race; harassment based on protected characteristics; and retaliating for legally protected conduct), and anything not explicitly defined as illegal is … legal.

      1. Kat*

        So couldn’t the requirement to line up on public property be some kind of gender-based discrimination that does violate some law? This situation by far boggles the mind. I hope the OP gives an update.

        1. Kyrielle*

          That’s the closest possible one, but it’s possible to formulate that policy such that a neutral version of it applies to all genders: “When waiting for the bus at a stop visible from our building, people should in a line, and you should not be standing next to a person of your same gender.”

          That, admittedly, may lead to a line that bugs Casey if there’s someone non-binary in the lineup. But barring that circumstance, it will achieve the result the company is trying for, without applying a rule to one gender that doesn’t apply to another. Everyone is equally inconvenienced and annoyed is legal. Not the right thing to be doing, but legal.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Generally speaking, requiring people to line up by gender is not gender-based discrimination. If a regulation/rule applies equally to both genders, it doesn’t end up in discrimination territory. The underlying legal issue is whether you are being treated differently from your other-gender coworkers because of your gender.

          1. Kat*

            My brain can’t deal with the sheer ridiculousness of this. Even though you’ve presented clear rationale why this isn’t illegal I just feel like saying “yah but…..it’s so dumb it HAS to be illegal!”

            I agree with Alison and some of the commenters that the OP try to talk to the employer in a group and perhaps reference some materials they can easily find on how this is hurting Casey more than helping her and suggest the company engage the services of a lawyer to help guide them through this. Otherwise start looking for another job cuz this craziness isn’t likely to end.
            What do they do if a customer shows up at the office? Or a vendor? Or a member of the public? How might that be perceived if they try to dictate what the customer/vendor/public does?
            If I worked here I’d probably be so fed up that if I couldn’t quit outright I’d start recruiting friends to stand in line at the bus stop in busy asymmetrical prints in a disorganized manner. I wouldn’t do it to be mean to Casey but to force management to realize the god awful mess they’ve created when Casey can’t deal with it and they suddenly realize they have created an environment that sets Casey up to fail because they simply cannot control every little thing that could possibly happen in the world. Because eventually that will happen. If they keep capitulating to her demands eventually they’re going to run into a situation they actually can’t control. Maybe that’s the only point they’ll realize what they’ve done.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              The law does not protect us from stupid people or stupid companies.

              (Confusingly some laws seem to be written to accommodate persons with the least ability to understand anything in life. But that is another story.)

              While stupidity flies in the face of the laws of nature (you have to have your wits about you to survive), stupidity has yet to be made illegal anywhere in the US.

              The best we can do when we encounter any ridiculous behavior (in this case this company) is to just move away from it. This could be at work or on personal time, just walk away. If we stay and fight we can find ourselves sinking to a lower level also.

        3. Student*

          You can be fired for doing legal things unrelated to your business in any way.

          In particular, public school teachers still get fired occasionally for posting social media photographs of themselves sipping wine. Even if the photograph can only be seen by the teacher’s approved “friends” circle. This specifically references the Ashley Payne case, but it’s hardly the only case of a company firing someone for something unrelated to the actual job and illogical by any measure I have.

    3. Kyrielle*

      What fposte said – this employer is *not* obligated to do all that they are for Casey. And they *do* have the right to involve a medical professional (not to determine the needed treatment, but to interactively explore other possible accommodations).

      But…if they just want to do everything Casey asks for, they don’t have an *obligation* to involve a medical professional or otherwise explore alternatives. There’s nothing saying they couldn’t mandate no-patterns-in-clothes just because someone felt like it.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Right. In most states in the USA, it would be legal to fire people for wearing patterns, or for wearing green, or… for liking Star Wars better than Star Trek, or for almost anything not related to illegal activity or protected classes. They could fire people for wearing plaid even in absence of an OCD person who hated plaid.

        The gendered issue of lining up is the closest to an actual protected class issue, but it’d be debatable (as I understand it) because there’s not disparate impact. And I am not sure, but I’m afraid that (sadly) nonbinary/genderqueer identification is not legally protected in most states.

        Yet another vivid example of “legal doesn’t mean fair or right.”

        1. J. F.*

          I live in an at-will state, where everyone can also be fired for the reason of “we felt like it.’

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, that’s what I was getting at. It’s not that there’s some law on the books that says “it’s legal to fire people for wearing patterns” or “it’s legal to fire people for different movie preferences.” 49 of 50 states are at-will, and in those states it’s “here’s a limited list of things that are illegal to fire people for, and you can fire them for literally anything else, or for nothing, with no warning.” They don’t have to be somehow allowed to fire people for things; as long as they don’t fire for a short list of prohibited things they can fire for anything or nothing at all.

            1. Candi*

              The specific issue in the letter is such that bad PR isn’t an effective curb to bad management behavior either, since it involves a legitimate disability, even if the accommodations themselves overreach other employees’ lives. It’s messy.

  66. Narise*

    Have they thought about letting Casey work from home? What if they hire someone else with OCD and their disorder contradicts Casey’s needs? Maybe if everyone speaks to HR and explains that this has gone too far and you spend more time tracking what is allowed and not allowed based on her OCD that you can’t focus on your primary responsibilities.

    On a personal note I am allergic to metal so I can only wear my wedding ring during the day and I can’t sleep in it and I can’t wear two rings. Are they really wanting to fire people over the number of rings they wear?

  67. Devon*

    You know, I may be a male in my mid 20s, but I feel like I need to spend way more time reading things written by older (older than me I mean, gah, put the pitchforks away) women because it’s been a long time since I’ve said “How refreshing to hear someone say that!” so many times since I’ve been in a comment section. Sorry to a lot of college age girls, but while you’re certainly nice to look at, as soon as your mouths open things start going downhill really quickly.

    1. Turtle Candle*


      Perhaps you should pay some critical attention to what’s coming out of your mouth.

      (Signed, not a college age girl.)

    2. Julia*

      I hope you’ll grow out of feeling too smart for your own peer group soon. Right now, you just sound like a male version of Cher from Clueless.

    3. Venus Supreme*

      Yikes, Devon. Double-check who your audience is before you make a brash statement.

      — a female in her mid-20s.

    4. sometimeswhy*

      I say this with an uncharacteristic optimism: You’re going want to brace yourself for when your paradigm shifts the rest of the way. It’ll be a rough ride but hopefully worth it.

    5. seejay*


      And on the flip side, glad to know that mid 20s males still show that they can proudly open up their mouths and spout sexist bullcrap.

      See what I did there?

  68. Eric*

    any thought to the idea that the company bending over backwards for this person at work is part of the reason she is getting worse. this “solutions” are not helping the person, they are just allowing her to continue to spiral down in her OCD.

  69. LadyPhoenix*

    I retract my comments about talking to Casey. While it would be nice to hear her actual response, it could also put the OP in trouble.

    Get a group and consult with a lawyer about disability accomendations if you want to keep this job.

    If you feel you just cant work with this company (even if the issue has been resolved) then I would find a job. With an HR this incompetant, who knows when they will do something equally ironic as this madness. Sometimes it is better to let the ship sink.

  70. Mabel*

    This is insane! I have OCD (diagnosed), and if something isn’t “right” in my environment, it can be difficult for me, but it never occurred to me to get batty about stuff outside my control, like my workplace or other people. Of course, people with the same disease/condition/illness can experience it very differently, and I feel so much sympathy for Casey, but I agree that this level of crazy isn’t going to help her.

  71. Mookie Ball*

    “Another example is that some people who work here take public transit and there is a bus stop outside of our office. To accommodate Casey we were directed by management to line up for the bus as male/female/male/female, etc.. so the line is orderly.”

    I’m baffled at how the employer thinks he has any standing, no pun intended, on how people line up on a public street, be it at a bus stop or a coffee truck or hot dog guy, even if it is visible from inside the office.

  72. Not So NewReader*

    Follow up when you can, OP. I’d like to know how this goes for you, am sure others feel the same. Hopefully, you can rally your coworkers and go as a group to talk with management and HR. Or maybe you will be able to collect up some talking points that resonate with TPTB and gain inroads that way.

  73. mm*

    While the company is being unreasonable, I do not think wearing symmetrical rings means you are “suffering”. Life is full of annoying crap we all have to deal with.

    1. Boss Cat Meme*

      Not really “suffering,” but trying to wrench off a very expensive and insured diamond wedding ring I’ve had on my finger every single day for the last ten years is certainly distressing. Where will I put it now, in my purse? In my pocket? The permanent indented ring mark on my finger certainly means that my fingers are not “symmetrical” even if I took it off. While I can work easily with a big ring and bracelets on my left hand, wearing any jewelry on my right hand is distracting and clunky, especially in the work I do (a lot of sketch work and physical art layouts too). Sometimes, during the course of a single day, I might remove my bracelets or long dangling necklaces if they might interfere with the materials as I bend over the table, and place them in a little tray on my desk, so then I would be in and out of “compliance” throughout the day. But I would NEVER remove my wedding ring, especially if I don’t have a ring box or something to keep it safe. It’s the psychological attachment, I guess, but I can totally sympathize with the poor woman who was “written up” for not removing it. Your wedding ring becomes part of you and you and you don’t even think about removing it, or “matching” it with your other hand. Besides, the rings are only one small aspect. What if my finger had a bandage on it, or I broke a nail? Would I be forced by HR to “balance” my hands now or be written up again? Some women have been wearing their rings for 40 years or more. You don’t think they would suffer a great deal of distress to remove them?

    2. Maxwell Edison*

      What about a person whose ring has shrunk over the decades (that’s my explanation and I’m sticking to it) and require a lot of time and effort to remove the ring?

    3. Candi*

      That’s entirely missing the point.

      It’s a demand that impacts others, and comes in a list of other demands that are not reasonable to ask of the coworkers -legal, but not reasonable- that put an unnecessary and stressful burden on people who should never have had to deal with ignorant management and HR in the first place, since a search on the net would have brought them a variety of resources on how to deal with the matter to everyone’s benefit.

    4. Brogrammer*

      Pretty sure this attitude is how the company got to the ridiculous state they’re in now. Start with a request that seems benign if a bit weird, then get progressively more demanding.

  74. ..Kat..*

    Okay, I have mild to moderate OCD (successfully treated, thank goodness!). What this business is doing for Casey is not an “accommodation.” It is actually making her OCD worse. This is analogous to accommodating a recovering heroin addict by giving them heroin.

    A good place for information on OCD is the International OCD Foundation- online at iocdf.org. I recommend that OP print out some information from here that says this and give it to the appropriate people at work.

  75. MW*

    I’d hate to think how this office would deal with an employee who, for whatever reason, has lost a finger on one hand.

    “Well, it needs to be symmetrical so…”

  76. Laura*

    I also suffered from OCD, though less severely than this person. I would have been mortified if my employer had made such ridiculous requests of my colleagues, not because it would draw attention (I was also quite open about it) but because it would be completely unfair on them. Even if Casey agrees to these rules – it’s just not healthy for her to normalise the OCD. It’s an illness, and she needs to be able to recover from it. It’s reasonable that she be allowed to control her own work area and have certain allowances made while she deals with it, but she needs to be exposed to normality otherwise she’ll sink deeper and find it harder to recover.

  77. boop the first*

    Convince Casey to tell her doctor what is going on. Surely, if he/she knew, your company would be getting a letter any day now…

  78. Mr Aspie*

    I have several disabilities that are covered under the ADA. That said, articles like this are why I absolutely DESPISE the ADA. Having disabilities does not give anyone the right to use those disabilities as an excuse to force everyone around you to dance to your tune. It’s a terrible abuse, but companies fearing lawsuits comply.

    The end result of all of this nonsense is that once a company experience dealing with someone like this “casey”, they will be very careful to avoid hiring someone with disabilities in the future. Since the passage of the ADA, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities has gone up, and the labor participation rate has gone down. This information is available at the DOL website. I put the blame squarely on the ADA, which has permitted this kind of bullying from people with disabilities, and the logical response from businesses who do not want to deal with someone who is a potential compliance nightmare.

    1. KellyK*

      It seems odd to blame the ADA, when the ADA does not require any of this.

      If you’re stuck behind someone who’s driving 15 miles below the speed limit *just to be really sure they don’t get a ticket for speeding,* your issue is with them, not with the fact that speed limits exist.

    2. Brogrammer*

      The ADA is not responsible for this company being insane any more than any other law is responsible for all of the other insane behavior we see on this blog.

    3. Candi*

      This is not the law or government’s fault.

      And I’m picky about government requirements that have no discernible logic no matter how much I dig.

      This is the fault of companies, and departments within, that, rather than consult legal, or shell out a few hours’ fee for a lawyer every so often, or call EEOC, or even research on the net for ten minutes, take half-remembered snippets, combine them with Hollywood representations of mental illness (and their track record on that is bad), and come up with “accommodations” that are insulting and burdensome to everyone, sometimes even the disabled themselves.

      I don’t like statements like ‘disabled unemployment has gone up’ without qualifiers. Such blanket statements have no facts or details that would help analyze why it might be true, or if vital information is being left out. Population growth and increased diagnosis- how do they factor?

      These things are way more complicated then they appear on the surface.

  79. ohno1*

    This is farking crazy.

    I think this employer is going to win one of AAM’s “worst of” awards next year.

  80. MH*

    A few years ago I got this nice, hand knit hat. There was no tag, so I wore it however i wanted, but i preferred this one way that had the pattern that stuck out a little bit, because it was comfortable and it was my head. This one classmate, who claimed to be OCD, said “it’s inside out.” I pointed out that there was no tag, so, no it wasn’t. She insisted “I’m OCD and I have problems looking at that pattern.” My response was, “This is how I find it most comfortable to wear on my head. You have the option to not look at my head.”

    I’m sorry, but no to all of this. And it really strikes a cord with me, because I used to work in disability accommodations. If she is that OCD, then she should be accommodated with a window that does not look outside, and a space in the office that is away from everyone so she is not distracted. But in no way does this accommodate: wearing the right patterns (unless it’s an official Office Dress code) or symmetry with watches and rings. That is insane, and there’s no ADA requirement that people accommodate in this matter. She neeeds: Headphones, an office/cubical away from her distractions (including not near a window) and a big dose of “mind your own business”.

    1. Mimmy*

      I want to get into work involving disability accommodations, but it’s stories like these that make me wonder if I’ll just end up tearing my hair out.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Keep your eyes on the goal. The goal is to function in society. Sometimes society has to adapt and sometimes people have learn to adapt themselves.. This is a one situation or need at a time answer, it is not a one size fits all answer. When you feel like you are getting a little lost remind yourself, “the goal is to function in society”.

        Stay level headed. Sometimes the answer is “this is not a battle I want to fight”. But you could end up being very effective on a battle that someone else does not want to fight. We don’t fight every wrong we see, we just can’t. It would overwhelm us and kill us. There are plenty of things that need fixing out there, you will find your niche.

        Unfortunately, OP’s coworker is experiencing a rate of decline that is alarming. She (coworker) will not win using the strategy she has now.

      2. MH*

        This is the exception. I’d say 90% of people that needed an accommodation would be grateful for anything, and be happy to receive it. The people that needed it the least tended to need these accommodations, such as “Making people wear extra jewelry.” Honestly, to me it’s about the fact that everyone is going so far to accommodate someting that could be solved by moving the employee or giving her accommodations that involve helping her, not worrying about others. What if there’s a client that comes in with a half striped shirt? What if I get injured and can’t wear a ring on my other hand? Who gets sent home me or other employee?

        The accommodations need to help her, not affect others.

  81. ChrissyMC*

    As someone who is a job coach, meaning my entire job is helping those with disabilities adapt to their work environments and helping employers make reasonable accommodations this is insane. I can not imagine asking any company in any context to make “accommodations” such a this (accommodations are in quotes because those are not real accommodations). I completely agree with other posters stating that she is not going to be able to cope and these accommodations are hindering her ability to function in the real world. I have worked with individuals with mental health and OCD and still have never even dreamt of a situation where I would ask employees to have symmetrical jewelry.

  82. SS*

    If the waiting for the bus is after the employee clocked out, it seems like the employer is overstepping their authority by controlling the employee’s actions on their own time. I can see the employer having the right to set a dress code (as unreasonable as it may be) but telling me how/where to stand at a public transit point once I’ve left the premises is out of the question.

    I know that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, including actions outside of the office, but I don’t think that they would like the publicity that would arise from firing someone for that.

  83. If It Doesn't Make Sense, It Isn't True*

    Wait a sec – if you are lining up for the bus to go home, that would mean you are off the clock and outside of business hours, right? And bus stops are considered public property, correct? A company can’t force employees to comply with accommodations that are outside of working hours and off-company property, can’t they?

  84. Stark ravr*

    I agree that they’re probably trying to show that they’ve exceeded the burden of proof for needing more stringent accommodations, i.e. working from home, etc.- and people may find that the people at the bus stop are in on the plan. It’s almost the only logical explanation. How sad for her: if she’s not carefully asking for an accommodation, giving it a successful trial period, and then reasonably asking for another, she could find herself sitting at home working all by herself with no recourse- which I would only say is a problem because her many attempts to adapt to the situation show that she might rather stay in an office.
    Things like this can’t really be under the care of an employer and an employee with mental illness only. There needs to be a team working on this, because now even the employer side sounds a bit nutty.

  85. Stark ravrer*

    I agree that they’re probably trying to show that they’ve exceeded the burden of proof for needing more stringent accommodations, i.e. working from home, etc.- and people may find that the people at the bus stop are in on the plan. It’s almost the only logical explanation. How sad for her: if she’s not carefully asking for an accommodation, giving it a successful trial period, and then reasonably asking for another, she could find herself sitting at home working all by herself with no recourse- which I would only say is a problem because her many attempts to adapt to the situation show that she might rather stay in an office.
    Things like this can’t really be under the care of an employer and an employee with mental illness only. There needs to be a team working on this, because now even the employer side sounds a bit nutty.

    1. Stark ravers*

      The employer response is starting to sound a bit capricious, and I would hate for them to be sued for making her a target of the employees’ discontent. Accommodations can go 360 degrees, make people seem overly unique, and defeat their actual purpose. That’s why there’s usually an environment change involved at some point; the last thing anyone wants is to push people out of an office either by making them want to quit or by overly isolating them because of the wrong accommodations or the wrong implementation. It’s so capricious that this could be a fake letter?

  86. Stark ravers*

    I agree that they’re probably trying to show that they’ve exceeded the burden of proof for needing more stringent accommodations, i.e. working from home, etc.- and people may find that the people at the bus stop are in on the plan. It’s almost the only logical explanation. How sad for her: if she’s not carefully asking for an accommodation, giving it a successful trial period, and then reasonably asking for another, she could find herself sitting at home working all by herself with no recourse- which I would only say is a problem because her many attempts to adapt to the situation show that she might rather stay in an office.
    Things like this can’t really be under the care of an employer and an employee with mental illness only. There needs to be a team working on this, because now even the employer side sounds a bit nutty.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I would think eventually she could still sue for the employer thoughtlessly making her a target, with her mental illness, of everyone’s discontent. Like everything, accommodations can go 360 degrees. It’s not like she knows what’s best for her; her condition is obviously controlling her requests. The employer’s response sounds dangerously capricious. In fact it’s so capricious that it’s probably a fake letter.

  87. Gotham Bus Company*

    This reminds me of the letter writer whose employer “accommodated” another worker’s disability by never letting the LW take any days off.

    In that case, and in this one, the employer’s ADA accommodation consists entirely of imposing burdens on other employees. That is NOT in keeping with either the spirit or the letter of the law.

Comments are closed.