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Calling in...intermittently
August 5, 2014 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I have been working for an agency for 8 years in an upper-management position. My new-ish supervisor hates me and is creating a negative/hostile work environment. My doctor thinks I qualify for intermittent FMLA due to workplace related stress. What are people's experiences with using intermittent FMLA? Is it only going to make things worse?

I have been working for a non-profit agency for 8 years in an upper-management position. I was hired as an assistant director reporting to a department director. Over the last 8 years, my title has remained the same but my salary, responsibilities, and number of direct reports have increased greatly. I have received many positive reviews and have been successful in leading my team/department to success in many national-level awards. I have qualified for a merit-based bonus each year and have worked collaboratively with people from all departments in my agency.

Reorganization: When one of the other agency directors left, the department reorganized and my director picked up 4-5 new direct reports. Due to this, a new "assistant director" was hired to supervise myself and the other department assistant director.

I had the opportunity to interview the new manager and expressed serious reservations about her ability to be successful in this role. Others (including the CEO and the other assistant director she was going to supervise) also expressed concerns however the final choice was left to the department director.

After my new supervisor began, many other employees expressed concern about the quality of her work, her rude demeanor, and other shortcomings.

My department director asked me to meet with her to tell her how things were going with the new supervisor. In hind-sight, I believe she wanted me to say everything was rosy, however I was honest about my concerns. I had proper documentation and follow-up for all noted concerns.

My department director shared my concerns with my supervisor and that was the start of a long stretch of harassment.

My supervisor has successfully run the other assistant director out of the agency so I am now the sole focus for her energy. She has attempted to write me up twice, however HR has not upheld either write-up due to my careful documentation of all exchanges that I've had with her. She is openly rude, makes biting responses, makes racist remarks, and generally makes it unpleasant to go to work each day.

Due to the hostile work environment, I have been experiencing extreme insomnia, anxiety, and stress. When I know that I have to go meet with her the next day, I literally cannot sleep, and after one (or two, or more) sleepless nights, my productivity and happiness are greatly affected.

I have talked to HR and the program director and they both say they'll "talk to her", but I don't feel hopeful. I AM actively applying for new jobs and have had some promising interviews in the last week.

My question: My doctor thinks I qualify for intermittent FMLA due to workplace related stress. What are people's experiences with using intermittent FMLA? Is it only going to make things worse?

For reference, in 8 years, I have used 7 sick days for either illness or prescheduled appointments. I have over 520 accrued sick hours. I know I would be limited to 12-weeks, however I don't plan to take that much time OR to be there for that long.

I know YANML.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you're actively looking for work elsewhere, so this is time-limited... and you've got the accrued sick time to cover a bunch of it? I'd go there, absolutely. It seems like if it just makes her cranky then it's not going to be markedly worse than where you already are. Usually the trouble is more maintaining a decent relationship when you're hoping to still be there in a year or five. And while it's not a great place to go with an employer unless you're willing to leave if it doesn't work, you'd be introducing the fact that her actions could legally be considered FMLA retaliation, instead of just rudeness. Which is to say, you might get some leverage to get them to actually act. The actual legal definition of that depends on where you are and so on, but I'm thinking less in terms of an actual lawsuit than just the possibility as a catalyst. Again, bad plan if you're really wanting to stay, but if you're already probably leaving, I can't see a real down side.

But be careful with the FMLA leave if you're also job-hunting, don't take your FMLA time to do interviews elsewhere, that sort of thing. Pretty sure it's rare, but you can at least theoretically lose those protections if they find out that you took leave when you were still able to do something that would qualify as work.
posted by Sequence at 7:32 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


A doctor is a poor substitute for a lawyer. Stress as a "serious health condition" per the FMLA is not universally accepted, and will almost definitely require legal help if you want to pursue it and your employer objects.

"Generalized complaints of stress, fatigue, sadness, or sickness do not qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA and will not suffice to put an employer on notice of a serious health condition. See Maitland v. Employease, Inc., No. Civ.A. 1:05-cv-0661, 2006 WL 3090120 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 13, 2006)." from here.

In addition, FMLA doesn't allow you to take leave to avoid your job duties. In other words, if meeting your supervisor is the cause of your stress, your employer could legally fire you due to inability to do your job. As a practical matter, if meeting your supervisor is the cause of your stress, I'm not sure how intermittent leave helps that - it seems to me you would have the stress after meeting your supervisor, in which case I'm not sure how the leave helps you any more than simply not meeting your supervisor.

All that said, you have the advantage that HR seems to be more or less on your side and that you are talking about a relatively short time frame. So, you could simply assert yourself and take the leave - using FMLA as a reason or just saying you're sick - challenging them to do anything about it. It seems to me there's only a few possible outcomes:
  1. They do nothing and allow the unpaid leave. I think this is most likely, as it is unpaid anyway, and so long as it's only infrequent (once a week or less), it probably won't substantially alter your productivity in the short term.
  2. They decline your FMLA request and you simply say you are sick and take sick leave instead. For HR to do anything about this, they would have to go investigate whether you are "sick" or not, which would take quite a bit of effort and time on their part, for no obvious gain. I think this is substantially less likely (because they'd rather simply not pay you via FMLA than have you take sick leave and get paid), and the chance of getting to the point of legal action/firing in the short term is exceedingly small.
  3. They decline your FMLA request and sick leave request. This would be indicative of a highly incompetent HR group, as both of these open the company up to lawsuits. Unless you have some reason that your employer doesn't like employers taking sick leave, I can't actually imagine this happening. If it does happen, even then, you could probably just stop going to work and still not get fired for a reasonably long amount of time.
My final thought is that you seem to be focusing only on legalistic solutions to a problem that is really incompetent management. There are non-legal solutions to this, like simply telling your employer that you will not deal with your supervisor. Stop meeting her. If she sends you a meeting invite, decline it. If you do end up meeting with her and she is rude, walk out of the room. This requires a lot of stubbornness on your part, which is why I realize it may be difficult to do, but it has the advantage that you don't have to entangle your employment situation with the law and you might actually end up with your supervisor gone. The down side is that you may end up fired, but it is quite likely that could take much longer than it would take you to find another job. I'm suggesting this as option because it solves your root problem (poor management), possibly allows you to keep the job you seem to otherwise enjoy, and prevents the possible stigma of having to legally force your employer to do something. Even though retribution is illegal, it happens, and it is exceedingly difficult to do anything about.
posted by saeculorum at 7:53 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


makes racist remarks

I know this question is more about FMLA, but it seems like this is the key to rid yourself of your biggest stressor. Have you been documenting these remarks? Have you shared these remarks and your concerns with anyone? This will get the attention of executive management more then any issue of incompetence will.

are non-legal solutions to this, like simply telling your employer that you will not deal with your supervisor. Stop meeting her

This a great way of not only getting yourself fired, but convincing upper managment you were actually the problem the whole time, vindicating your supervisor completely, and losing a great reference.
posted by spaltavian at 8:25 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Because you have sick time accrued, I'm not sure why you would use FMLA instead of using the sick time intermittently as you normally would for illness. Mental health counts.
posted by metasarah at 8:43 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


The stress is causing physical symptoms that may meet the criteria for depression, acute anxiety, high blood pressure, or ?. I was in a similar situation, took 4 weeks off with FMLA for the physical illness caused by stress, which helped a lot. Manager continued abusive behavior, illness returned, repeat.

Document. After a meeting, email notes to the manager, BCC: an external account set up for this purpose only, as we discussed, You assigned this task, were dissatisfied with X, stated that "Blah blah rude crap." I had a temporary manager once who was rude, and who gave conflicting requests. I emailed with a status report, as required, and got a rude What the hell is this? in reply. When I replied to the manager, I CC:ed *her* manager, and, since there had been numerous other complaints, she left soon after. Be scrupulously polite. Avoid the appearance of gossip, though asking other of her direct reports how things are going may be useful. if you have sufficient documented poor performance and bad behavior, take it oyt the next level. She may still be on probation and easy to let go.

If there's any hint of illegal treatnment (age, sex, etc.), take it up a notch.

Last of all, even taking a pay cut at another job is way better than living in misery.
posted by theora55 at 8:51 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Use your sick time. You're allowed. You've earned it. FMLA is a hornet's nest, and should only be used as a last resort.

Good luck. It's a WONDERFUL job market. I'm starting my new job on Monday. I was only unemployed for 3 weeks and my new salary is 25% more than what I was making at my last job!

Once you set your mind to it, you'll be out of there in no time. For now, please yourself!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:35 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


My department director asked me to meet with her to tell her how things were going with the new supervisor. In hind-sight, I believe she wanted me to say everything was rosy, however I was honest about my concerns. I had proper documentation and follow-up for all noted concerns.

It was probably a mistake to do this. Giving feedback 'up the chain' so to speak has the many downsides you're now experiencing. But now that it's been done, if your representation of the situation is correct, FLMA will only grant you temporary reprieve at best. FLMA for what amounts to 'I don't like my boss' is dicey at best. This person either needs to change, or one of you needs to leave. 'I'll talk to her' is not the response you want to hear; you want to hear 'this behavior will change or they won't be working here anymore'. Anything less is a clear signal your dept. director is unwilling to commit to a change and I doubt a one time heart to heart conversation will alter someone's fundamental personality.

Continue looking for work, take sick leave as desired. It would feel good to deliver an ultimatum once you have an offer in hand, but the signals your dept. director is sending is that they will not or cannot fire this person, so you have little to gain from it.
posted by pwnguin at 9:57 PM on August 10


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