Terminated for requesting a leave of absence for my bipolar

I have a situation that I would like some feedback on.  Especially since you understand/experience the what I battle daily, Bipolar Disorder.I was hired by a corporation in July 2011 just after graduating college. I am very qualified for the position and never had any problems complaints about my work, performance etc.  Of course when I was hired I did not inform them of my disorder for fear of consequences.Around the middle of September 2011, I had a severe panic attack at the office and had to leave.  I was out the 2 days following.  Since then I had not had any major episodes that affected my work.  Well, until the beginning of February 2012.  Prior to that in January my daughter was very sick and I had to be home with her, which management had no problem with.  So in February I had a very extreme episode and had to call in to work on a Monday after a very, very long exhausting weekend of ups and downs.  I saw the doctor on that Monday and referred me to a new psychiatrist and counselor.  On Tuesday I went in and was barely holding myself together.  I decided to inform my department manager of my disorder.  After speaking with her she thought it be best that I leave and go home and “take care of myself and not to worry about my job, it was secure.”  I began to feel much better and went back on Friday, at which time the Office Manage also informed me that “my job was secure, do not allow yourself to worry yourself to death about that, concentrate on you.”The following week was horrible, at my emergency psych appointment he informed me that continuing to work at this time was not in my best interest and to ask for a leave of absence.  So I requested a leave of absence to the Department Manager and Office manager.  I heard no response, no email, no phone call, nothing.  i continued to call in and email informing of my absence and also inquiring of the leave of absence and if/what I need to do for this.  No response was received until Feb 29th from the Director of HR at headquarters saying I do not qualify for FMLA leave of absence because of not being employed with the corporation for a year.  And since my job requires me to be present everyday I will be terminated.  I received my official termination letter 4 days ago.I feel like I was not treated fairly since I was assured by both managers about my job and was told by psych not to work for a short time.  Can someone give me some feedback, opinions, similar experiences, personal advice?  Sorry for such a long post, I just wanted to explain the whole situation.

I can relate to and understand how you are feeling very much!!!!!  I too have been off of work now since the end of January due to a down cycle in my bipolar.  For the first 12 weeks, I was off work under the Family Medical Leave Act, but wondering if my job is still going to be there for me when my doctor says I am able to go back to work is definitely a concern of mine.   I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to receive a termination notice though, so I wonder is that something I should prepare for?

WELL, this is not an easy yes or no.  Sadly, your employer is correct in saying you must be employed by them for 12 months to be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (which is the requirement according to the United States Department of Labor).  I have been employed by my employer for almost 5 years, so that is why I was eligible for the leave.    (To see the full terms of the Family Medical Leave Act, here is the link to the Act on the U.S. Dept of Labor website  http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/fmla.htm )  It totally stinks, I know, because we aren’t able to control whether or not we have our ups and downs within the first 12 months of starting our new job.  If we could control that then we would be able to control when we have them at all and wouldn’t that be almost like a cure?!!!!

In this day and age, almost all employment is considered “at will employment” which means that you can be terminated at any time and the employer does not have to give you a reason for the termination.  Unless you sign a contract for certain conditions of employment and such, then they have the right to terminate you, HOWEVER, I would still seek the advice of a disability attorney.  As far as your employers assurances and promises about your job being held for you, do you have any of these in writing?  Were any of them sent in an email or a letter from the office?  If you have written communications from your employer with the assurances to not worry about your job, I would definitely bring those to the attorney.  I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY, SO I CAN NOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE ON THIS AND NONE OF THIS IS LEGAL ADVICE, JUST SUGGESTIONS.  You might have a claim for wrongful termination based on discrimination, but only an attorney can determine that by giving them the facts of your specific instance.

While I have not been terminated from my employment as of yet, I have gone from leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to long-term disability and am becoming wary of how long it will be before they terminate me, if that ends up happening.  Employers can not fire us because we “have bipolar disorder” because that would violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, however, just because we have what is considered a disability, it does not mean that we can not get fired at all.  If the reason is completely unrelated to our bipolar disorder, then we can be fired.  I would definitely refer you to the disability attorney to determine if the reasons that your employer gave you for your termination were not in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Having bipolar while in the workplace is not an easy thing.  As if managing our illness didn’t bring on enough stressors, add employers and their willingness and ability to tolerate the necessary accommodations we need without deciding that terminating us is the easier route.  Sometimes surviving one day at the office would feel like I just climbed Mt. Everest, sometimes I could go weeks or months without any symptoms.  But regardless of that, I still had a down swing that knocked me out and I’m still recovering and the last thing that I want to be worrying about is my job.  I want to be worrying about my health.  Employers may not have first hand experience with an individual with bipolar disorder so they may not understand what it is all about and what exactly it entails from them.  Some see it as an extreme liability and that is the type of attitude that can cause employment issues like wrongful termination.

I do hope you can find some resolution to your own situation by seeking the advice of an attorney.  Most attorneys will provide a free consultation to determine if your employer did, in fact, fire you illegally.  It may not provide instant relief to your situation, but its a start.  And know that you are not alone in this type of predicament.  I am sitting here myself worried about my own fate as it pertains to my employment and I assure you that there are many others out there doing the same or in a similar situation to yours.  All we can do is our best to get ourselves back to our stable and healthy place and go from there, one day at a time.

7 thoughts on “Terminated for requesting a leave of absence for my bipolar

  1. From the looks of your picture you are still quite young and probably have
    many years left to have to try and make it in the work place. I am now 61
    years old and can tell you that it is not an easy road to travel, and no
    matter how hard you try, unfortunately it doesn’t get easier with age, just
    different. My experience took me from being a professional in the medical
    field all the way to a prison guard and a telemarketer…even tried McDonald’s
    but couldn’t handle the pressure. I tried everything I could to make it until
    I was 62 so I could retire…that was always my goal but it was not to be. At
    the age of 59 I went down and to be honest, have never come back up. I have a
    few good days here and there but mostly not, and with that now are added
    physical problems also. Not that Bipolar Disorder isn’t physical by the way..
    don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not. It is a chemical off balance of the
    brain, releasing too much or too little of the necessary chemicals to maintain
    a stable and functioning order of being, thus producing various mental issues.
    Most doctors will disagree with this but they can call me to debate any day…
    It is a physiological problem with psychological effects. In my opinion, for
    what it’s worth, it is just as much a physiological problem as diabetes is.

    It sounds like you have a good doctor who has YOUR best interest at heart..
    Stay with him because they are hard to come by. One of my main down falls was
    to stop seeing my doctor and getting off of my medicine. Mania took over my
    life for several years as a result and now my body is worn out. It’s like all
    of me was overused for too long and now I just want to rest. No matter how much
    I rest though, it only lasts for 2 or 3 hours. My 81 year old mother has more
    stamina than me. I’m sorry to sound so negative, I have peace within myself
    because of my faith, that is what keeps me going and hopefully you will be able
    to learn from my mistakes and take care of yourself as best you can, and if you
    end up having to get an attorney for help go ahead, I did. I used Binder and
    Binder from New York to file for disability when I was 59 years old and they
    helped me to get what I was entitled to have. It wasn’t easy but the proof is
    in the pudding and the truth is the truth. I hope you are able to do well and
    maintain a stable life as much as possible for as long as possible…take care
    and God Bless!

  2. I’m not an attorney, either, but there’s an important difference here. Bipolar disorder is not only an illness, but also a disability, and your employer may be obliged to make reasonable accommodations for that disability, which may include a leave of absense. In other words, the American With Disabilities Act may also apply, not just the Family Medical Leave Act. You should definitely speak with an attorney.

  3. Having had over 40 years experience with all aspects of the fallout from BPD,
    I fully empathize with the issue presented, and sadly, I concur with the response given. There are just no easy answers because most people make their life and career decisions well before the onset of severe symptoms of BPD. In truth, the severe BPD symptoms are often exacerbated by the life decisions that we make. In my experience, I have not seen a person with BPD say to herself/himself, well because I’m choosing to have children, perhaps I better consider part-time work or being a stay at home Mom. People want the complete lifestyle, the everyday “stressful” lifestyle that most Americans enjoy. But stress, even routine stress, can trigger manic/depressive episodes that interfere significantly with the lives of people with BPD. Others take a “mental health” day off when it all becomes too much. But those with BPD can suffer much longer and the job situation becomes more tenuous. My mother had to leave her executive position and my daughter has never been able to fully use her amazing technological training due to BPD. In her case, the stress of a difficult home life and an energetic child caused insomnia which led to mania. Fifteen years later, she is stable; trying to balance stress levels but still does not have the career of her dreams. It seems unfair, but learning to reduce stress and making the right choices for your life often works better than trying to hold on to a career that has already contributed to a health breakdown. BPD is a health issue that must be “managed.” Knowing what “trips the switch” is half of the management plan. FEMA can help, but it is no replacement for self-knowledge and awareness of stressors that worsen BPD.

  4. I had not read Sierra Sage’s post before I commented, but her life is almost a match for my daughter’s. As she commented, no one wants to seem negative, but it’s very important for someone who had BPD to be realistic and to learn EARLY how to manage this illness/disorder properly. It is not an easy illness, but there are ways to fulfill some of your goals AND to manage the illness. Compromise is one of the keys….adjust your dreams/goals accordingly. Perhaps live a simpler lifestyle. Adnd, yes, disability can offer some relief, even if you have to retain a lawyer to qualify. My daughter did have to do that.

  5. Sierra Sage….Your comments might have been written by my daughter who is 50. Your remarks regarding overall health,etc., are so on point! Thank you for your candid response. Often many years are wasted in raging against the illness instead of learning how to manage it well. I know that for certain. Thanks again

  6. Sierra,
    Need to talk with you. I am 62 and wasn’t diagnosed with BPD until about 5 years ago, even though my doctors said I probably have had this for many years. Mine was controlled by taking Depakote which I was taking for epilepsy for about 25 years. When I hit menopause the BPD was no longer controlled by the Depakote so I was really out of control.

    To make a long story short, I literally lost everything: husband, property…everything.
    Now I am on some meds that are helping somewhat but I am still not stable. Any kind of pressure seems to send me into a tail-spin.

    You said you contacted Binder and Binder and had some success. Do you think they could help me? Even though I really want to work I am not sure if I will be able to.

    Thanks so much for reading this. Hope to hear from you soon.

    All the best
    Thelma

  7. In response to you Thelma, yes Binder and Binder can help anyone who has the
    medical records to back up their claims. They are very good and will work with
    you and fight for your rights. It is extra hard to get disability with BPD because
    we don’t look like anything is wrong with us. I can look really good if I want to.
    SS made me go to 2 of their doctors and it was rough..I cried the entire time I was
    at one of them..for no reason..just couldn’t stop. He was nice, but was digging
    deep and asking me some questions that I hadn’t delt with in a long time. SS denied
    me the first time, and Binder and Binder appealed it and we got it. It was the best
    decision for me because I have not gotten better since, but actually my health in
    general is worse and I have quit driving also. Some good days and some not. Hope this helps!

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