I realize it’s been awhile since I blogged- pardon my silence. A combination of depression and a flurry of work coming in kept me fairly wrapped up. Today, I work as a freelance writer and content developer for small businesses and marketers on the internet. But before that, like so many of you, I had about 25 jobs from the time I was 17 to about 31. I thought I would share a few points with those of you struggling to find or keep jobs with similarly bad work records. Many of these protections afforded to us are thanks to the Americans with Disability Act of 1984. Learn it.
Note to non-American readers: I’ve found that many other countries have laws that provide certain protections for people with disabilities – which mental illness is normally classified as. Definitely look into any legal protections afforded to you.
Filling Out Applications
The quickest way to get your application tossed in the garbage is to list every single job you’ve had and lost. That is why we do not list them. Three is a fine number in most cases. If they provide space for more, you are not required to supply that information. You want to list the most recent job you’ve had (regardless of length) and the two longest jobs you’ve held in the past five years.
If you’ve quit because of depression or were fired because of unwell actions on the job; you can list your reason for leaving as Medical. Any lapse of employment in the time period- the reason you give is Medical. Why? Prospective employers are not permitted to inquire about medical history unless it is a sensitive job that requires that kind of screening for overall safety. (I’m pretty sure we can agree Bipolar police officers are not a great idea.) Even if the prospective employer calls a former employer, they cannot really ask much past confirming what dates you worked with the company.
The medical answer can go for any time periods that you do not want scrutinized- including those where you only held a job for a day before flipping out.
After A Hire
The first thing you should do is complete your probationary period. Probation is an easy time for employers to cut people if they want to. They will find a valid reason or they may just cut the person’s hours back to like 4-8 a week to get them to quit. Reaching the end of probation is another story.
After you have reached the end of probation, get a letter from your doctor informing the company about your mental illness to be filed with the human resource department of the company. If you are not comfortable with other people knowing about your struggles, you don’t have to tell everyone. But you do want to tell your immediate manager and the head manager just to make them aware that you do have a mental health condition that classifies as a disability.
Why are we doing this? Eventually, you’re probably going to have a mental crash. Informing your employer before it happens is a show of good faith on your behalf. That way it doesn’t seem like you’re just pulling it out of nowhere to cover your ass when things fall apart. An established history makes it easier to get approved for unpaid medical leave if necessary. Yes, unpaid leave sucks and most of us can’t afford that, but at least you’ll have a job to go back to instead of starting back at square one.
For those that can afford it- get short-term disability insurance either through your company or through a third party insurer. It typically covers up to 6 months. Anything past is considered long-term. Short-term disability does payout in the event that you need to take time off of work due to your disability. For the Bipolars- we are Bipolar forever. The medication is going to eventually need tweaked or stop working. Undoubtedly, we will end up missing chunks of work in the future. Might as well plan ahead.
There are limits, some of which have already been mentioned. The most important to keep in mind is that the ADA does not apply to employers with under 15 employees. The legislation is written to assume it would cause undue hardship for those businesses. And, of course, businesses where safety would be a concern.
A Final Word
I realize that much of this documentation seems confrontational or purposefully evasive. I want you to understand that not every personnel director or manager is an asshole. I’ve met some very understanding people in those positions who struggled with a mood disorder, or had a family member who did, or made it very clear there was an open door to talk if it was necessary.
Unfortunately, all it takes is one asshole who has no understanding of what we live with. The rights provided to us by the ADA are there to ensure that asshole can’t make our lives miserable because of what goes on in our minds. There aren’t too many of us that can afford or want to be bouncing jobs. Good intentions don’t fill a child’s belly.
For further reading, I suggest the ADA Q&A.