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20 September 2010

(Un)employment and PTSD

When I worked full time at an insurance company (I left to go back to school full time at the end of August 2009), I had a terrible time doing well-- the office was generally very noisy, people moving around, noises being made, bosses adding stress, printers and copiers running constantly.  I also had a hard time getting there on time every day, I was that miserable and stressed about going there.   Eventually the people who keep track of such things caught up with me.  I was suspended for two days for being late to work.  That was the first time I let my employer know I had PTSD.

One of the accommodations that helps people with PTSD (me included) is not requiring us to be somewhere at a certain time.  It's hard to get anywhere on time when you have to do a security check of the house or apartment, make sure you have everything you need in your pockets or backpack, and then check everything twice before you leave.  It's amazing how quickly fifteen minutes can go by when your brain gets working in that mode.  Employers tend not to understand that kind of thing.

My employer didn't understand anything that they weren't legally obligated to understand-- prime example, I was able to use FMLA to cover my absences for going to PTSD therapy appointments.  I was entitled to paid sick time, but since I was out a certain number of hours in the year (I had appointments every week for 12 weeks), they didn't have to let me use my accrued sick time to get paid for those hours.  Because of FMLA, they couldn't bust me for being off of work; without FMLA, I'd have been fired, even though I was going to real doctors appointments.  

The LA Times has an article today talking about this kind of struggle.  It's worth reading.  Apparently, I'm not alone in having difficulties at work.

After my two day suspension, the managers and supervisors did treat me differently. I don't know if they thought I'd "go postal" or not, but they did give me a little more room. Maybe they recognized I was on my way out anyway. I did leave not long after that to return to college full time, and no one was at all surprised, so I'm sure they knew.  Or, maybe they figured they'd just eventually bust me for something and fire me anyway.  I also suspect that once they knew I had a disability, they saw me as a walking potential for a lawsuit and gave me room for that reason.  I don't know.  But if I'd told them I needed to be able to come in late and make up the time, and I required a quiet, distraction-free place to work, they'd have been both unwilling and unable to accommodate me.    It took months of paperwork, and a three day visit by a workplace productivity specialist (whatever that is) for the company to tell one of m co-workers with a bad back (and doctor's orders) that they wouldn't get a particular kind of supporting chair for them because it would create a liability for the company.

My own office?  Yeah, sure.  Wasn't going to happen.

Universities have disability resource centers.  Companies have lawyers.

My best suggestion, looking back at where I worked, is know what your disabilities are.  Find out what accommodations you need in advance of looking for a job, and let the employer know ahead of time what those accommodations are.   Ask to see and experience your work environment during the time you'll potentially be working, and see how you feel there.  Suggest the adjustments you'd need to support your legally recognized disability.

And, if a company won't make some adjustments to hire a disabled veteran who went to war for his/her country, do you really want to work there?

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