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Basically, past Sunday night I informed my manager via e-mail that I was admitting myself to the hospital. I'd rather not say the exact symptoms but I was not thinking correctly or safely. I have bipolar disorder and it's something I've made him aware of and he's remarkably progressive and understanding. This is not an attack on my manager.

I've only worked at this company for 2 months but I've gotten very good feedback from the team as far as I can tell. I've had to take 3 "mental health" or "catch up" days (the latter is how my manager refers to them and that's pretty accurate). But when we spoke he was very understanding and sympathetic.

The second day in the hospital I called my manager as soon as I could and left voice mail about my status (I spent the first day in the ER and was physically and mentally unable to contact him). The third day I called him in the morning and left a message to inform him my condition had improved dramatically (new medication, it's fantastic). Then in the afternoon I called him and left another message indicating that I was healthy and would be discharged the following afternoon (Thursday) and would immediately go to my company and submit paperwork to HR and (hopefully) speak to him.

I was discharged Thursday afternoon. I went to the office and asked for my manager to come to the lobby (I'm a contractor, I'm not just going to waltz in). It just so happened the HR manager was passing through the lobby. We sat and chatted. I'm feeling amazing at this point. I'm so happy to even be back in the building because I love my job.

The HR manager tells me verbatim "because you're a contractor in a situation like this you don't really have any legal protection" and that HR was going to get together with my manager and make a decision the next day (Friday). I was told that the decision would be based on my performance which, like I said, appears to be very good. So here I am waiting for a phone call that could destroy my world.

Perhaps this is a formality, a process that anyone would have to go through. But I'm terrified. I just don't know what to do and I'm very confused.

Any observations or advice are greatly appreciated. I don't have enough experience to play the corporate game.

Edit: I am in the US, RI

  • hello, consider editing the question to make it better fit site topics laid out in help center. In particular, this guidance may help to learn what is expected of questions here. Good luck! – gnat Oct 31 '14 at 17:53
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    You can't do anything but squirm and hope for the best and that your manager backs you to the hilt. I have no idea whether ADA (Americans' Disability Act) covers contractors and you'll just have to check that on your own with either a labor lawyer or one of the non-profits dedicated to help and advocate for people in your situation - Don't ask me which one. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting of HR with the manager, you still have to know what your rights are so you have to ask anyway. – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 31 '14 at 17:59
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    One more thing: a contractor gets to set their own hours and an employee doesn't. You are a contractor because you may not get the benefits of full-time employees but it doesn't look like you can set your own hours. If you could set your own hours, your hospital stays should be a non-issue. Consult a legal specialist. – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 31 '14 at 18:03
  • My manager is one of the most amazing guys I've ever met both personally and professionally. And he's a great person, he's had an open door policy with me if I ever need to get things off my chest. If there is anyone I would contact it would be Patrick Kennedy's team. He's been a vehement mental health advocate for quite some time. – vulnerable_contractor Oct 31 '14 at 18:18
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But I'm terrified. I just don't know what to do and I'm very confused.

Step 1: Don't be terrified.

In the absolute worst case scenario, they let you go. So what? As a contractor, you've got a clear route to getting another gig through your contracting agency or a simple "I had some medical issues that caused them to terminate my contract early" when applying for new ones. Life is more than work.

And that's the worst scenario. It sounds as though your manager is understanding and you've been doing a good job. HR will usually defer to managers in these sorts of circumstances. Focus on doing a good job and the rest will follow.

  • Thank you for the encouraging words. I'm not going through an agency the contract is directly through my company. I just have so many gaps in employment that it raises a huge red flag whenever someone sees my resume. I'm actually just getting my life back together. When I'm healthy I do very well for myself. But bipolar disorder means ups and downs and this time with the new medication I really think I've finally nailed it. I'm seeing the world in a different way. – vulnerable_contractor Oct 31 '14 at 18:25
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    @vulnerable_contractor Exactly the input I like to give: "Is your worst-case scenario really that terrible?". You were extremely open with your status and didn't have control over your condition. If they let you go off of that, then any other job will be a positive step. – Xrylite Oct 31 '14 at 21:13
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    @vulnerable_contractor I'm going to have to agree that if you really put things into perspective here, the worst case isn't anything about this job. Some out there could go even "bigger picture" and say "well the real concern is your soul"; so I guess you can listen to advice at whatever granularity you feel you can apply it. But in the consensus-based reality we are speaking in, I'll instead emphasize the higher priority of your health in general. You can get another job easily--even in totally different areas that may be more fun--but getting another mind and/or body is a bit harder. – HostileFork Nov 1 '14 at 7:34
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You mentioned 3 days off in the first 2 month period plus 3 days of hospitalization. 6 days out of ~43 is not a very good attendance record. Your manager may feel that he would be taking a risk continuing to work with you as your deliverables may be solid but your reliability is poor.

If you have the option, you might try working on a fixed price basis for customers. This removes reliability on a day-to-day basis from the equation while lets you rely on your ability to deliver consistently on longer time scales.

Another similar option would be to try to work out a longer term flex working arrangement with your manager up front where you agree to periodically commit to specific deliverables rather than committing to a reliable presence in the office.

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There are things you can do.

You want to make it clear that you are willing to work with them on the issues raised by your mental health. One of the concerns they will have is that it took some time for them to know what had happened to you. If you know which hospital and doctor you will be dealing with in such circumstances, you could give them authorisation and instructions to contact your employer, or someone who can do that for you, so that your employer is not left in the dark while you recover your capacity. Telling your employer you have put, or will put that in place will count in your favour, and allow the HR people to feel like something is being done about the situation. They are looking for a resolution, and you want to give them a way to feel like something is being done without that being the termination of your contract.

Besides downtime, there are also issues with your employers trust in your judgement. In particular the extreme hubris associated with a manic phase could be a problem there, and your judgement of your own capacity may be part of the issue. If this sounds like you, then think about what you can do to make it more likely that others are able to intervene in time to avoid problems, and about how you can communicate such plans to your employer.

The other thing is to think carefully about your career direction. Some roles will be affected more than others. Work with longer project cycles, and fewer urgent matters will likely work better for you. E.g. If you were doing support Sysadmin work, then going AWOL for a couple of days is much more serious than if you were doing sysadmin project work, or development. Obviously it takes time to implement such changes. If you want to share information about what sort of work you are doing, people may have useful suggestions about related areas that have more leeway.

Within work with longer project cycles, there may be a concern that they could have a lot invested in a project, and then you disappear. You can address this in part by developing practices for documentation and where you store your work such that someone else can pick up your work at short notice if needed. (I once had a concussion while working a years-long software development contract, and my employer got such a scare they employed someone else for 3 months just to document my work). I guess it cuts both ways though. It makes it easier to fire you if that's what they decide to do.

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I hate to say this, but there is not much you can do. I used to be a contractor, and legally, you have almost nothing to fall back on here. In addition, if you are in an "at will" employment state in the US, they can fire you at any time, for any reason. This was most likely in the contract if you live in such a state.

The facts are that typically, a person should not take sick or personal days for the first three months on a new job. It's kind of an unspoken rule in the corporate world. Your performance may be great, but it means nothing if you are not in the office. It is all up to them at this point. Personally, if I were you, I'd start applying elsewhere just in case.

If your mental condition is bad enough to the point you cannot work, you may be able to get disability (again, I am assuming you are in the US). This is the only legal leeway you have here. Find a good lawyer if you decide to go this route.

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    Oh, I'm completely aware of the 90 day rule. The tragedy of this is that I'm coming off several years out of the industry because I haven't been healthy enough until the past year or so and this is a dream job. The other sad thing is that because of the new medication I'm feeling better than I have in years. It's more than that though. I've established a support network of doctors for aftercare to make sure I'm staying on track. And I can see it from their perspective. I understand they need people to perform. "ehhhh, we can hire someone better than him. Cut him loose" – vulnerable_contractor Oct 31 '14 at 18:23

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