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The Unintentionally Hostile Work Environment

Does anyone else have a job that thinks it’s accommodating or tries to be but just can’t be?

My office recently moved from a place with old lighting and high cubicles to a place with new lighting and low cubicles. The new lighting is energy-efficient which means it’s fluorescent and ungodly bright. I have pretty much had a migraine since we moved in February.

My job is a high stress, phone intensive, customer service job that is completely wrong for my temperament and pain management (I’ve gained 60 pounds in the 1.5 years I’ve done it and had headaches for probably half of it) but I’m kind of stuck because the job market here is still so bad and I also rarely feel coherent enough to fill out applications. My supers try to be accommodating and let me wear migraine glasses and a hat at all times but the lights are so bright that it’s still not enough. What it would really take is the lights near me being turned off, removed, or covered with filters but I’m not sure that that battle is even worth fighting because the job itself would make me sick in the end.

In the meantime, work can put up with the glasses and hat but get upset when I pass out at my cube as a part of my auras. And my performance has slipped since February due to the fact that I can’t remember what happened on days when my headaches were bad, which is unfortunately most days. So if I leave things to do for tomorrow, I won’t do them because my brain was too sick to make memories. I had similar issues in law school -‘and they probably explain why I did so poorly – but never made the connection between the new fluorescent lighting in some of the classrooms and the library and my propensity to sleep during class.

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  • bluesguy
    5 years ago

    I feel for you. I am not certain if the FMLA laws exist everywhere, but if I were you, I would start trying to get one of your physicians to fill out that paperwork for you. It stands for family medical leave act. However, your leave does not have to be for another member of the family. It can be for you. Your Doctor can specify how many days per month you may need to be off due to migraines, or how many hours per day you can work per day due to migraines (or other medical issues for that matter). Your employer can not harass you, nor retaliate against you if you file.

    I went through something like this at my work. I had them remove the bright lights over my open work area, and was allowed to bring soft lighting into my office. It helped. Good luck.

  • HorseAndCarriage
    5 years ago

    If LEDs don’t trigger you, see if work will change the lights over you to LED tubes. They just have to disconnect the ballast in the current fixture in order to use LED tubes (which look like the fluorescent tubes and fit the fluorescent fixtures, but they only have LED bulbs inside, no fluorescent lighting) in it, no need to install a new lighting fixture in the ceiling. LED tubes aren’t cheap, but they are cheaper to run (on the electric bill) and last longer, so the company wins out in the end.

    Fluorescent lights and sunlight are my migraine triggers, so I wear my TheraSpecs migraine glasses whenever I’m indoors (or outside at night) and my MigraShades migraine sunglasses (they’re very dark) outside during daylight hours. I have two pairs of indoor TheraSpecs: my everyday pair that has regular-sized lenses and rubber nose pieces (looks similar to their original frame style) and a pair with much larger lenses for when I have to sit under fluorescents for a bit, such as in a workshop/seminar at a nearby college (looks similar to the bigger-lens frames they have now, but with bigger lenses). The glasses help, but aren’t 100% of course. Sometimes I wear a hat under fluorescents and sometimes I can’t because anything touching my head (and shoulders and upper torso) actually makes my migraine worse – one time, in a workshop, I was feeling really sick, then when I went to rest my chin on my hand or happened to brush a finger against my cheek, realized my migraine was very touch-sensitive at the moment, so took off the hat and felt 99% better within 15 minutes!

    If you use a computer in your job, the screen can be causing you issues, too. It might have fluorescent backlighting (see if they can get you an LED-backlit screen instead). Even with an LED-backlit screen, if your migraines are sensitive to perceived motion, whatever scrolling and other movements you do on the screen may be worsening your migraine (it does mine, especially typing on a tablet’s on-screen keyboard, as my fingers create movement in front of the backlit screen, but scrolling a Web page or Facebook app or the Muppets game does me in, too).

    Is there any way you can work from home or a non-migrainey location, if all else fails?

  • Annie
    5 years ago

    Hi Carly! I totally understand what you are going through. Katie gave you a link to my article on “My Road to Workplace Accommodations”.

    I went through a lot before getting the great accommodations I have today. It helped to have my boss assist me through corporate policies and give me some direction, but I had to gather all of the reasonable accommodation information to help my cause.

    Is there anyway you can move your desk to a corner? Can they put filters on the lights over your desk? Are there any lights around that they can disabled? I currently sit on an inside corner in this big open floor. They disabled a spotlight which was over my cube and put filter tubes over the fluorescent bulbs around my desk – probably like the ones Kmac talked about in comments. I still have problems when I leave my cube where my face starts going numb within 15 minutes of leaving, but then I go back to the comfort of my cube.

    In my opinion, it is definitely worth talking up about additional accommodations. I have always found it best, no matter how hard it is, to keep the emotion out of my conversations and talk about the facts. I understand that anything would be helpful even if it was to disable some of the bulbs in the fixtures around you. Is there any possibility to work from home where you would have complete control over your lighting? I know more and more companies have gone that route to save on other costs.

    I wish you the very best on your journey. You are not alone. Annie

  • Kmac
    5 years ago

    I am also a migraine sufferer who has experienced this same issue and as a Facilities Manager at my workplace I made this my personal and professional mission to solve. I recommend you go to both your facilities group and HR and ask that they do a “foot candle” test this will give a reading as to how bright your work surface area is and whether it falls into the “acceptable” range. When we did this we realized we had a big issues (also with a new space). We came up with an expensively solution of adding light filters to the lights where we received complaints. It isn’t a one size fits all solution but it is worth pushing for. Good luck!

  • Kmac
    5 years ago

    That should have read “Inexpensive solution”!

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    You are not alone in this struggle. I know you don’t want to rock the boat with your employer, but clearly your new environment is having a deep impact on your daily work performance as well as your health. Trying to tough it out isn’t working for you anymore.

    There are two links below that I think will be very helpful to you. One discusses the Americans with Disabilities Act and outline how to professionally make a request for changes in your workspace. The other is a story from Annie about her journey to have the same problem fixed at her job.

    I encourage you to make the changes you need. Not only will it help you on a daily basis, it’s good business to have you working at your best!

  • Chronic Trixie
    5 years ago

    I’m currently in an office that sounds the same, and I don’t see any natural light – it is doing my head in … literally!

    As I am going through a particularly bad patch at the moment with daily migraines and pounding headaches for about 4 weeks (usually 2 per week) so completely relate to how you are feeling – in yourself, at home and at work. It’s exhausting, painful, guilt ridden and not fun at all.

    How do you rate the migraine glasses? I am thinking of purchasing some so would love feedback. I’d love to be wearing sunglasses but i’m sure everyone would assume I was hungover 😉

  • Not Carly Simon author
    5 years ago

    I might actually have to switch to dark tinted prescription sunglasses for work. My migraine tinted ones aren’t dark enough.

    I have the Axon optics wraparound ones. They are expensive but worth it. They let me function in most normal lighting situations but straight on overhead and superbright fluorescents are still issues. They came with inserts to cover the gap between the face and glasses but they drove me crazy so I just wear hats everywhere.

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