messy desk

Maybe your desk is in the middle of a new open-floor office space your employer decided to lease. Maybe your colleagues are a bit too talkative throughout the day, or you have a private office but it’s situated right beside the break room in a high traffic area. There can be many distractions in the workplace that impact an employee’s ability to focus on their work. For individuals with certain disabilities, the capacity to concentrate is already impaired and these additional interruptions can significantly affect their ability to maintain substantial employment.

Recently, I spoke with an employer trying to help an employee with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) after they switched buildings into a much smaller space. In the previous location, the employee was in a shared space with one other coworker. However, in the new location the employee will be sharing office space with eight co-workers. Consequently, the employee was requesting a reasonable accommodation of a private space to limit distractions and allow her to focus on her work. I spoke with the Human Resources (HR) manager who explained there was no space to provide this employee with a dedicated private space. She explained that even upper-level managers were sharing offices at the new location.

The first round of ideas I always explore in these types of conversations are what types of accommodations can be made in the current situation. If a more distracting work area is causing the employee to have difficulty with attentiveness and concentration, then what changes can be made to minimize or eliminate these difficulties? One potential solution could be noise canceling headphones to limit the auditory distractions of her surroundings. To minimize visual distractions, arranging the workspace with cubicle partitions or furniture to block off parts of the office could help.

In addition, a schedule modification to adjust the starting and end times of this employee’s day was discussed so she could work with fewer interruptions. We also talked about the ability to use a conference room if it is vacant. The HR manager did explain there were two conference rooms that could be used when not occupied. If there is no accommodation that would allow this employee to work in the office, then exploring telework is another option if the essential functions of the position could be done from home. The interactive accommodation process may require exploring various options and determining whether an accommodation is effectively meeting the employee’s needs, and if not, re-evaluating. Monitoring the accommodation is an important step in the interactive process.

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