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Asking for accomodations at work

A while back, I mentioned that I would write an article about asking for accommodations at work. Since then, it’s become one of my most requested topics.

Well, the wait is over. Today, let’s talk about it!

Some caveats about privilege

Whether or not to disclose your ADHD at work is a deeply personal decision.

I’m extremely open about my ADHD because I want to destigmatize it, be clear about my needs and how I work best, and avoid any confusion or awkwardness later.

However, I’m also a cisgendered heterosexual white dude with a social safety net. That comes with immense amounts of privilege.

Some of my friends with ADHD in more marginalized demographics have told me they would never disclose their ADHD at work. As one of them put it…

I already feel like people scrutinize my work more closely because I’m [a member of a marginalized group]. Telling them I have ADHD just gives them another reason to nitpick my work.

And that’s completely valid!

For me, disclosure has been nearly all upside. But my privilege has a lot to do with that. Not everyone has a good experience with it.

How do you ask?

It depends.

If you have a good relationship with your manager, you can simply tell them…

Hey Joe. I wanted to let you know that I have ADHD, which can impact how I work. I wanted to mention a few things that would help me do my best work.

This is usually the approach I take.

Every time I’ve done it, I’ve found out that the person I’m talking to also has ADHD, instantly gets it, and is happy to work with me. I suspect I’ve been immensely fortunate!

If you don’t have that kind of relationship with your manager, your HR department should have a formal process for requesting accommodations, because…

Your ADHD is a protected disability (in the US)

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your workplace is required to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, and ADHD counts.

You also cannot be fired for your ADHD alone.

If an employer refuses to make accommodations, and then fires you for performance, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Practically speaking, though, your avenues for recourse are slow, painful, and insufficient.

It’s worth noting that if your employer does provide accommodations, you can still be legally fired for performance issues.

I’ve also had at least one person tell me they went to the HR department for accommodations and were told that they “don’t have a form for that.” Frankly, that doesn’t matter one bit. Their legal obligations exist with or without a form. But you might end up fighting corporate bureaucracy a bit, which is why I often start with my manager.

What kind of accommodations can and should you ask for?

Don’t expect your employers to have a stock list of accommodations they’ll offer. Everyone’s ADHD experience is unique.

Instead, you might want to give some thought to how you work best and what kinds of things would make your work life better. Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • A work-from-home arrangement, so you can avoid the distractions of an office
  • A quiet, private space to work in, if you have to be in-the-office.
  • Meeting-free days
  • An asynchronous standup (or standup at a different time of day) to avoid interrupting you mid-hyperfocus.
  • Irregular hours, if your peak performance doesn’t happen during normal 9-5 hours.
  • Specific types of work that you find most interesting. For example, you might ask for fewer mundane tasks and more “big hairy problem” work, or the ability to pick your own projects from a list rather than being assigned stuff.
  • Shorter meetings, fewer meetings, or fully asynchronous meetings.
  • More frequent breaks.
  • All requests in writing rather than verbal (where you’re likely to forget them).

Your specific list or needs may vary.

You may also want to avoid throwing a dozen things out there at once. Pick two or three asks (or one big one) and start there. You can always ask for more later.

Do you need a formal diagnosis?

I have never once been asked to prove that I have ADHD. But I’ve also always gone direct to my manager.

If you go through your HR department, they will likely want an official statement of diagnosis from a medical practitioner as part of their process. If you don’t have one, that can create some challenges.

Additionally, self-diagnosis doesn’t qualify for legal protect under the ADA in the United States.