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Job Doc

Is the boss playing favorites?

Q. I recently started working in an office where everyone seems to come and go as they please. But my manager won’t give me any flexibility. I have asked to work from home on occasion, or flex my hours, but I 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. How do I address this type of favoritism?

A. OK, let’s slow down. You are jumping to conclusions. While your manager may be playing favorites (Shocking! But it happens.), there may also be acceptable reasons why the company is making these decisions. Good managers try to treat everyone fairly, but that doesn’t mean they have to treat everyone the same.

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There are legitimate reasons for employees having different equipment or schedules. An employee with a disability may require a certain type of workstation. Or an employee undergoing chemotherapy sessions for cancer may need to work a nontraditional schedule or from home.

But what if it is favoritism? Employers can’t play favorites based upon gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other “protected categories.” If managers are treating people differently because of religion, for example, you should speak to human resources because that is illegal. If you are just seeing favoritism, without any illegal discrimination, you need to take 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 perform your job better, you should identify a reasonable (and short) list and meet with your manager. Explain how these items will help the company.

Try to make your manager an advocate for you, but don’t expect to get everything on your wish list. You need to provide your boss with a business justification for the schedule or equipment if you want to improve your situation.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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