I like my job and I like my coworkers, but today my mental illness was getting the best of me. So after some deliberation and my attempts to bring it under control on my lunch, I finally decided to send an email out to my supervisors that I was not feeling well and that I would be leaving for the day. To my surprise I received a call from one of them. I have only used my sick time twice before and was never asked why. This supervisor asked how I wasn't feeling well so I decided to tell the truth. Which was a mistake. The supervisor told me I could leave, but that I could not use sick time - I had to use vacation.

I know it doesn't seem like much and this is probably just my mental illness still getting the better of me, but this just pushed me over the edge and I had to hurry out of the office before I experienced a breakdown, which is still in progress as I type. I felt like I was tricked and taken advantage and I did not want to disclose my mental illness in the first place, but I felt like I had to despite workplace laws.

I was wondering if there was any recourse I could take. I thought about emailing my manager, but I'm honestly not sure if that will make things worse. I'm just so frustrated and feel violated as weird as that may sound. I shouldn't have said anything because I have been having a panic attack ever since.

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    This sounds very much like something you need to take up with HR, possibly a lawyer to ask if the action that was taken against you was appropriate or legal. I can't see why they prevented you from taking sick leave, it shouldn't be any different to someone feeling nauseous. Unfortunately, attitudes towards mental illness are not catching up everywhere yet :( – Jane S Aug 20 '15 at 21:17
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    If your company has an HR department, contact them as soon as you're feeling well. At every company I've worked at, mental and physical illnesses were treated the same. Some had even "codified" it as policy. I'd be very surprised if your HR department doesn't speak with your manager and make a "cognitive adjustment" with him. – Wesley Long Aug 20 '15 at 21:38
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    What exactly was the truth you told your manager? Many people use the phrase "mental health day" for taking all or part of a day off just to relieve normal daily stresses. This sort of "mental health day" would be vacation time not sick time. If you've been working somewhere for a number of months and have never mentioned that you suffer from a diagnosed mental illness, is it possible that your manager thought you were saying that you were taking a "mental health day" rather than dealing with a medical condition? If that's possible, you may want to take a less confrontational approach. – Justin Cave Aug 20 '15 at 23:29
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    I also think the "goto lawyer" advice is out of control on this site (not just JaneS, but lots of folks). It really is a form of deflection. Lawyers are like the "nuclear option" in any situation. You go to them when you've reached the end of all discussion with the other party. – teego1967 Aug 21 '15 at 11:37
  • Makes me thankful for a) combined PTO days so it doesn't matter and b) a good boss who wouldn't pull this crap if it did – Kevin Jan 24 '17 at 16:36

I go on holiday at times when I would be perfectly fine to work, and therefore perfectly fine to enjoy my holiday. I take sick leave when I'm not capable of working (or if there is something infectious, if it makes me inefficient and would be bad if passed on to everyone else in the office).

By the way you describe it, you were not capable of working. So you should see a doctor, get a sicknote or whatever is required, and make sure it counts as sick time. Now I can imagine that arguing with your supervisor isn't exactly helping with your health problem, so you'd better wait discussing things with him or her until you feel fit enough.

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    +1 If the OP needed to leave work because of a physical illness, and a supervisor did not think it was justified as sick leave, the correct response would be a doctor's note. – Patricia Shanahan Aug 20 '15 at 21:53
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    @PatriciaShanahan I'd also argue that given there were physical manifestations (a panic attack) from the OP's mental illness, it is the same as physical illness. – Jane S Aug 20 '15 at 21:56
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    Some organizations have policies covering when a doctor's note is or is not required. When that's the case, a manager's suspicion alone may not be enough to justify the demand when the duration of the absence is, e.g., one day or less. – Air Aug 20 '15 at 22:05
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    Another +1 for doctors note. Your supervisor is almost certainly not your physician, and is in no place to dictate your health status. See a professional, get a written record (e.g. note) and if necessary take it HR as others mentioned. – NPSF3000 Aug 20 '15 at 22:35
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    @JaneS, I would argue that mental illness is a physical illness in all cases. – HLGEM Aug 21 '15 at 14:21

Your manager may have misunderstood

It could easily sound like an ordinary "I'm worn out. I'd like some R&R [rest and relaxation]", which is vacation.

On the other hand, it could be "I am unfit to work, due to medical reasons", which is typically sick time.

It's quite possible that the manager heard the first, when you meant the second. If it is a miscommunication, one option is to attempt a second explanation, assuring him of your inability to work.

The downside is that you will again put yourself in a position where you will be tempted to further explain your personal issues.

Doctor's note

If you have a medical professional that you see about this condition, a note from them goes a long way towards legitimizing your case.

Stick to pertinent information

Try to not divulge details about reasons for sick leave (unless you want to, of course).

Say "I'd rather not discuss my personal heath details." There a name for that: PHI -- protected health information -- and a bunch of laws around its disclosure. There might be some company policy for a doctor's note, but your employer generally doesn't need to know in why/how you are sick (e.g. they don't need to know that you have AIDS).

Do this in the future, and this can also work for your current situation. Say "I was unable to perform my job due to health reasons. I would not like to discuss the details of my personal health." You may be asked to provide some "evidence" (e.g. doctor's note) of your inability; this will depend on company HR policies.

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If you live in the US there is sadly nothing you can do. Companies are not required to give you any vacation days, they are more of a perk. Legally the company can do whatever they want with your vacation days unless there is a policy explicitly spelled out in your contract.

You leaving in the middle of a shift as opposed to not coming in at all may also have something to do with their decision.

Check your company policy. There is usually a clause that states instances when they are required to give you sick leave. Talking to HR would help but I doubt anything besides a doctor's note would change your boss's views.



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    This reads more like speculation than an answer. – Jane S Aug 21 '15 at 1:06
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    You are still assuming that the OP is in the US. Many members of this community (including me :) ) are not, so US law may not necessarily apply. – Jane S Aug 21 '15 at 2:12
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    This is stated in the paragraph to which it applies... Either way if this answer is out of context, I will delete it. – Acumen Simulator Aug 21 '15 at 2:22
  • I guess it just boils down to that we don't know if it's out of context as we don't have that information from the OP. No harm in leaving it where it is and wait for some feedback on where the OP is situated :) – Jane S Aug 21 '15 at 3:14

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