Home accommodations When Employers Ignore Misophonia Workplace Accommodations (Submitted Story)

When Employers Ignore Misophonia Workplace Accommodations (Submitted Story)

by Misophonia International

Personal details have been omitted from this letter to protect the individuals involved. Misophonia International is publishing this letter as a way to inform the public and persons with misophonia on ways that workplace accommodations can impact the lives of sufferers of the condition.

I was hired on with [Unnamed Company] to work on a project in May, 2022 as an Automation and Controls Systems Engineer. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and PTSD and have been under treatment for these conditions, as well as misophonia through an audiologist.

From May, 2022 to July, 2023, the majority of my work load was done from inside the Control Room. The Control Room is a very controlled environment and personnel have to follow very specific rules while working within the confines of the Con. In July of 2023 we completed the control room portion of this project.

For example, they have a strict rule of no gum chewing and the Con Operators must take turns eating their meals, it was a very spacious room where workers stations were all facing away from each other and the lighting was kept dim. It was overall a very low stimulating environment for personnel to work in. I make this point to say that this was for the most part a very safe place for me to work. I say, ‘for the most part’, because sometimes people would break the no gum chewing rule and it would aggravate my condition some, but a little stimulus is not as bad as what I was exposed to after we completed processing.

When we completed processing, my job definition changed a little bit. I was no longer required to be hands on with my system so consistently and as a result, I found myself mostly confined to my desk in the trailer. This is an open communal cubical situation where all the engineers work. Because of the nature of my neurological condition, it took me a couple months to realize that I could not work in this environment. I was continually being attacked by noises. When this happens, it causes me great pain and makes my brain function shut down and it effectively brain washes me, causing me to continually become more and more sensitive to stimuli and it is a very vicious spiral.

After months of research and searching for providers (I sought help from many doctors, ENTs, therapists, etc. who all turned me away, baffled at my condition) who knew of my very rare condition, I finally found an audiologist who was informed of my condition and I started seeing My Audiologist on December 15th, 2023. She diagnosed me with H93.293, which is an abnormal auditory perception of bilateral ears and fitted me out with sound generators, which I habituated to instantly. She also provided me with an accommodation letter that I could bring to my employer and get myself out of the dangerous environment that I was currently working in.

It just so happened that at that time, since my job details had changed due to the completion of processing, I was being transferred from the site to another location, so thought it would be an opportune time to present my accommodations letter.

My accommodations letter at the time stated I ought to be in an isolated workspace, away from other employees. I was given four different options, all cubical open communal stations, all next to other employees. I chose the desk that met my accommodations the best at the time, but it was Christmas and most people were on vacation at the time and I didn’t know that some people were going to be my neighbor in just a week or two after settling in.

I went back to My Audiologist and had her modify my accommodations to be more specific. In the beginning, she left it a bit vague because she wasn’t sure what my workplace looked like and wanted to leave it to my and my employer’s best judgment to work out. I had a lengthy conversation with her, explaining what my workplace was and we ironed out what my accommodations should be. We agreed that either having a door that shuts (having 4 enclosed walls with no other people) or the ability to work remotely and come on site as required would  be reasonable accommodations for my situation.

I then brought the updated accommodations back to my HR contact, and I submitted it via the correct avenues, emailing it to [Unnamed Individual] who I believe in in Employee Relations and then I waited. And waited.

I went to HR Rep several times over the following months asking about the status of my accommodations. Every time I spoke with her, it sounded promising and I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

The entire time I was waiting, I was only getting sicker and sicker. I was beginning to suffer from major panic attacks.

On March 7th, 2023, I received an invitation from [Unnamed Individual], who is the Ethics Officer with Employee Relations to meet at 5pm to follow up on my accommodations. I was priorly engaged at that time and had to reschedule for the following Monday the 11th at 2pm. Nothing resulted from this conversation, either.

Then, the last time I spoke with her, on March 19th, 2024, I told her that since my accommodations haven’t been able to be worked out, me and my acting direct report, [Unnamed Supervisor], had worked out a deal where I work on site in the mornings and remotely in the afternoons. She told me he didn’t have the authority to give me the ability to do that. I told her that I need my accommodations and can only do what I can do. I asked if she was able to find an appropriate place for my desk location and she told me there was nowhere for me to be. So, I told her then, I will continue to do what I can do. She asked me how it was that I would like her to make my life perfect. I told her to read my doctors’ accommodations letter and said that it shouldn’t be this hard to help someone with a disability. I was crying by this point. I gave her a hug and told her that I was sorry for making a scene.

HR Rep proceeded to go directly to [Unnamed Supervisor]’s direct report and reported what I had told her and that he did not have the authority to make that call. I ended up taking PTO for the rest of the day as a mental health day, since I was not allowed to work remotely.

While I was at home trying to forget the stress, I received a text message from HR Rep;

“Hi [Author] this is HR Rep, you should have gotten an invite from [Unnamed Individual], we are following up on your ADA request. Would it be better for you to remain on PTO and take the call from home?” 4:32PM [HR Rep]

“I think maybe we should meet with my doctor too” 4:34PM [Author]

“She can explain my condition a lot better than I can” 4:35PM [Author]

“That would have to be an [Unnamed Individual] and [Unnamed Individual] call I can email then and let you know.” 4:37PM [HR Rep]

“Okay” 4:37 PM [Author]

“I have not heard back from the yet, I would plan on attending tomorrow and see what that meeting brings, if we need to schedule an appointment with your dr we can do that. I would think there would have to be some paperwork involved for your Doctor to speak to HR.” 5:46PM [HR Rep ]

“Whatever it takes” 5:48PM [Author]

The next morning, March 20th, 2024, I had My Audiologist on standby, ready to jump into the meeting, whenever they all decided to have it. Then I received an email from [Unnamed Individual] saying let’s go ahead and have the meeting without my doctor. Luckily for me, my mom is also an engineer who works on project. I had her come into the meeting with me to advocate for me, and it’s a good thing I did because they were posed to fire me.

HR Rep filed a complaint against me, the first and only one I’d had, and they said I was unprofessional and they didn’t know if they could allow me to continue working there. I had to pull the ADA card. My mom stated that I had mentioned in the past that I would be happy with a broom closet. I stated that it didn’t make sense to me, we have all these open offices, why couldn’t I just have one of those? [Unnamed Individual] turned the conversation on HR Rep, who gave the excuse that it was mostly filled with part timers. (I know I’ve seen at least one office that was completely void of personnel) At this point, I was crying and pleading, stating that please, I just want to be able to go to a restaurant again. (Being so inundated by noises in the work place as I was had made it so I was having to isolate myself more and more for the health of my brain.)

The end result was they sent me home that morning on short term disability on the promise that they would work out my accommodations situation, where I am now on May 9th, 2024. My short term disability still has not been approved. It has been over 7 weeks without pay and I do believe that [Unnamed Company] is fully responsible for this undue financial hardship.

They are denying my short term disability in terms of not enough medical information, even though all of my doctors have done their due diligence and after I signed their medical released, including a sweeping medical release. I’ve requested of all my doctors to go ahead and send my information in again, just this morning.

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