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I disclosed my disability. Now my manager treats me differently

THE QUESTION

My manager is distant and cold since he was made aware of my disability and appears frustrated when an accommodation is required. He is also making negative comments about my performance – although nothing has changed – so I am baffled.

He dismisses me when I speak and has left me feeling alienated and humiliated. It has added a tremendous amount of stress as I fear my manager is setting me up for failure.

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The point of disclosing my disability was for me to get better and sustain my productivity, but it's not working. I have tried talking to him but he looks irritated and says his actions have "nothing to do with that." What should I do?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

When organizations need to accommodate disabled employees, this often generates jealousy, resentment, even hostility because co-workers only see the end product of accommodation (like a shorter work week, flexible hours, or reduced responsibilities) without knowing the reasons behind the changes. But it is especially unacceptable when a manager acts in the way you describe, since management is privy to those private details.

While your manager may not be making decisions that directly affect your job security, behaviour like this can constitute discriminatory harassment under human rights legislation if it is linked to your disabled status. Further, differential treatment that demeans or belittles an employee may constitute personal harassment under corporate internal policies, or even bullying under provincial law, depending on where you work.

It is unfortunate that your honest, direct approach did not result in a positive shift in your manager's behaviour. You should contact your HR department to look into other options, which may include conciliation, mediation, or a formal complaint. You can also pursue advice about filing a human rights complaint. Document what has happened and the conversations you have had, regardless of which option you pursue.

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However, I always stress that you should seek out the most direct method to resolve such problems. Try another conversation with your manager with a neutral-third party assisting before going the "legal route," which can be time-consuming, financially and emotionally draining, and still leave the parties with an unhappy workplace.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Sandra Safran

President of Sandra Safran HR Services, London, Ont.

People with disabilities are entitled to be protected from the problems you describe. Your manager might feel that he is trying to accommodate you without incurring "undue hardship" for the company. He may, however, have the perception that your performance is not good enough. Or he may be trying to force you out.

Are there company standards used to rate your performance, such as sales, accuracy, timeliness, customer complaints, creative output, and team co-operation? Try to have your manager define the specific, preferably measurable, results he wants. If he focuses on things like attitude, drive or enthusiasm, encourage him to tell you how he would measure improvements. Commit to meeting his specific expectations. Point out your previous achievements and tell him you want to keep contributing to the company's success. Then ask how you can resume a positive relationship.

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If this conversation fails, speak to his superior, which could be helpful or cause your manager to be even more negative. If you are likely to be fired or forced out anyway, you could contact the Human Rights Commission for your province or territory, or the Canadian Human Rights Commission if you work for a federally regulated business or organization. They might intervene, and even find your company guilty of discrimination, but don't count on their making your manager more friendly and accepting.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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