Find the Appropriate Space for Parking Concerns

Posted May 4, 2018 3:10 p.m. EDT

Q: At my office, there are two employees who park in spaces for people with disabilities on a daily basis. Both have placards hanging from their rearview mirrors.

One of the employees has revealed that the placard is for his daughter, but he uses it all the time, even when she isn’t with him. The other employee doesn’t appear to be disabled in any visible way, and talk around the office is that he abuses a space, too.

Both employees work in the same department. Is it fair to bring this matter to their boss’ attention? — D.C.

A: The two cases you describe are actually distinct in important ways. I’ll address the latter first. Reporting a colleague to management based on unproven office scuttlebutt is rarely a good idea, and it seems particularly inadvisable here. Just because someone doesn’t appear to have a disability doesn’t mean he or she might not qualify for a disabled parking permit.

At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act sets a baseline for the availability of these spaces, and the Department of Transportation’s Uniform System for Parking for Persons with Disabilities lays out basic rules for who is eligible to use them, according to Rabia Belt, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School who focuses on disability and citizenship.

Certain cardiac, respiratory, arthritic or neurological conditions that limit someone’s mobility or ability to walk — even if they do so in ways that aren’t immediately visible — can easily qualify. (There could be additional qualifying conditions under state laws.)

Belt points out that an unfounded suspicion that lots of people take advantage of disability benefits by “faking it” is not uncommon. In fact, one of her graduate students is studying perceptions of “disability cons” for his dissertation.

“This can be a really big problem for people who do have disabilities,” Belt says. People with legitimate but not immediately visible disabilities get accusatory notes left on their cars, or are conspicuously photographed by apparently suspicious strangers in parking lots. And, she adds, “They have to deal with this gossip behind their back.”

In short, if you don’t actually know whether this colleague is misusing a permit, I’d say leave it alone.

But what about your colleague who, apparently, openly admits to a disability con? Well, if true, he’s definitely a jerk and should be ashamed of himself. How would he feel if he took his daughter somewhere and couldn’t get the parking space she needed because all the spots for people with disabilities were taken up by cheaters like him?

Still, if you want to bring this to management’s attention, frame it as a management issue. Let’s say you yourself have a disability, and can’t use your space because of this guy. In that case, you should absolutely take action. Or if you believe other employees or visitors are similarly denied a space they deserve, that is also an issue management should legitimately want to know about.

Of course, you can also point out this behavior to the bosses because it just feels wrong and offensive: Even if he has never denied someone a space, he could, and that’s enough.

You just don’t want to come across as simply ratting out somebody who bugs you, or you’ll seem like a busybody, and the problem may not be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain; you’re just better off reporting it as a company problem, not a personal one.

Maybe I Don’t Want to ‘Have a Blessed Day’

Q: I’m bothered by people I encounter in a variety of service jobs (like bank teller, waiter, cashier) who wish me to “have a blessed day.” I know they mean well, but I find this offensive. What would be an appropriate reply? Do you recommend advising the employer about this behavior, without giving identifying details? — E.G.

A: I think you’re right that these people mean well — and I’d try to focus on that.

It’s not clear to me how reporting the described behavior in such an abstract way would achieve anything. The more practical alternative would be to get specific: Report it directly to a manager, with the explicit threat of taking your business elsewhere.

Would that be worth it? Maybe if a bank teller (or whoever) followed up this anodyne statement with aggressive proselytizing, or demanded, “Don’t you want to wish me a blessed day?,” then you would do management a favor by pointing out that a front-line service worker seems to be prioritizing an agenda that isn’t the company’s — and perhaps alienating customers.

It would also be worth complaining if you are truly offended and this is a matter of principle. That’s a personal decision, but if you’re going to do it, be direct.

If you’re really just irritated, then I think the most appropriate response, delivered in the strictly neutral tone of polite indifference that is at the very heart of what makes a marketplace work in a vibrantly diverse society, is “Thanks.”