Full Disclosure

I started a new job this summer in the midst of struggles with mania which got worse as the months between then and December passed.  Not a bad episode really, but bad enough to be uncomfortable.  That’s what mania is for me now:  uncomfortable.  I no longer enjoy it.  I associate it with bad times in my life and fear of a return of them.

In previous jobs, I had a tremendous amount of flexibility.  I could break when I wanted to and as often as I needed to.  I could also surf the net as much as I wanted to as long as I did my job.  But that is not the case at my new job.  We’re allowed a 15 minute break at 9:30, a 45 minute lunch at 11:30, and another 15 minute break at 2:30.  And sometimes I have meetings or have to work through those break times so I don’t get a break time at all.

Before I came, there was a notorious boss who monitored everybody’s breaks and internet usage and put cameras everywhere.  The staff still hasn’t recovered and the most wounded of them was my boss.  One day, though, I needed a quick 5 minute walk around the parking lot.  Afterwards, she called me up to her office to tell me she saw me walking outside of a break time and that the general manager personally monitors people’s breaks from his office overlooking the parking lot.   I’m sorry, but this is fucked up.  I’m a grown-ass man, a professional, who does his job no matter when he takes a break.  This really pissed me off.  I really have to take breaks, and sometimes more frequently than that, so I decided to invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I went into the HR director’s office and gave full disclosure of my illness and asked for three accommodations:

  1. Breaks whenever I need them
  2. Use of the psychcentral.com website
  3. Unscheduled medical leave

She really hopped to.  I could tell that she had never encountered this situation before.  She likely had never even sat face-to-face to someone she knew was mentally ill.  She avoided eye contact, became flustered, and most importantly, became very accommodating toward me.  It was clear to me that she understood the legal ramifications of this and wanted to get it right and wanted me to know that she was cool with it even though she was having a hard to showing it.

I’m not at all self-conscious about my illness.  I’ll tell anyone I have it, but I think people worry that I might be, so they handle me very carefully as if they didn’t want me to feel embarrassed.  It’s very considerate, and very unnecessary.

I posted about this on the Psych Central forum and person after person shared stories of getting fired after disclosing.  I said that I just don’t see that happening to me.  I do a good job.  They like me here.  Yes, I can be a little disruptive once in awhile, but people are pretty forgiving of it.

I just don’t understand how all of these people could have been fired because they have bipolar.  Because they need time off to be in the hospital or to go to the doctor.  Or because they have a meltdown at work.  These are all things covered under the ADA, and I don’t care if I live in a right to work state where I can be fired without cause, I just don’t believe that they can fire me because of a disability.   People get fired because they’re bad at their job.  ADA doesn’t cover that.  I’m not saying that there aren’t tons of abuses and legitimate stigmas, but if you do a bad job, they will find a way to get around it.

Time will tell.  I haven’t used any of my accommodations yet, I rarely will, but it’s nice to know that someone has my back and that my boss understands my needs now.



2 thoughts on “Full Disclosure

  1. It does happen and the reason happens is two fold. The first is many people aren’t aware of their rights. And the second is the employers that are willing to do it find ways to pull it off in such a way to cover their ass the best they can. Discrimination is very difficult to prove in court, especially when the burden of proof here in on the accuser not the accused. So when you are employed in a state like Maine where it is an employment at will state, where they can legally fire you for no reason at all, you can kiss your chances of proving that good bye. The discrimination has to be so horribly blatant and glaring – and in front of witnesses – in order for it to have a prayer of holding in court. I don’t know what it’s like in other states though. I just know in Maine the whole process is a joke. I watched one of my supervisors go the rounds with it for a year and it never touched the courts. They kept it right in the Dept. of Labor the whole time. In the end he threw in the towel and quit because the people at work just kept applying the pressure while the red tape piled on. It’s complete bullshit. For what it’s worth that nursing home got nailed five years later for being a hostile work environment. So my boss wasn’t filing a false complaint. It’s just that hard for some people to be heard and he had a lawyer.

  2. It most certainly does happen, and it happened to me despite being a rock star at my job. I was fired two days after coming back from medical leave of absence (mixed bipolar episode). I requested what my psychiatrist and I agreed were reasonable accommodations, and my employer said they could not and would not go along with them. Since I admitted I couldn’t do the job without them, they let me go. I thought about fighting it, but I also knew that it was a business and businesses have offices full of lawyers who know all sorts of ways to get around the Americans with Disabilities Act. Besides, I didn’t want the job back—who wants to work for a company that will do that to a person?

    I’m glad you had better luck with employment than I did, but please don’t assume that people who have lost their jobs to mental illness were bad workers. If an employer wants to get rid of you, they’ll find a way, believe me.

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