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Work/discrimination Issues


Anoj
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This is long, but I'd really appreciate a read.

Out of everything I've been through the past 1.5 years since POTS - including not being able to perform as a musician anymore, missing family functions, not being able to travel, fainting everywhere and feeling like crap - the worst thing by far has been the treatment I've received at work.

I work for a very large corporation. We have employees all over the world and tools like VPNs, instant messenger, live meeting ... anything you can imagine to facilitate communication among employees. I am a corporate writer. This is a total desk job. However, I am sick enough to make driving in heavy traffic to and from work, riding the elevator and even sitting upright in a chair for hours at a time difficult. Working from home, however, poses no problem. I have a home office and can easily work from a lap desk.

After being wheeled out of work on a stretcher and hospitalized, my boss agreed to allow me to work from home half days and in the office half days. Sounds reasonable, but it wasn't without a fight. At first she said it was OK for me to work from home, then she changed her mind. Not only did she change her mind, she gave all of my work responsibilities to another employee. The employee just had a baby. She was allowed to reduce her hours and work from home doing MY old job - but I wasn't. (Because working from home with a newborn is so easy, but having to sit in a recliner isn't?) Additionally, SHE received a BONUS for the project that I was supposed to be working on once it was complete!

Anyway. I agreed to the half-day arrangement because we are a two-income family and I was desperate to remain financially secure. When I returned, I was lectured about not "complaining" about my condition to anyone. (WT...? I am the same person who tried to HIDE my problems.) When I returned, it was made clear that they would have to "find something" for me to do and re-integrate me back into the team. I guess so, since I was stripped of my former responsibilities.

Even though I felt shaky physically, I went ahead with the arrangement and dragged myself into work every day. To this day, I wonder if I should have just stayed on LTD through my insurance. But no, I wanted to try to make it.

Since returning to work in the spring of 2011, I have had numerous setbacks and fainting spells at work and had no choice but to work from home. Since I had already demonstrated that I could accomplish my tasks during the half days that I was at home, I was allowed to work from home full days when I had setbacks. Problem is, my setbacks last for two months at a time!!!

Here's where it gets tricky. Although I was technically "allowed," there was a lot of pressure to return. "We'd like you to return. We'd like to see you in the office. We want you to return healthy and strong and working full-time." (Would you tell someone in a wheelchair that you'd like them to return to work feeling strong and without their chair? Gee, I would love to return healthy and strong too, but I have this little thing called a DISABILITY!)

I am always encouraged to take sick when I have a setback, even when I am technically able to perform my job at home. Once, amid fussing and yelling, boss tells me I have to take sick days. "WHY ARE YOU WORKING FROM HOME TODAY? I AM NOT GOING THROUGH THIS AGAIN. IF YOU'RE SICK, TAKE SICK." I am pretty sure this is ILLEGAL, so I called HR and explained that there are emails I cannot answer and work I could be accomplishing, except my supervisor has ordered me to take sick. Magically, I was later informed that the sick days I was forced to take would not be docked from my time. Hmm.

I figured they had realized that under the ADA, telecommuting is considered a reasonable accommodation. At least, it is the way I'm reading this: http://www.eeoc.gov/...s/telework.html

Where I'm coming from is - I make really good money, and I can perform everything at home. So why not fight for my job? I am afraid that if I just let it go and pursue the disability route, I will have trouble demonstrating a disability. You're a writer, you can do that from home. However, after years of abuse at work, I'm wearing down and don't know if I can stomach the atmosphere anymore. It is truly toxic and extremely stressful. I cry frequently.

A second woman who had a child was also allowed to reduce her hours and work from home. And, another woman who got engaged to a guy in another state was allowed to work from our office in that city, hours and hundreds of miles away! And work from home when she has her period! ("No one cares where I am, as long as I'm getting my job done.") And work from home when traffic is too bad!

I have brought up these inequities a few times to my immediate supervisor and to HR, but nothing has changed. I am now on my second round of FMLA. While away from the situation, I see things more clearly. I have decided that I need and DESERVE permanent work-from-home status and made that clear to my supervisor, who is taking that back to HR. I am awaiting the decision.

However, I am at a place emotionally where I CANNOT do this anymore. It's hard enough fighting for your health, then to have to fight people who are obviously trying to get rid of you. I mean, really, that's how I've felt ever since I got sick.

This boss is horrible to begin with. I counted 15 people who left our team in the past 2 years. Honestly, it wasn't working out before I got sick, and now it's just even worse. I've applied for STD through insurance and am awaiting their decision. This time, I am thinking of just riding that train (if it comes) and not fighting for this job anymore. It really burns me up that people who do not have disabilities are given permanent work-from-home status, seemingly on a silver platter with no restrictions, and yet I am constantly being guilted and berated because of it. ("Mom No. 2 is working from home on a limited basis. Please respect her schedule." But for me, it was "Don't complain if you feel bad.")

I could list some more ways that I've felt disrespected and abused, made to feel inferior and treated like a second-class citizen. Like being called on last in meetings as if I'm the least important person in the room (conferenced through phone, like half of our team!), berated in front of others for not presenting material exactly the way she wants it - petty stuff, trust me - and finally giving me a mediocre performance review and being deemed not a "high-performing employee." (Based on her dislike of ridiculous things like my use of "for example," "such as," and "through." SIGH.

Do you guys think I have any legal grounds for working from home based on ADA, the link above? Would you personally pursue disability rather than a toxic, stressful job? Obviously I will do what's best for me, but I do want opinions from people who have been where I am.

I feel as though the last year and a half I have pushed myself to work and as a consequence may have actually impeded my health progress. Although now I know I have hyper POTS and apparently this is the kind that is least likely to improve???

I am torn up about my situation and constantly worrying about $. It's going to dry up soon if I don't return to work or get approved for STD. My hubbie makes good money, but I'm not sure he can support us. I'm going through all the worst-case scenarios. Thinking of refinancing our house, selling a car, etc. I just really DO NOT want to go back to work there. :(

In case you were wondering, work-from-home writing jobs don't pay well. I am also looking into part-time employment, but again - most of what I'm seeing is low pay, not to mention, I'm not very confident I could consistently make it into an office, even for a short time. Also, I had an opportunity to work from home recently. I decided to come clean about my condition because I couldn't stand the guilty conscience, and the job offer was withdrawn!

It's a cruel world for people with disabilities!!!

:( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

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I am not in the US so my understanding of your legal system is zero, but on grounds of common sense and disability discrimination rules in the UK I would say you are being bullied, and that is not right.

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My heart just breaks to read your post. The situation is SO unfair. That said, sadly, there is no guarantee that it is illegal. It really depends on your state. I live in a right to work state and in those states the law allows you to fire anyone for just about anything. I would strongly advice you to seek the counsel of an employment attorney that is fluent in the laws of your state before you do anything. The economy is still bad and the job market it a tough one. The good thing is that it sounds like you still have short term and long term disability options with your current employer which you wouldn't have if they let you go.... Before anything happens, check out your legal options, so at least you will know prior to talking to HR. One thing I just recently had to remind my husband....HR is there to protect the company, not to help employees. It didn't used to be that way so much.

Here is a recent example in a right to work state. A manager was dx'd with cancer and needs a liver transplant, had surgery and was recovering....Used up all his vacation days, sick days, etc. Went on FMLA. The plan was to let him go when his FMLA days ran out. Fortunately, he was able to come back to work before that happened and so far, he has kept his job. I don't know how he makes it to work each day. If they had let him go, he would have lost his insurance that day at midnight. Of course there is COBRA, but COBRA payments are pretty difficult with no salary.

It may not be ANYTHING like that in your state... but I just wanted to warn you to be careful just in case. I really thought ADA would have protected the above employee... I was wrong. Hopefully, a competent employment attorney can give you good advice. Hoping for all the best for you!!

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they can fire you if your FMLA runs out and you cannot return to work. if you return before FMLA runs out, your doctor needs to release you, and at that point the release lists limitations and/or accomodations. in my case, i believe working from home is a reasonable accomodation under the law.

i have considered a lawyer many times. the past year and a half has been an up and down roller coaster. i feel like they want to keep me on my toes and not let me get comfortable. they have let me work from home, but there was always a consequence. (eye rolling behind my back in front of the rest of the team, pressure to return, total lack of respect as an employee, etc.) so, they may argue that they have been accomodating, even though they have treated me like total crap. at that point i feel like the situation is muddied. i'd have to prove retaliation in court, with documented events of them saying my work is bad, etc. i'm sure they have their own documentation of my work performance, which remember, they said is not "high performing." i have been extremely well-respected at every job i've had except this one. in fact, at my current place of employment, i am well-liked and respected by co-workers and peers. it is just one supervisor (who has a lot of power) who has no respect for me or my work, and she is calling all the shots. in fact, she isn't even following the company's HR policies, which i am very familiar with due to the nature of my position!

i suppose it would at least be worth a consult with a laywer, to at least be prepared for my conversations with them. my mother is a paralegal and says a legal battle would be extremely difficult. then i think about mental energy spent - do i really want to sue someone? not really.

i put in an app for a job i was offered last year. it would be a HUGE pay cut but a lot less stressful. they liked me, and it's in my field. i'm considering asking them for work from home status or part-time at the salary they're offering for full-time. after having a previous work from home job offer rescinded, i am not willing to reveal my condition. it would be total chance whether or not i could physically handle this new job and whether or not they would be flexible or understanding.

i just don't know how any of you who can't work cope financially. we are a two-income household, and both my husband and i are starting to get scared.

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I am not in the US so my understanding of your legal system is zero, but on grounds of common sense and disability discrimination rules in the UK I would say you are being bullied, and that is not right.

thanks for your response. i agree with you 100%. i found a website on workplace bullying, and it definitely fits the bill. that's one of the hardest things about this whole situation - being abused. i'm not the best at stoppping this behavior, but i'm trying. right now i'm trying not to freak out becs i feel like i've tapped the hornet's nest by insisting that they let me work from home full time. but after forcing myself to go in for the past year and a half, i feel like i have put my recovery at risk by pushing myself too hard.

emotionally, this is the pits. it's just a toxic, dysfunctional situation, and frankly i'm desperate to get out. i feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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I dont have any advice to give you as I am in the UK but this is exactly the same situation I faced. The company knew I was sick, they knew that under the law they were legally liable for making reasonable adjustments for me (at the time I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis - now POTS etc!) but they chose not to. I took out grievances etc and eventually went and got legal advice and launched an employment tribunal against them as they bullied me out of my job.

I ended up settling out of court, nothing has changed at this company they still treat people with chronic illnesses appallingly - a friend of mine has had multiple strokes and been told to stop complaining you've only had a stroke! the fact its a serious brain injury seems to escape them. I really feel for you as its such a horrific experience to live through.

Rach

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Oh.... the reason I suggested getting advice from an attorney was not with the intention to sue, it was so that you would know your rights under your state law. If you have the opportunity for short-term and then long term disability at your present company would your income be more than working part-time at a new company? I made a HUGE mistake not doing that when I got sick when I worked as a hospital executive where the short and long term disability benefits were top notch. I chose instead to take a "less stressful" job and push on.... big mistake in my situation and every situation is different. I just wanted to share my experience so that you weighed all options.

I am so sorry you are going through all this!!

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Oh.... the reason I suggested getting advice from an attorney was not with the intention to sue, it was so that you would know your rights under your state law. If you have the opportunity for short-term and then long term disability at your present company would your income be more than working part-time at a new company? I made a HUGE mistake not doing that when I got sick when I worked as a hospital executive where the short and long term disability benefits were top notch. I chose instead to take a "less stressful" job and push on.... big mistake in my situation and every situation is different. I just wanted to share my experience so that you weighed all options.

I am so sorry you are going through all this!!

thank you so much for your response. i have an appt. with a laywer next week!

i also liked hearing your feedback concerning taking a less stressful part-time job. yes, the insurance i have would be just as good financially as the less stressful part-time job. i would like to remain employed so that there is no gap on my resume, but in my heart i know it would be a struggle even to do that. would you mind telling me what happened in your situation when you went to work part-time? if you'd like to PM me, that would be fine.

i just really, really appreciate you guys sharing your experiences with me. of course, i understand that these decisions are mine to make, but it really does help hearing how others with this condition are dealing with things from a work/financial perspective.

thank you so much!

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Anoj,

I am really sorry to hear what you are going through. In my pre POTS life :), I worked in the business world. The one thing I learned is if there is any possibly of pending litigation, write everything down. If you haven't already done so, briefly summarize all the conversations you have had with employees and managers at your company that could be relevant to your employment, the date, and anyone else who participated in the discussion. Make sure you have all of your email correspondence for your lawyer along with a employment summary (Ie. Date hired, short term disability dates, etc). Also, any previous employment reviews would help.

As McBlond said, the laws vary significantly from state to state, so your lawyer will provide you with advice. It is up to you to provide the evidence. (that is unless you do sue and your company is required to provide documentation).

Good luck!

Trish

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update: they have agreed to let me work from home for a 2-month trial period. at that time they will re-assess. i'm aggravated about the trial period - i've already more than proven my ability to get my work done at home! i have worked from home half the time during the past year and a half! at this point i guess it's a victory, but it's a hollow one because i had to stir the pot to get it, and now i feel that when i return, i will be in big trouble, or treated badly. (what's new.) i wish my STD had come through before this time period, but i'm still awaiting the doctor to send the friggin paperwork so they can make a decision. if i were on it, i might be more inclined to just stay on it and let the job go.

i will definitely have to start writing things down. i do have some things, but i'd have to go through mountains of paperwork to sort it all out. guess i'll do that before my appt with the lawyer, which is tuesday afternoon!

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I know how frustrating it can be. My boss, the owner of our company, did not believe his employees should take sick days. So my became very difficult when either my daughter or I was sick. I was able to complete some of my work from home, but the owner of the company wanted me available at any time for his questions or impromptu meetings.

Just remember to keep all of your communication with your employer positive and professional. I know that is difficult given the circumstances, but you do not want to give them any reason to state why your arrangement from home isn't working.

I know it is a hassle, but the more organized you are for your lawyer, the more likely he/she will be able to determine if you have a case and if you have damages.

I hope everything will work out well for you. Stress is the last thing you need.

Trish

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On the cup half full side, that's great that you won't have to worry about maintaining your salary for 2 months! I am so glad you got have an appointment with the employment lawyer for further advice! Maybe your employer is attempting to show "reasonable accommodations" before they do something. I hope the lawyer gives you good guidance!

As far as me, I guess I was still in some form of denial. I had worked at the hospital for many, many years. I always took out and paid for the best insurance... health, disability, life available. I did that in case I ever needed them, but instead of going on short term disability at that point, I was convinced if I just "took it easy" "had less stress in my life" etc etc etc I'd get "my life back". It was the whole....try harder, work through it attitude. Of course, POTS doesn't not work that way. For me, I just had the same bad symptoms of POTS at a different (albeit less stressful) job that also did not have the short term and long term disability I had previously had. If I had known then what I know now, I would have viewed filing short term disability as something I could do and then go off of if I got better. Instead, I viewed it as giving up on getting better and that was crazy!

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On the cup half full side, that's great that you won't have to worry about maintaining your salary for 2 months! I am so glad you got have an appointment with the employment lawyer for further advice! Maybe your employer is attempting to show "reasonable accommodations" before they do something. I hope the lawyer gives you good guidance!

As far as me, I guess I was still in some form of denial. I had worked at the hospital for many, many years. I always took out and paid for the best insurance... health, disability, life available. I did that in case I ever needed them, but instead of going on short term disability at that point, I was convinced if I just "took it easy" "had less stress in my life" etc etc etc I'd get "my life back". It was the whole....try harder, work through it attitude. Of course, POTS doesn't not work that way. For me, I just had the same bad symptoms of POTS at a different (albeit less stressful) job that also did not have the short term and long term disability I had previously had. If I had known then what I know now, I would have viewed filing short term disability as something I could do and then go off of if I got better. Instead, I viewed it as giving up on getting better and that was crazy!

what do you mean "before they do something," like fire me? make a case against me and show that they have been so nice to me and tried everything to make it work? that's scary.

i hear what you're saying about the less stressful job. i'm in exactly that position right now, where i applied for a less stressful job. after reading your post, i'm going to have to consider it very very hard if it comes through.

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I know how frustrating it can be. My boss, the owner of our company, did not believe his employees should take sick days. So my became very difficult when either my daughter or I was sick. I was able to complete some of my work from home, but the owner of the company wanted me available at any time for his questions or impromptu meetings.

Just remember to keep all of your communication with your employer positive and professional. I know that is difficult given the circumstances, but you do not want to give them any reason to state why your arrangement from home isn't working.

I know it is a hassle, but the more organized you are for your lawyer, the more likely he/she will be able to determine if you have a case and if you have damages.

I hope everything will work out well for you. Stress is the last thing you need.

Trish

positive and professional ... <_< hmm ... well, i've already screwed that up. i got so tired of being bullied that i stood up to myself recently, and i didn't hold back. i'm kind of embarrassed, but at the same time, i was pushed and pushed and pushed ... and in the end, i think it's why i was given this accommodation. at some point i had to put my foot down, and emotionally the way i was feeling at the time was - i didn't really CARE what happened. i just needed to let them know that something was going to change.

as for the lawyer, i wrote down a very detailed timeline, and i am meeting with him TOMORROW. i'm so excited! i want to know whether i have the rights i think i do, or whether i should go back kissing their butt. :rolleyes:

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lawyer said to go see him if they fired me or gave me a PIP. until then,they HAVE to accommodate me. he also advised me to put up with their nonsense and just do what they tell me. my job should be secure.

it's crazy how job security isn't enough to make me want to stay. the treatment is unbearable at times. i don't know how to cope with this. i've broached the subject with my counselor numerous times and she hasn't helped much. blah.

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