Please read this plea for help from a reader

This post is more than 2 years old.

A reader contacted me a few days ago looking for work. When I found out why he needed work, I was shocked, and asked him if I could post the details here. From what he told me, it sounded like something a lawyer could help him with, but obviously I have no definitive idea if that is true or not. I'm hoping one of my readers may have some advice for him.

Note - I had him make this letter anonymous, but obviously if you work for a place willing to accommodate him, please leave a comment with a way for him to contact you.

Hey Ray,

I've recently hit quite a wall with my current job, which happens to be for an unnamed Fortune 500 company. I have degenerative disc disease such that I can't sit in a normal posture for more than 30 minutes without experiencing severe pain in my back and legs. I have gone to great lengths to try and deal with the pain and potentially get better. I've spent quite a bit on chiropractic care, nerve blocks, and drug cocktails including steroids, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers and pain killers. I continue working with the most arduous physical therapy techniques I've been taught. I've bought or played with every ergonomic or pain relief device I could find. The only thing that seems to really help is a recliner I purchased for my home office that puts my body in what's known as a "zero-gravity" position. Recently, I took 10 days of vacation to try my home office chair combined with breaks of light exercise and I actually started getting better.

I requested for company to help me out and they initially agreed to purchase me a corporate standard ergonomic chair and footrest, which actually does little for my condition but I was willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, I still had to spend the majority of my day standing while working on my laptop or walking around or stretching to try and accomplish SOMETHING while coping with the pain the best I could. This didn't work well for me.

So I submitted a request to my company along with my neurosurgeon's recommendation to allow me to work from home as needed or to purchase the same equipment for me at work. It has been many weeks since I submitted this request and since then I have had 2 separate bouts when I could not get out of bed for several days due to excruciating pain in my lower body and hips. Apparently, I have been favoring my hips to deflect pain from my back, which has caused my hips to become severely out of alignment. I know longer have any more sick or vacation time and according to company policy I will be forced into Short Term Disability if I have any more absences.

This Thursday I received notice that my company has rejected my accommodation request and claimed there was not enough medical evidence provided by my doctor to justify me working from home.

From what I've learned one has to have an MRI showing the discs fusing together or something that looks "bad" before one can get any accommodation or disability benefit. All the surgeons I have seen made it very clear that my condition is probably not the result of an acute injury nor is there a correlation between how "bad" the discs look and the amount of pain that's caused by the pressure in the nerves.

Here's another kicker. I'm only 29 and I'm actually in good shape physically, which makes this quite embarrassing and it also makes me a target for suspicion since I don't "look" sick or disabled. I have a lot of core strength and mobility, but what I need to recover is to consistently allow decompression of my spine and stimulate circulation. This is exactly what a zero-gravity chair helps do. There are a handful of recliners that allow me to get that effect while still being able to work from my laptop, none of which come cheap.

Sad story, but the bottom line is that I'm looking for a new web development job that would allow me to work remotely most of the time. And of course, if you know ANYONE who thinks they can help me with this issue, I would be immeasurable grateful!

Raymond Camden's Picture

About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

Lafayette, LA https://www.raymondcamden.com

Archived Comments

Comment 1 by JustMe posted on 3/19/2012 at 1:53 AM

Oh how I wish there was a legal way for him, because that would mean there would be one for me too. I'm not his age (I'm a ripe 41) but have his exact story, other than I've been dealing with the pain for 20 years.

My employer did very "basic" measures to protect themselves, but when I asked for a standing workstation, they huffed and basically told me no by ignoring my requests. I've had 5 major surgeries and more to come, with MRI's showing discs crushing my spinal cord, but if I told them I had to start working out of the house full-time so I could be comfortable, they would let me go that day.

You see, my state is what is called a "Right To Work" state, which is a right to hire/right to fire state. They can let me go for ANY reason, so basically we are blackmailed into not demanding better work fixtures, like zero-grav chairs and such. We get cheap, basic "work station" chairs that makes the majority of the people complain. But if we do complain, our jobs are on the line, so people don't say much, if anything.

For your reader, I would suggest that he "does whatever works" (ice packs, meds, standing, etc) until a new opportunity comes up, but there are just NOT that many full-time work at home jobs out there. Why? Because remote positions can be shipped overseas for pennies on the dollar.

Another idea - find out how many hours you CAN work a day, then offer up a counter to your employer for a fulltime/parttime office job. You work your 8 hours a day, but half of the day is at home. The reason why so many employers avoid it, is because they think people just watch TV or play games at home all day. With you still coming into the office each day, they still get that warm-fuzzy feeling and they still see work being done.

The only other option is to start your own biz, or hit up sites like oDesk looking for work, and hope it can pay your bills. And worst yet, maybe start thinking of changing careers. Sucks to think about, but I've known several people that have done it for this exact reason.

What did *I* do? I went and had a "spinal cord stimulator" installed in my back, and I've got a funky little remote control for it, and a charger that charges it through the skin. Then, when my back starts hurting, I can push a button and everything [ nearly everything ;) ] waist down goes numb. It hides most of the pain from coming up. All the while I'm slowly building up a nice set of side-work clients, and will eventually go out on my own.

Might be something to try before moving on, but it would require taking a week off of work. :(

I've been there, and employers don't "generally" care. What we need to do is a bunch of us form a software consulting firm of nothing but work-at-home-broken-back-programmers. Wait - that sounds too much like a bad movie. Never mind. ;)

All joking aside, best of luck, man.

Comment 2 by Loren posted on 3/19/2012 at 3:16 AM

I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I'm impressed at the efforts you have taken to address a large physical challenge at a young age. Keep going! I kindly and strongly urge you to continue focusing on your health throughout your Life as you are your own best advocate.

That said, @JustMe has a great suggestion! Create a profile on odesk.com, elance.com etc. Take time to create an honest, descriptive profile of your talents, communication style and a portfolio of work. Then, slog through the process of applying for hourly (versus fixed price) jobs. Communicate promptly and professionally when a buyer is interested. Many times, it's the quick responders who have the advantage.

You will probably land several projects and you will have exposure to potential full-time employers -- or long term projects.

I have hired many contractors via oDesk. The most talented have received numerous jobs (and compensation) over several years because they are awesome at what they do.

You may very well address your immediate financial requirements in a work situation that fits your body's needs and -- hopefully -- find long-term satisfaction with customers for whom you love to code.

Also, I suggest you subscribe to thesimpledollar.com to get wonderful advice on financial matters. If you have ups and downs that can come with early times of contracting, wise money matters make things easier.

My prayers are with you!

Comment 3 by OP posted on 3/19/2012 at 3:54 AM

Thank you all for your consideration, advice and prayers. I'll be sure to start building my profile with the freelance sites out there. I do have a couple projects I've been working on the side, which could become potential businesses. I'll just keep doing what I can and look forward to the day I get to be my own boss :) But as always, I'm still open to suggestions.

Comment 4 by MB posted on 3/19/2012 at 5:32 PM

Sorry your going through this. I can also relate with both of you. Although im slightly older, a ripe old 42. I had the spinal sord stimulator installed last year and it does help a little but mainly for the legs. Several years ago I had a fusion but recently found out that the fusion never took...so im having to repeat a lot of this.
I do the same type of work as you and I have to say, we picked the wrong jobs for our backs! To be sitting down all day really does not work.
I am lucky that my manager does allow me to work from home occasionally. Is there any chance they would allow you to do that on occasion? Or as Loren mentioned, half day in the office, half at home. Or cutting down on your hours. If your like me you need to make sure you have that insurance though.
I wish you all the best and sympathize with you. The main this is to take care of your health.

BTW I like the idea of the "work-at-home-broken-back-programmers". Sounds good to me.

Comment 5 by Ken Caldwell posted on 3/20/2012 at 2:30 AM

Same story from the land of Oz.
I was a mechanic, fratured a vertabrae and ruptured 2 discs. Government said I should be put onto a pension (this all happened at the age of 22, I'm now 55), but when they did their examination I had an 83% disability and they said I needed 85% for the pension. Anyway went to Uni got my degree and now look forward and not back. Still have 65% of the pain, but as I work for a Government Department I am supplied the correct chairs and can move about freely when I need to. If you want to mover to Australia we have a position available. You will not be able to work from home on a permant basis and they will not buy your chair, but you can supply your own. Anyway here is the link https://nswhealth.erecruit....

ps
One thing that I did find that was a big help was a sheep skin mattress cover with magnets in it. Relived pain enough so I no longer need the pain killers.

Comment 6 by Thomas Messier posted on 3/20/2012 at 5:32 PM

No job to offer, but a suggestion for treatment. Seems a lot of people have had success dealing with all sorts of pain following the Egoscue method. Basically, they prescribe a bunch of simple exercises that you can easily do at home with little to no equipment, aiming to realign your body and work on muscles that have long been neglected (in the case of PC users, from sitting down all the time). He has few books out, there's one called Pain Free and another more specific one called Pain Free at your PC, I think they're $15 on iBooks. Then you can do consultations, if they don't have clinics where you live I think they can do them online. If you've tried everything else but not this, maybe it could help, though it's not a quick/short term solution, I think you need to do months of work to completely be rid of pain, but would be worth it if it works. Good luck and hope you get better!

Comment 7 by Sharon posted on 3/27/2012 at 6:42 AM

Could you ask work if they'd be willing to let you bring in your own setup? You'd be responsible for paying for everything (but it would be yours). You may even be able to deduct it.

Comment 8 by Kevin posted on 3/29/2012 at 7:52 AM

Well I would look up the law if I were you. I realize that "stirring the pot" is often not the best thing to do, but some times needed. OSHA.gov is a good place to start. Also as JustMe mentioned some states are Right To Work. This specific clause relates unions and organizations and does not necessarily include at-will terms. Also those clauses do not supersede federal law.

Its unfortunate that your employer cannot see the value of offering some flexibility at least on a trial basis. I am not sure how long you have been there, but if your performance has been good it seems would be in their best interest as a modest accommodation would be far cheaper than hiring and training someone new.

Give OSHA a buzz. They can be very helpful and I know from past experiences they can be badasses when it comes to setting a company straight, don't think HR knows all the rules because they don't.

So hopefully you can find a new employer or become self employed. Also there a lot of firms that hire contractors that may be able to help. I know I could forward your resume to a few in the Mid-Atlantic region as well as a few Creative agencies. Ray can certainly get the email from the post, be more than happy to help.