Favoritism in the Workplace?

Q. I recently started working in an office where everyone seems to come and go when they please. But, my manager won’t give me any flexibility for my schedule. I have asked to work from home on occasion, or flex my hours, but can never get approval. In addition, some people seem to get ergonomic chairs or expensive work stations while I struggle with an old computer and uncomfortable chair. What gives? How do I address this type of favoritism or at least get the inside track on these decisions?

A. Ok, let’s slow down. You are jumping to a lot of conclusions in what appears to be a new job. While your manager may be playing favorites (shocking! but it happens), there may also be acceptable reasons why the company is making these decisions. Even though good managers try and treat everyone fairly, that doesn’t always mean they have to treat everyone the same.

There are legitimate reasons for why employees may have different equipment or schedules. For example, an employee with a disability may have special medical needs requiring a certain type of workstation. An employee who has to attend chemotherapy sessions for cancer or take a child to a therapist, may need to work a non-traditional schedule or work from home from time to time. In these cases, state and federal law may require an employer to offer accommodations to the regular schedule or standard equipment.

According to Bill Hoch, employment lawyer with EmCo Consulting, LLC who advises companies on HR and employment law questions, both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act require certain employers to provide special equipment or flexible schedules to employees who have medical needs or who care for a family member with medical needs. Because these laws require employers to treat this information confidentially, Attorney Hoch states that your manager may not be allowed to tell you why a co-worker leaves early on Tuesday or has a computer with speech recognition.
But, what if it is favoritism? Obviously, employers can’t play favorites based upon gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or other “protected categories.” If managers are treating people differently because of their religion, for example, you should speak to human resources because that behavior is illegal. If you are just seeing favoritism, without any illegal discrimination, you need to take some time to understand the culture of your new job.
There may be ways to request what you need. If there are specific tools or equipment that would help you successfully perform you job, you should identify a reasonable (and short) list of items you need and meet with your manager to request them. Explain how these items will improve your ability to be successful and help the company. Try and make your manager an advocate for you inside the company. But, don’t expect to get everything on your wish list. If your company is resource constrained, you may have to wait. Or, as the new employee, you might just have to put in some time until you can obtain some of these benefits you are seeing others get. In either case, you need to provide your boss with a business justification for the schedule or equipment that you need if you want to improve your situation.
Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

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