I’m a middle-aged woman with hair loss. It’s not alopecia. It is caused by my hypothyroidism, but I have been told it’s technically not considered “medical hair loss”. This is important.
I wear wigs, like all the time. I rarely leave the house without one on and I frequently wear them in my home, too.
Jay is a coworker who has autism, anxiety, and multiple sensory perception issues. The company is committed to accommodating these, and I completely agree with that.
For a little context, my son and daughter are both neurodivergent and have their own differences, which I hope their workplaces will always accommodate.
Jay recently learned that I wear wigs. This bothers him to the point of distraction and anxiety where he cannot focus on anything when I am present. He stares at my head and seems unable to stop.
He asked me if I could take it off for him, just so he could see my head, and that maybe after that he’d be able to get back to normal. But he admitted he doesn’t know if that would work, and that he might still be unable to function normally with me around, wearing my wig.
I told him I’d think about it. But everything inside me says no. This was last week, and I haven’t seen him since then, but he escalated the matter. I’ve been told that since I’m essentially wearing my wig for “cosmetic reasons” rather than a medical reason, I have to remove it to be in compliance with Jay’s accommodations.
I then said I would agree to remove it for him privately, once, but I do not want to agree to never wear a wig around him. That would be distressing for me. This matter was reviewed for a day before I received a response this morning.
Essentially, I have now been told that this is only my “vanity” and I need to get on board with accommodating Jay’s “very real issues” even if that means going wigless at work.
I don’t know what to do. Should I contact Jay about it personally? Or continue to only communicate through my supervisor and HR? What are my options?
ETA: I’ve been asked how Jay learned I wear wigs. I’m actually very open about it. Jay was present and within clear hearing distance when a colleague and I had a conversation about it.
ETA 2: I’m going to share a couple things about me, so this might make more sense. 1st, I’m known for being very strong, tough. I’m the only woman in my department and in our immediate adjacent departments. My coworkers would likely never think that my hair loss is truly upsetting for me. I’m sure they think that I’ve taken it in stride and wear wigs for the fun of it.
2nd, Everyone knows my son is autistic and I care very deeply about the challenges autistic people face. A few years ago, I helped a former coworker, who also has autism, fight for accommodations regarding the mask issue.
So being that I’m perceived as tough, but also quite sympathetic towards the needs of autistic people, I’m sure they all thought that I would immediately agree to whatever would make Jay comfortable.
Commenters wanted to help the best they could.
INFO: Who told you your hair loss wasn't "medical hair loss"
"It is caused by my hypothyroidism, but I have been told it’s technically not considered medical hair loss. This is important."
You have hair loss due to a medical condition, hypothyroidism. Why does your co-worker's medical conditions trump yours?
Initially, I was told that by both my insurance company, and then my doctors office when I asked to get a wig covered by my health insurance. My hair loss is a side effect of a medical condition, not a medical condition in and of itself.
This is also what was told to me by HR this week, when this began.
"You have hair loss due to a medical condition, hypothyroidism. Why does your co-worker's medical conditions trump yours?"
Company policy states that my hair loss is not a medical condition in and of itself and thus, my wig wearing is only for “cosmetic purposes”. Jay’s sensory perception issues outweigh my “vanity”.
Are you effing kidding me? This is absolutely ridiculous and I can’t even imagine how it got out of hand like this.
First of all, you need to find your backbone. Why would you agree to such an intimate act with a coworker?
Secondly, you need to get another opinion on if this is a medical issue. It’s a medical issue. Regardless of what it’s considered, it should still fall under the ADA.
I’d get counsel on this immediately. An employment lawyer, call the ADA, call your doctor, escalate to HR, idk. Start googling and making phone calls. This is the place to take a stand.
Most importantly, your job is WAY off base dealing with your Autistic coworker. This, in no way, is something covered by his disability. This is completely unacceptable.
The level of unacceptable and flat out comedic this situation is has risen to is Michael Scott level.
OP, none of this is OK. You’re not going crazy. But you’re going to have to stand up for yourself.
Can you imagine them pulling this with a cancer patient?
I vote no. I wear wigs. I don't have hair loss, but I feel more comfortable with them rather than wearing my own hair.
If he had a problem with fragrances making him sick, I'd stop wearing perfume at work . That's understandable, as I've known people with migraines are sometimes sensitive to scents.
If I had a loud voice that caused hearing issues, I'd try to lower my voice (a little). That's also understandable. I actually struggle with loud noises. But asking me to give up my wig is a hard no. How is my hairstyle bothering you?
What's next? Giving up wearing makeup because he can't see my naked face? I understand that he has sensory issues, and I'm really sympathetic, and would willingly make concessions. But, if I have already made several concessions, then he's going to either have to deal with some discomfort or find a work from home job.
OP returned a little later with an update.
Earlier in the week, I had a brief conversation about it with Emily from HR, who informed me that my coworker had gone to them about his problem with me and she asked me a few questions. Completely standard procedure here.
This morning, I had a conversation with Tim from HR, who is the person actually handling it.
Just now, I received a message from Emily. She said she wants to call me to talk about it “off the record”.
This may seem self-explanatory, but I’m trying to understand the motivation. Is it off the record for her protection? Or for mine? Should I even take her call?
UPDATE: first, thank you all very much for your advice. I truly appreciate it!
2nd: Emily is in HR temporarily, while someone else (Alicia) is on maternity leave.
3rd: I decided to take Emily‘s call, but only listen. Emily said she was calling to tell me that when I reply to Tim’s email, I can CC Alicia. She said that Alicia is checking her email regularly. I thanked her and we ended the call. The important point here is that Alicia is a black woman who herself wears wigs and wigs are at the heart of this issue. So she may have a different take on all this.
And a day later — she returned with a more substantial one.
FINAL EDIT/UPDATE: additional HR people got involved & I’ve been told I will not have to remove my wig, ever.
Basically, after this issue was brought to the attention of someone else from HR (Alicia, who also wears wigs, but is on maternity leave right now) a lot happened very quickly.
I had a video chat with Alicia, Tim (the HR person who initially told me I would have to remove my wig) one of their higher-ups in HR as well as someone from Legal.
So once the right people were alerted to what was happening, it was taken very seriously. I was assured in the video chat, as well as via text & phone call with Alicia in addition to multiple emails and documents that I will not be asked or required to remove my wig.
Jay and I are not to have any further communication regarding this. We’ve both been instructed that if either of us attempts to discuss it with the other, we are to report it.
So it’s over. I appreciate all the comments, advice and support I received here. Thank you!
Commenters tried to make sense of the situation — and the conclusion.
Based on your update, it seems like Emily was telling you to cc Alicia because Alicia will see this interaction and go to bat for you on the issue / give Tim a piece of her mind. However, Emily doesn't want it to be known (at least to some) that she told you Alicia is checking emails. That is the positive version of the motivation that I can see from this interaction.
But can we talk about how inappropriate Tim is being here? I saw some helpful answers in the work sub. The company has to accommodate disabilities, but not to the point where they should be asking someone else to change something they are uncomfortable with simply to appease the person with a disability. It seems like Tim forgot that the company only needs to provide reasonable accommodations.
In addition, the fact that this is considered to be a side effect of a medical condition instead of the condition itself is one thing in terms of insurance and what they will cover. However, your company's requirement for accommodations is different from an insurance company's requirements for coverage.
Would Tim tell someone who is undergoing chemotherapy that they cannot have time off if they are nauseous because that is a side effect and not the disease? That would be absurd.
I’m relieved by your update. Seems like Emily has good instincts and knew your company was going to cross a line, and she knew that this required Alicia’s engagement. It’s a genius move to bring in the Calvary before these idiots brought you all a legal disaster that would cost them more than money. This is not the national headline they want.
Good on both of you, although I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that ONCE AGAIN, it’s a Black Woman that’s gotta clean up the mess and save us from ourselves. Honestly America, get yourself together.
There is absolutely no such thing as 'off the record' communication between HR and a staff member. She needs to mind her Ps and Qs, and you do too. Anything that either of you say absolutely 'counts'.
Unclear if she wants to tell you something she shouldn't or try to get you to share something you shouldn't. Either way, be careful.
See the update was her telling you to CC someone who may have your back, so at least Emily is trying. But damn, she's also doing stuff that may get her fired as well. But good for her.
Get yourself a medical accommodation for your wig. Ef those pieces of crap. I'm also known to be tough and I'll drag someone straight to hell over this. "Vanity" -spits- Try me, Tim. Come get these hands.
Girl i felt bad for you reading your initial post about this nonsense. Now I feel bad for you and Alicia who is going to have to weigh in on this nonsense on maternity leave if she wants to keep wearing her own wigs and wants the company to avoid a lawsuit. I hope she is senior to idiot Tim and reads him the riot act.