Types of Accommodations on the Job

You can legally use 40 hours per year to take off sick to care for a family member where I live in New York City.

The FMLA–Family Medical Leave Act–is a national law that allows a person to take up to three months off for a health condition.

I once told a woman she shouldn’t have gone into a hospital–she should’ve used the time to go on vacation or to go to a spa instead. This because she had confessed going into the hospital hadn’t really helped her.

If a person absolutely needs to go into a hospital by all means they should do it without delay. They should have an explanation for why they took time off from the job.

On the job if you ask me it helps to frame requesting a reasonable accommodation thus:

“I want to exceed your expectations for what I can do. To do this I will need an accommodation. Here’s what I think might work. How does this sound to you?”

You tell HR–the Human Resources Department staff member–and can tell your immediate supervisor that you need an accommodation. Ordinary coworkers don’t have to know and often shouldn’t know about this. They might think you’re a slacker who can’t do the work and is trying to get out of doing your fair share.

Thus it might be better and more helpful to frame the request in terms of a functional limitation not in terms of a diagnosis. I would go so far as to refrain from calling it a functional impairment. I would use the word limitation instead.

Here’s the deal: so-called normal people get accommodations on the job for all sorts of reasons not having to do with illness. And their bosses don’t blanch to give them these modifications.

A co-worker can request and be granted a different schedule–coming in earlier and leaving later–to take Hebrew lessons.

Another co-worker could take a longer lunch to go shoe shopping and no one else knows this not even the boss. In fact Penelope Trunk The Brazen Careerist talked years ago about taking longer lunches.

It might be a function of having a creative job or other kind of job that is not in an office. This is why I’ll always recommend non-traditional work for those of us with an MH challenge who would wither and die working in a cubicle in a job with narrowly defined duties and a power hierarchy.

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about why we shouldn’t limit ourselves or accept the boxes others try to place us in.

Disclosure on the Job

I’ve been employed at different jobs for over 26 years now.

Thus I’m confident that I know a thing or two about how to succeed on a job.

One thing I must underscore is that it’s still dice-y to disclose on a job that you have SZ or BP or any other MH challenge.

So-called normal people are lauded as shining employees even when they’re rude to customers and hostile to co-workers.

Normal people get a pass on the job for all kinds of behavior. Think again if you’ll get a pass on the job. This is just the way it is.

Management often turns a blind eye when a co-worker is rude to customers and staff. Management doesn’t reward people with an MH who exceed everyone’s expectations on the job.

This has been my experience. I would love to hear from readers if they’ve had a different experience.

I was at one point supposed to request a reasonable accommodation on a job and I didn’t do it because I no longer needed to.

For a number of months I was falling asleep at least three days a week. After a simple change in dose time to taking the high dose at night and the low dose in the morning–voila–I was wide awake every day.

With a simple change in dose time I stopped having a side effect.

To cover my ass I had claimed I had narcolepsy. At first I really had no idea what was going on so I thought it might be narcolepsy.

On the other hand it’s not always entirely helpful or useful to use a diagnosis as the reason for needing an accommodation.

So-called normal people get accommodations on the job for reasons having nothing to do with having an illness.

Thus in the next blog entry I’d like to give more tips to job seekers and HR staff about requesting an accommodation.

Requesting A Reasonable Accommodation

At the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on Saturday, November 12 I will talk about requesting a reasonable accommodation on the job.

You can go on AskJAN to figure out what kind of accommodations you could request linked to different kinds of functional impairments you might have.

The ADA Act is clear that giving an accommodation cannot create an undue hardship on the operation of the business. The employee also still has to be able to perform the job duties. It is not a Get Out of Work Free card like a Get Out of Jail Free card in a Monopoly game.

The purpose of asking for an accommodation is precisely so that you can succeed in your job alongside co-workers who don’t have an impairment.

My take on this is that you should strive to excel not turn in the bare minimum that’s acceptable for an employee.

Coco Chanel the famous clothing designer is quoted:

“To be irreplaceable you must be different.”

You might scoff that you shouldn’t have to be twice as good to be taken seriously.

Wait a minute. Everyone has to be twice as good regardless of whether or not they have a mental health challenge.

Being twice as good on a job might just get you a free pass on your performance review.

All things being equal being twice as good comes in handy when you have to request a reasonable accommodation too.

You might think this is unfair yet this is how the world of work works.

I will be talking about the specifics of requesting an accommodation at the NAMI-New York State Educational Conference on Saturday, November 12.

The bottom line as I see it: if you need an accommodation on the job it’s better to ask for it as soon as you think you need one rather than waiting until you’re in dire straits.

Be grateful. We live in America. We have the opportunity to work at a job with this kind of legally-sanctioned help.

Introduction to Educational Conference

I’m set to give a talk on employment at the NAMI-New York State educational conference on Saturday, November 12 from 5:40 to 6:40 p.m.

My talk will focus on my new peer-owned resume writing and career help service. It will also detail my own experience with requesting a reasonable accommodation on the job.

Here now I want to give a plug for my memoir Left of the Dial. The book chronicles how I recovered with the help of family support, a great psychiatrist, and also peer support in the later years.

What’s remarkable is that in all my life and early in my recovery I was able to see possibility where others saw pain. Even today I see potential where staff still tend to see disability.

In 1990 I blazed a trail for myself at a time when no road out had existed for a person like me. Years later I had the vision to use my writing to uplift and inspire others that an open road now exists for them too.

In the 1980s and early 1990s when I was young and in love with Manhattan I refused to be placed in any kind of box–not a sartorial one; not a psychiatric one.

Dressing in Avant Garde fashion and listening to alternative music was my way to jump out of the boxes others tried to place me in.

Quite simply I didn’t want the label schizophrenic attached to me either.

In time I understood that the diagnosis is best used as a tool to help someone get the right treatment for the symptoms they’re experiencing right now.

My memoir Left of the Dial is a treat because it follows along in the lives of real people living real lives outside of the hospital, outside of any kind of institution. The characters in my book have unique identities apart from their symptoms.

My goal was always to write about what happened after I recovered. If another woman could write about her chronic symptoms and endless hospitalizations, I thought, why can’t I write about a success story to give others hope?

I don’t know about you however in my 29 years in recovery I’ve read and witnessed numerous hell-and-heartache stories.

When I pick up a memoir I don’t want to read about yet another train wreck. I want to be inspired that it’s possible to overcome whatever challenge the character faced.

Don’t we all want to be given hope that if a character in a book can conquer an obstacle that we can too?

Bingo. That’s what it’s all about.

We need to set the clock to today when it comes to thinking about recovery. As of today a significant number of people–more than ever–can and do recover and some of us can be in remission for the long-term too.

We cannot dwell in the psychiatric failings and abuses of the past.

I’ve talked in here endlessly about the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This year the U.S. Congress passed this bill into law. We’re awaiting the U.S. Senate to pass their version.

Now more than ever with landmark legislation like this–and with better treatment, support, and lifestyle options for peers–we cannot regress to continually parroting that no one can recover.

Yet we cannot forget or ignore or abandon our peers who have a chronic form of their illness.

Only now with the possible assistance of the U.S. government in passing laws to promote access to better treatment it’s possible that fewer people will be getting worse and worse without help.

Getting the right treatment right away equals the possibility of a better outcome.

Starting next week I will blog in here about the topics I’m going to talk about at the educational conference. Stay tuned.


3 Mistakes in Choosing a Career

I see three mistakes in choosing a career:

Following along in what another person tells you or doing only what’s popular.

That’s how I was led into jobs in the gray flannel insurance field: my first boss sent me for training because she thought I’d be good at it.

Not doing your research to discover alternatives that might suit you better.

Decades ago I looked into getting a Masters in English. I nixed this because I’d only be able to get a job as an overworked and underpaid adjunct professor at a college or university.

It wasn’t my goal to get a Ph.D. which is the golden key to getting a tenure-track full professor position.

Thinking that the kind of degree you get limits you or boxes you into a certain field or industry.

Who says every English major has to become an editorial assistant?

In next week’s blog entries I will talk about better ways to find your dream job.

Then I will talk about how there’s a beauty in the crooked path. Our careers as well as our lives and our recovery aren’t always linear.

Ditching SSI as One Option 

My first job was as an administrative assistant.

Secretaries are on their way out as today’s executives often type their own correspondence.

I went on three interviews and received a job offer.

Sometimes you take a job for a specific reason. I wanted to stop collecting SSI.

In future blog entries I’ll talk about finding work.

Next up: 3 mistakes in choosing a career as I see it.