Corporate or Academic?

***Originally posted on Blogger, 17 May, 2012***

 

I finished undergrad today. Surprisingly, it actually lifted a huge amount of stress from me. I did feel like I was having a heart attack as I walked into the testing room though. It seems silly now. Yesterday I mailed in my graduate school contract. I’m officially entering into my next stage of life.

Speaking of the next stage of my life I discovered something really eye opening about my experience in corporate America. When I asked Wayne State if I should wait until I get there and know if I need accommodations, or if I should request the accommodations information in case I need to use accommodations. They actually want me to request them and decide after the fact if it’s necessary.

Contrast that with my new lesson from the corporate world. My long term disability claim has been denied, which I am currently in the process of appealing. The benefits center, which acts as a liaison between my company and the insurance is not able to let me return to work while my restrictions are in place, even if the appeal is denied. This means I get the joy of sitting at home waiting to be fired because my forced six month short term disability has used all of my FMLA time. My only recourse is the fact that I had unofficial accommodations at work for almost a year and a half, and I qualify for ADA accommodations through my school for a quiet testing environment.

For now, I’m done with undergrad. Tonight I have a ton of forms to fill out for possible social security benefits, and some research to do on how to file a complaint with the EEOC. Life is really weird sometimes. I never would have pictured myself here, about to enter grad school, able to fight back against discrimination. So strange.

Four Months in hell for a little slice of heaven.

***Originally posted on Blogger, 06 March, 2012***

 

I write so infrequently I forget what I wrote about, so after a little review I realize the last thing I talked about was the upcoming changes in my life. My GRE went well, I was able to use earplugs and as exhausted  as I was by the end it was finished. Honestly, I probably could have done better if I’d requested different circumstances, but this wasn’t a matter of life-or-death for me. My application for grad school went out with very few problems, but the rest of my life continued in shambles.

I continued to battle with my employer through the insurance company, and as a result my mental stability went out the window. I read MadameBipolar on a fairly regular basis, and I’ve also been following this series on bipolar in the workplace, in addition to this series on the same subject. This combined with my recent acquisition of Ken Steele’s The Day The Voices Stopped I have had a resurgence of the weight my fight holds. In the grand scheme of the world my fight against my company isn’t going to change the way America views bipolar, on the contrary I hear my coworkers are quite enjoying calling me an alcoholic, among other choice slander, but it does prove to me that I am worth this fight. Also, each fight like this that is waged and won for the mentally ill brings us closer to actual acceptance.

My employer finally offered me a return to work schedule when I was in Detroit (having run away during a particularly nasty bout of self-doubt), that did not meet my accommodations. I told them I could not accept their terms, and explained which terms needed to be met. The response? Talk to the insurance, they told us this was acceptable. So I did, and the insurance, in turn, told them exactly what I told them. I need a quiet work environment to be successful at detailed data entry work. Through all of this the insurance has been a lifesaver. Without the resources I’ve linked to above, a supportive unit of family and friends, and doctors & insurance that fought for me I would not have been able to wage this particular war. I went nearly a month without being paid at all.

My medical situation and requested restrictions were judged by medical professionals that have never met me. My company chose to be discriminatory and misinformed, in spite of the masters in psychology held by my immediate boss, and her boss disclosing to me that a close family member suffers from bipolar. When the experts approved my medically necessary restriction of a quiet work environment I was beyond elated. This meant that the cycle of discrimination would HAVE to end! They have to admit that I was right to have the freedoms I experienced with my former boss, and my former boss was progressive and a wonderful boss that understood his employees needs without being strong-armed  into non-discrimination. Wrong. They chose, instead, to claim they are unable to accommodate me through my previous work schedule. This is a schedule that I maintained for two years in their department under different management. This management is unable to let me complete my data entry job when I can be successful, they would rather I be less successful and work within their hours. Fortunately, again, the insurance came to my rescue. I still get paid, and will get paid for up to 4 years of disability because my request for a quiet work environment is 100% medically supported.

So the battle is done and the employer forfeits. I’m satisfied with this result, if only because I get to complete my last school semester in peace. There was an issue with payment for my last few semesters, but that was resolved quickly through a letter to the school. It appears my school doesn’t want to lose a student with a 3.59 GPA in her last semester because an employer can’t bother to follow ADA laws. I received enough grants to cover all of the remaining balance for tuition.

When I explain my situation every single person I’ve talked to sees the blatant discrimination. Every single person thinks that its awful. And yet, my coworkers still make derogatory comments about me because they don’t understand my situation. They ask why I haven’t returned. They make offhand comments like “if she’s well enough to be an alcoholic, why isn’t she well enough to return to work?” The fact of the matter is I am not an alcoholic. Two beers and I’m drunk. Four and it takes me days to recover from my hangover. They are being bigoted and rude. My employer does not correct these types of comments. If I was at work I would be told to alter my behavior to prevent these comments. I don’t really care about these comments, but I will never again put up with working for an employer that behaves this way. Management and HR should not allow bigotry to happen. That self-regulation I thought was possible so few years ago is a myth.

In spite of all the mess, I don’t have to return to that work environment. I get to stay home, work through my last semester at school, and attend an interview for graduate admission. The best part of the whole thing? By choosing to not be supportive and instead engage in behavior that borders on illegal, my company is paying me to stay home and accomplish my dreams. I get 60% of my former paycheck, plus I keep my insurance. In addition, their behavior and the reduced pay is the reason my education is paid. I know they feel like they’ve won because the strange girl with all the difficult requests is no longer there, and they didn’t have to deal with a lawsuit from firing me, but I think I came out on top this time. Four months of hell is really a small price to pay when I count all the blessings their decision has brought upon me.

A Healthy Dose of Paranoia Never Hurt Anyone

***Originally posted on Blogger, 21 Dec, 2011***

 

I’ve been on and off short term disability for roughly four months of this less than happy year. Not of my own accord, but because Corporate America does not believe in the employee. Which leads me to my conspiracy theory about this employers market that is currently happening in the good old U. S. of A.

My employer does engagement surveys to improve their employees experience in the workplace. I’ve filled out this engagement survey twice. Last years survey was very positive. I was more than satisfied with my job, I needed improvement but trusted my company to provide me with the opportunity and tools to improve. I trusted my boss, my bosses boss, my bosses bosses boss, and HR to provide me with fair treatment and a due process if anything happened to go awry. Unfortunately, everything went awry. My new boss had a degree that made me trust her with my very individual set of mental illness difficulties. I was presented with a series of “opportunities” packaged to make me feel good about the direction I was moving in the company. There were accusations made on my abilities as a scientist, and my ability to perform my job satisfactorily was systematically demolished by a boss that was unable to communicate with me. There was no help given to my boss, except to continue feeding them corporate double-speak that worked less every time we tried to make sense of each other. In the end my schedule was changed in a way that was impossible for me to accommodate with my medications and my illness. I was deprived of the ability to help my coworkers, the one thing that really brings me joy at work.

I love doing a great job, I love being phenomenal at what I do, being indispensable. Most of all, I love being helpful. Knowing enough about my job to step in where I’m needed, taking some of the blood, sweat and tears away from coworkers that don’t have as much of a desire to throw their lives into their work. I want nothing more than to give my employer everything they want, and do a better job for them then they could ever dream. In return I ask for respect, the ability to have flexibility in my schedule to accommodate my insane need to fill my life with more than most would dare with school. I also ask for understanding for my strange schedule habits just in general. My particular breed of crazy sometimes doesn’t let me do my job all at once if it’s not necessary. Sometimes I need to take longer breaks than most, sometimes I work better in the middle of the night. If I’m needed for something there is a guarantee I will be there for the entire time I’m needed, but if I’m not I work better with an accommodation of extreme flexibility. I’m not alone. I read a memoir of a lawyer who used to sleep under her desk for that very reason. People like she and I don’t fit into Corporate America’s rules and regulations. If the company is willing to look the other way, or make special contracts to allow for our strange work habits we will be the best employee you will ever have.

America right now is an employer’s market. They don’t have to put up with such nonsense, and no one cares if employees are good as long as they don’t cost very much. Unfortunately for people like the memoir writer and myself, we are very costly. Each of the first two years I worked for my company I was hospitalized for a week, and out for two more after that to determine the correct amount of medication. Six weeks of unworked time paid for by the short term insurance company. Six weeks the company had to hold my job for me without the ability to bring someone else in and fill the void. It was two terms of three weeks, nearly a year apart, but when it becomes an employers market they remember those things. In the year since I filled out that first employee engagement survey I have been pushed and pulled into stress that resulted in four months out in one year. Every time I make enough personal headway to return to work the rules change. Last time the rules were completely thrown out the window and I didn’t even recognize the game that was being played.

It would be very easy to point at my company and say it’s their fault. That’s false. I’m not usually one for political statements, but what I’ve heard of the “We are the 99%” movement, it is the same principle at work. Our large businesses run exactly the way congress works. Everything is based on money. In an employees market, when companies are struggling to fill jobs I am worth the risk and the cost because I am an amazing employee. When employees are struggling to find work because the unemployment rate is so high I’m not worth the cost. Quality is sacrificed for the sake of the bottom line. Power and control lie with the company and when the power falls elsewhere the company uses any means necessary to get it back. It’s lame and I’ve seen and heard many large companies doing this recently in the U.S. The 99% don’t have money, therefore they don’t have power. This means that the corporations, which behave like our government, are going to run our lives until there is an economic shift.

I don’t know how to fix the underlying problem without an overhaul of the government, but I do know that we need to educate the public about their rights regarding illnesses and disorders. There are laws that require companies to behave a certain way when there is a legitimate medical reason for an accommodation. Students use this all the time in the form of test readers, note takers, extra time provided for tests, and quiet environments provided for tests, among other accommodations. These laws do extend to Corporate America and an adult life. It is unreasonable to expect someone that needs extra accommodations at school won’t need them in their professional life. The ADA may be a good place to look for help, but there are two professions that are the most stable in these economic circumstances: law enforcement and lawyers. Many lawyers provide free consultations. They will be able to tell you if your employer is behaving in a legal manner. Not all unsavory behavior is illegal, in spite of being unethical. A lawyer can help sort that out for you.

One year ago I believed that large corporations would be able to self-regulate against unethical behavior. I now know better. I don’t believe that unions are the answer to regulating unethical behavior, but employee knowledge of the line between unethical and illegal will be a huge step forward. Don’t let an employer take advantage for as long as I did. Find answers, find help, learn the laws that pertain to your circumstances and don’t be afraid to take a stand. The more people do this, the more companies will realize people value fair treatment and ethical employers. And please, don’t forget being the 99% five, ten, twenty years from now when the market turns and yet again favors employees more than corporations. That is when we will have power and can make a real change in Corporate America.