Periodically, we ask three HR pros how they’d handle a difficult situation at work. Today’s problem: An employee’s received a fancy new computer to help with eyesight issues — and her co-workers aren’t too happy about it.
“I’ve got employees asking questions about Margerie,” said supervisor Bill Watson.
Bill had asked to speak with HR manager Steve Cooper first thing Monday morning, so Steve knew it was serious.
“What about?” asked Steve.
“Her computer,” said Bill.
They accommodated her disability
“Her computer?” asked Steve. “Look, I’m pretty good at making PowerPoint presentations, but you’ll want to chat with IT about anything else computer-related.”
“It’s not about what she’s doing on the computer,” said Bill. “It’s the computer itself.”
“Wait,” said Steve. “Margerie Howard? That’s the woman with the visual impairment, right?”
“Bingo,” said Bill. “You’ll remember we got her that fancy computer monitor so she could see better.”
‘I know I can’t say anything, but …’
“Now,” Bill continued, “I’ve got staffers asking questions about why Margerie gets such a nice computer and no one else does.”
“And before you say anything,” said Bill, “I know I’m not supposed to talk with people in my department about her disability. That’s why I’m in here now.
“But Steve, I can’t keep dodging this issue anymore,” said Bill. “I’m getting comments every day.”
If you were Steve, what would you do next?
What your peers had to say
An HR manager from Colorado
What she would do: I’d work on helping Bill prepare for the questions he’s receiving by role playing with him as a worker asking for a new computer.
We’d practice his word choice, questions to ask back to workers and his explanation of the company accommodation policy.
Reason: Even though I could speak to the employees for him, it’s more important that Bill feels prepared and competent as a supervisor to answer his workers’ concerns while still protecting Margerie’s privacy.
An HR director from Washington
What she would do: I’d recommend that Bill inform workers that the company made the change to help Margerie perform her work duties to the best of her abilities.
If employees have more questions, Bill can send them to me in HR. Then I can explain the company policy.
Reason: It’s all about fairness.
Once people see that the company isn’t singling out certain workers out of favoritism, they’re more likely to accept the change and calm down.
An HR manager from Wisconsin
What he would do: I’d advise Bill to handle the questioners on an individual basis.
He should explain that the monitor was made by request to satisfy a business need.
If staffers feel they have a similar need, then they can make a request as well.
Reason: Asking questions about business needs for an accommodation shows staffers that the original decision is business-driven and lets workers reevaluate if they have a serious reason for making such a request.