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Misophonia and Work Accommodations: It’s Ok To Rock The Boat

by Vicki Sladowski
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Misophonia and work place accommodations is a significantly important conversation.

Most of us spend the majority of our day in the workplace. Whether you work in an office, a factory or retail, or go to school, you are most likely faced with hundreds of triggers on a daily basis. Just as all Misophonia sufferers have different triggers, we also have different reactions to the triggers.

Suffering in silence as we sit at our desk, tormented by the snifflers, keyboards and pens clicking, and bags of snacks crinkling as our coworkers noisily munch on them throughout the day. We are hesitant to say anything to anyone primarily because they will think we are crazy. Misophonia is not a well-known disorder, not even in the medical profession. What do we do?

Many of you have heard the phrases, “don’t rock the boat” or “don’t make waves.” This concept seems almost taboo in the workplace. No one wants to be labeled “the troublemaker”. Some may fear retaliation but you have to protect your rights, and do what is right for you. You have to advocate for yourself, no one else is going to do that for you. Doing something that will help yourself is not causing issues.

I am not the only person facing the torment of triggers in the workplace. As a member of several social media groups, I have read so many posts about so many other people suffering in the workplace. When I suggest they discuss their condition with their Human Resources department it is often met with resistance. Why? Fear! People do not want to “rock the boat.” I understand that. I also understand that my Misophonia affects every aspect of my day, especially in the workplace. I know what Misophonia does to my physical and emotional well-being. I have to assume that it has similar damaging effects on other sufferers.

I have worked in Human Resources for the last 28 years and have suffered from Misophonia my entire life. You would expect an office to be relatively quiet. I have to laugh as I write that. At times our office sounds more like a playground than an office. Who would expect that kind of excessive noise from grown adults in a workplace?

Here is some food for thought. Do you value yourself? Do you like the way Misophonia makes you feel? Do you enjoy the feelings of rage and panic as your blood boils through your body while someone is chopping on a stack of carrots in the cubicle next to you? Although these are everyday sounds, they are an assault on your sensory system, not to mention the way it affects you emotionally.

If your Misophonia impairs your ability to think or concentrate, you need to be an advocate for yourself. Speak up! In the United States, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment. When you think “disability” you typically think of a “physical” impairment. However, the ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Misophonia definitely limits my daily activities, so I would say it qualifies.

We are all triggered in the workplace, if someone pops their gum and you are at your limit, the last thing you need to do is get called into Human Resources for having a nasty attitude. Therefore, it is better to have your condition noted in your file. Mentioning the condition after the fact may seem like you are “making up a defense.” Believe me, I have been in those shoes, and it is not pleasant. I am not saying Misophonia is an excuse for nastiness, but in all honesty, there have been times that some coworkers reported me as being “short” or “snappish” because I was in trigger mode. Please do not think that you can use your Misophonia as an excuse for negative behavior. Since my employer is aware of my condition, when I am in a high sensory mode, I will let them know, “I am having a bad Miso day”. At that point, they tend to back off and give me some extra space as well as try to make things “quieter” for me.

Ask yourself…

  • What are my workplace triggers?
  • How do they make me feel?
  • How can I make my workplace a calmer environment with fewer triggers?

If your triggers affect your work day, you should consider scheduling a meeting with your Human Resources Manager. Despite what people may believe, meeting with HR is not intended to get anyone into trouble. The purpose of this meeting is a discussion to make your employer aware of your condition and possibly ask for some workplace accommodations that will help you cope with your Misophonia in the workplace. Your approach to meeting with your employer will depend on your company size and structure.

I highly recommend that when you meet with your HR Manager you educate him/her on your condition and your triggers. I suggest that you bring a letter indicating that you suffer from Misophonia, a brief description of the disorder, and a list of the triggers you encounter regularly on your job. If necessary, this is a good time to propose reasonable accommodations. Under the ADA, an employer must provide “reasonable” accommodations for employees with a disability.

What is “reasonable?” A reasonable accommodation is providing assistance or making changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do his or her job despite having a disability. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.

In my case, I requested some accommodations which included the ability to use in-ear sound generators and headphones when I am in the office, the ability to keep my office door closed at all times, and permission to get up and walk away when I am in sensory overload. These things were considered a “reasonable” request. Disclosure – I am still triggered regularly, but having “safeguards” in place has helped improve my work environment.

Once you have discussed your condition and request with your HR Manager, if necessary you can point out certain triggers of a person. For example, “Tom and I work very closely but he has several habits that trigger me, do you think we could invite him to the meeting?” Having a meeting with your co-worker in the HR department means that conversation is expected to be confidential. The purpose of the meeting is to inform your co-worker that some of their behaviors trigger you, and hopefully he/she will be a little more considerate. Maybe he will save those carrots to eat in the lunchroom, or when you step away from your workstation. Maybe he does not realize he is talking that loud. Perhaps he clicks his pen due to his own stress. Why not suggest he use a stress ball to squeeze instead? Some people are not even aware of some of the things they do until they are pointed out. In all honestly, some of the noises that trigger us are just normal everyday sounds. I can’t ask him to stop breathing, can I? No, I am sorry but I am afraid that would not be considered a “reasonable accommodation.” J

Please remember that your employer cannot retaliate against you for having a disability and requesting Misophonia work accommodations.

Many sufferers who are triggered by their co-workers wonder if they should discuss their Misophonia with them. As an HR professional, I would strongly recommend against speaking with them directly for a few reasons.

* Most likely your co-worker may think you are making it up, Misophonia is not well known. They may also take it as a personal attack.

* Their immediate response may be advising you to “ignore it” or “tune it out.” As we all know, anyone with Misophonia can tell you that is absolutely impossible to do that.

* Your co-worker may use this as an opportunity to intentionally trigger you for their own enjoyment. Yes, it sounds cruel, it IS cruel, but people have been known to do it.

* There is absolutely no insinuation that this conversation is confidential, and you end up being the target of jokes.

What is the worst case scenario? Your co-worker will continue to trigger you. But, what if he decides to be more considerate? Do you think it would it be worth it?

I deal with employees and work accommodations on a daily basis and do not think of them any differently because they have restrictions. Meeting with Human Resources is not like being sent to the principal’s office. If your child suffered from Misophonia, would you meet with his/her teacher or principal to make arrangements for accommodations to make their day easier? I know I would do it in a heartbeat. Why is your well-being any different?

What would you do if you were walking in your office, and you see your co-worker struggling to carry a stack of files, would you just let them? Or would you step up and offer to help? Ask yourself one last question, if you knew you could do something simple to make someone’s life a little easier, would you do it?

It all comes down to this… would you rather speak up for yourself, or continue to live each day with rage like a tsunami building up inside you all day, every day because you are afraid to speak up? Sometimes, it is okay to rock the boat.



Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.