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Yesterday I returned from a Leave of Absence (LOA). My boss said to me that we were talking about the idea of being off of work for 2 months, and how nice it would be to be able to do that. She said "I mean it's not like you off on a beach in Hawaii sipping Mai tais. But I'm sure it has it's cons to being out on a leave of absence."

I responded with "Absolutely not, there is nothing nice about being on a 2nd leave of absence due to mental illness. Its a relief (pro) when you don't have the responsibility to go to work, but the cons certainly outweigh the pros and there's nothing nice about struggling from mental health issues and fighting depression. That is not a vacation and it's not nice being out for that amount of time from work."

I know this was uncalled for and very unprofessional. Could this possibly be a legal issue? The fact that she stated "we were talking" gives me the feeling she talked to others about my issues.

Any feed back would be appreciated.

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    Where did this take place? The US? Answers can vary wildly from location to location. As for whether or not it's a legal issue, that is outside of the scope of this website. You'd need to consult a lawyer to be positive of the answer to that. – 404usernotfound Jul 2 '15 at 17:12
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    Does your boss know that you took the LOA for mental issues? – Brandin Jul 2 '15 at 19:36
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    Be aware that some people don't understand what it means to have mental issues because they never had one. They think it's just a lame excuse to take off. – Zoomzoom Jul 2 '15 at 21:35
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is half a rant, half a request for legal advice, both of which are off topic. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jul 2 '15 at 22:53
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    Agree with the close vote. If you find yourself ending a question with "Frustrated and Offended" you should be addressing an advice column, not this site. If this remains open it really needs a substantial rewrite because I can only barely decipher the paraphrased comments. – Lilienthal Jul 3 '15 at 10:24
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Could this possibly be a legal issue?

Almost certainly not. But if you really need to be sure, you'll need to consult an attorney.

Otherwise, try to shake it off.

While at best ham-handed, and at worst somewhat cruel, it's quite possible that your boss was just trying to make conversation, and doing a bad job of it.

It's awkward for everyone on both sides when someone comes back after a lengthy absence. Hopefully this will all subside quickly and you will be back in the flow with your work.

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    I agree with this. I sometimes feel I'm the poster boy for saying things in an incorrect way by accident. Paraphrasing the late philosophizer James Croce, sometimes the words really do just come out wrong. Unless there is consistency with this type of behavior and it's apparent they were being rude about it, do try to shake it off. – zfrisch Jul 2 '15 at 21:26
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Personally, I would have answered, "Trust me, It would have been a lot more fun being here."

If this is said in public, then ask the person if you can speak with her privately. (Otherwise just continue the conversation.) Say that you don't appreciate such statements because you just went through hell, her joke was cruel and not at all funny and that you would also appreciate if she would make sure to stop anyone else from expressing such cruel misconceptions about your LOA. If you don't tell people when what they said was inappropriate, you can't complain if they don't stop saying such things. If she brought this up in public, remind her that your medcial reasons for being out are private and that no one exeept her and the HR reps should be aware of the reason why you were out..

If you have told her not to make such comments, then you can talk to HR if they continue.

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    Another personal favourite is "I'll swap you. You stay at home dealing with <insert condition here>, and I'll be here feeling productive and happy." – Jane S Jul 2 '15 at 20:54
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To be honest, if you were on a two months leave of absence, it is kind of unavoidable for everyone at your workplace to notice, since there is a person-sized gap on the chair at the desk where you would normally be sitting. And it is kind of unavoidable that at some point your manager told the other employees who would be doing what work that you would have normally done.

Do you have any evidence or even any hints that your boss has been discussing anything beyond that? As you write it, the one who mentioned "2nd leave of absence due to mental illness" was you, and not your boss. And do you expect that in the two months you were gone, nobody ever said under the pressure of work "I wish I wasn't here, but wherever Jamie is right now"?

I think you should try very hard to assume that everyone talking to you is well-meaning and has good intentions and whatever they say is not meant to be attacking you. It's much better for you personally. It's much better for everybody else if some more or less gracious attempt at smalltalk doesn't get them an earful from you. And that in turn is also much better for you, because that kind of reaction will turn people against you. And if someone has bad intentions, and things should turn into a legal direction, you will be in a much better position if everyone says that any escalation is definitely not your fault.

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I've been there myself, having missed work as a result of mental health issues.

The important thing to realize is that it is very difficult for people who have no experience with psychiatric disorders (either not having experienced them themselves or through a family member) to empathize with those who do.

To them it just looks like laziness/slovenliness etc and how can you expect them to tell the difference?

Now that you're feeling better, the best thing for you to do is to work hard and kick ass at whatever it is that you do.

Being able to overlook remarks such as this is a sign of good mental health.

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    +1 Even those who have family members with mental illness may struggle to get any real understanding. (Speaking from experience as a family member). – AndyT Jul 3 '15 at 9:21
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Going through what you've been through was surely very difficult. Returning to work to find that people are talking about you in sarcastic and/or gossipy ways is adding insult to injury. Sorry you've had to go through this.

That said, before deciding what to do, I recommend that you ask yourself what your goals are here.

  • You ask if there is a legal issue. Are you looking to file a lawsuit? If so, the legal aspects are usually considered off topic on this site, as we're not lawyers (for the most part). However, if you file a lawsuit, there's a good chance you'd mark yourself as undesirable and make future employement more difficult to find. Beyond that, you'd be creating an adversarial relationship which is going to make your workplace more difficult to bear.

  • Do you want your boss to understand what you've been through? Then have a private discussion with her about the matter. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that she'll understand.

  • Get a new boss? Complain to your HR department. Her comments were out of bounds here and if she's gossiping about you she may have violated privacy policies and/or laws. That said, it's unlikely they'll just give you a new boss over this.

  • Stop the questions and conversations about why you were gone? Well, you can't do that for certain, because you can't control what people will do. One of two - somewhat opposite - tactics seems most likely to work: Either answer any questions/comments with something like "I was out due to a medical condition. I'm better now, but don't wish to discuss it any further." Alternatively, you can call a meeting, divulge as much of what you went through as you choose to/feel comfortable doing, and then say you're looking forward to getting back to work and getting things done and hope everyone else will do the same.

If it was me, I expect I'd want things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. I tend toward privacy on things like this, so I'd probably stick with saying I was away due to medical problems and ask people to respect my privacy. If things don't improve, you can go to HR. If that doesn't help, pursuing alternate employment and/or legal remedies would be in order.

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Could this possibly be a legal issue? The fact that she stated 'we were' talking....gives me the feeling she talked to others about my issues...

I'd be careful about this as there is a great chance of people clamming up if asked, "Did you talk about that person's private issues?" while you may well have other office political fallout to handle here. Depending on the size of the company there may be some avenues to consider as larger companies may have HR people that you could discuss this to some degree to get it resolved well.

At the same time, be careful how much you try to muzzle this as people may well discuss how you were gone and what that may look like for them. Yes they take things in ways that are quite different than what you had but are you one to claim to know what can and cannot be said by someone of their own thoughts about being on leave? If one of your co-workers was gone for a couple of months how sure are you that you would say absolutely nothing about it? Remember that this was a hypothetical they discussed and not necessarily you from how I read this.

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Its a sticky situation as

  1. If your boss is taking about your personal matters, especially medical issue as office gossip, then it would be out of line and they should face some kind of disciplinary action.
  2. Divulging sensitive personnel in a manner not in line with the performance of their job would be unethical and very much a potential violation of privacy laws.

With that said, proving such things is hard because it might come back to argument as hearsay without evidence. I would consult a lawyer who specializes in employment law.

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