Ask LH: How Do I Ask My Boss For Special Provisions For My Health Condition?

Dear Lifehacker, I was hoping to get some advice on how best to make a special request of my boss. I suffer from misophonia, with some people in the office triggering it with their typing and various other sounds. I want to inform my boss of my condition and see if I can request a room for myself, but I don’t know if I should do that informally by just talking to them, or formally by writing them an email. Thanks, Luke

Dear Luke,

This is a tricky one. Misophonia, for those not familiar with the term, literally means ‘hatred of sound’ and refers to a condition where sufferers experience a range of negative thoughts, emotions and physical effects in reaction to certain trigger sounds. Unfortunately, there is very little understanding or knowledge of misophonia even in the medical community, which means that it could be hard to communicate to your boss why it’s important to do something about it.

Your first step should be to talk to your healthcare provider about managing the condition, and get their advice on how it should be handled in an office environment. Ideally, see if you can get any documentation or a letter that you can show your boss in case they have any doubts or questions about your condition.

Under the Fair Work Act, you have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements for a disability, so long as you’ve been employed on a part-time or full-time basis with that employer for 12 months. The Fair Work Australia page recommends putting an initial request in writing, and then talking out the details with your boss before, if necessary, making a formal request in writing. Here’s the basic checklist:

  • Identify flexible working arrangements that would assist you
  • Think about the needs of the business
  • Put your ideas down in writing
  • Consider talking to your employer and colleagues to refine your ideas
  • Make your formal request in writing.

Most notably, your employer is allowed to deny your request if it would have too much impact on the running or the cost of the business, so it might be helpful to consider a few different options that your boss could provide.

Perhaps the ideal situation is to have your own private room in the office, but if this is likely to be unfeasible, think of a few alternatives you can offer. Could you work from home instead? Could you manage the condition with noise-cancelling headphones? Could you move to a quieter corner of the office, or change anything about the design of your workspace to minimise incoming noise?

Once you have all these questions answered, taking into account both what you want and what works for the business, then hand your employee your written request, offering to follow up in person when it suits them.

Cheers, Lifehacker

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