An ADD-like condition helped me screw up at work big time. How can I protect myself?
November 16, 2009 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Serious mistakes made months ago at work have been uncovered. Facing possible discipline (even termination), I'm wondering how (or if) I should disclose mental health issues that likely contributed.

I work as a consultant to a government agency. My work performance has been exemplary from the beginning, and in the 2.5 years I've had the job, I've never earned anything less than an "excellent" rating on every performance evaluation from the client. No one questions my skills or the quality of my work.

But inconsistencies in my time reporting have come to light, and in a time when corruption within government agencies is under intense scrutiny, even the appearance that one has falsified one's time-keeping could realistically be grounds for termination.

The basic problem: half the time I forgot to clock in, or out--or both--on the electronic time-clock, so my written time-sheets (which are used to bill the client) don't match my electronic ones. I am now required to address the inconsistencies and provide documentation that I was working when I said I was, going back more than six months.

While I'm confident that I worked the hours I claimed (and billed for), I'm having difficulty proving it. Because of inbox quotas, I don't have any e-mail messages prior to late July, so I can't retrace my steps that way. I do have some solid documentation, but an awful lot is left to a "best guess" scenario about when I was where, and what I was doing there. I don't dispute that I made mistakes or that I should perhaps be disciplined for them, and I realize my case doesn't look good.

Here's where it gets messy. I suffer from hypothyroidism, with attendant mental health issues: fatigue, "brain fog," difficulty focusing and maintaining concentration, difficulty with detail-oriented work, forgetfulness/absent-mindedness. The symptoms are very much like ADD, and frankly, I think it's a miracle that I've been able to perform as well as I have on the job--know one knows about my problem.

A month ago, my doctor--acting on my complaints of the above issues--decided to try an ADD medication on me. The drug has been nothing short of a revelation--I can't believe the difference in my daily work life. I haven't forgotten to clock in ONCE since I started, and my record keeping is superb. I have no trouble maintaining focus and concentration on detail-oriented assignments for long periods of time. I can read long documents without falling asleep, and don't seem to drift off when studying spreadsheets and data. I feel like I've turned my mental clock back 10 years--it's been a breathtaking change.

I now have no doubt that my previous mental state contributed to my forgetfulness and poor record-keeping at work. But I've never disclosed this information to my employer or the client, for obvious reasons.

Now that my mistakes have been revealed, I'm concerned about practical things like protecting my right to claim unemployment benefits should I be dismissed over the errors.

I'm not trying to escape discipline--I know I should have told my boss what was going on, and perhaps should have addressed the problems sooner. But I also don't think I should have my career and future ruined because of a problem that I have don't seem have anymore.

I am loathe to reveal this information to my employer on the chance that this situation does NOT lead to my dismissal. Why bring the baggage of mental health into a situation where it won't matter because the problem is solved?

But what if I am dismissed? I'm interested in suggestions on how best to protect myself, my unemployment benefits, and my future. For what it's worth, I live and work in the state of Illinois. Throwaway e-mail: hypothyroid.at.work@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't address many of your issues but I will take a stab at the documentation:

Do you have saved files? Documents that were created or modified at a certain time? Activity logs on any shared environments (wikis? electronic libraries, etc). any colleagues who might have the emails you sent them? Any archives of emails?

Good Luck.
posted by pointystick at 6:49 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would websites you visited be able to suggest what you were doing on certain days/times? If your web history doesn't go back that far, maybe you can try checking Google's search history. If you have a Google account, and are logged in, and haven't turned the feature off, you should have a pretty reliable record of what you were Googling.
posted by floam at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2009


I am loathe to reveal this information to my employer on the chance that this situation does NOT lead to my dismissal. Why bring the baggage of mental health into a situation where it won't matter because the problem is solved?

I think it WILL matter precisely because the problem is solved. Now at least you can say "I had a problem, I didn't even know I had it, and now it's solved and as you can see it's not happening any more. I can back this up with documentation from my doctor." It's better than being in a situation where you don't know why it happened and can't stop it from happening in the future.

You know your immediate supervisor knows about this, right? I guess you don't trust him or her enough to sit down and say "This is why this happened" without mentioning the "fire" word? That is where I would start. If they're a good boss, they will at least take that into consideration. But at least they should have all the facts before they make a decision like that.
posted by amethysts at 7:00 PM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


Also not answering the question: If your email is through the agency you consult for, the agency may be required to keep the email for open records purposes. In other words, there may be a backup somewhere despite your inbox cleaning issues.

Sort of answering the question: At a previous job, I screwed up my expense reports, and procedure required that company security investigate me. My job was on the line. However, I just clearly explained to the investigators how I screwed up and offered them an action plan to make them comfortable that I wouldn't screw up again. I didn't produce actual receipts, or anything like that (part of the screwup) but did logically explain how I got myself in such a screwed up position. I took full responsibility for my mistakes. I got a smaller bonus that year than I otherwise would have, but I kept my job.

Because I addressed the problem head on, I also was able to fix my personal deficiency to my own benefit and make myself a better person (and employee).

If you continue to be an excellent employee, confessing and fixing the issue should only be a short term hit on your reputation. In this case, you can explain how you already fixed the problem on your own initiative, putting you in a better place than I was.
posted by Pants! at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


If your email was through the gov't agency for which you worked, they should have your every email archived somewhere accessible. Due to oversight laws and other record-keeping laws, I'm pretty sure government agencies are required to keep ALL emails for something like 7 years.
posted by sleeping bear at 7:11 PM on November 16, 2009


If your email was through the gov't agency for which you worked, they should have your every email archived somewhere accessible. Due to oversight laws and other record-keeping laws, I'm pretty sure government agencies are required to keep ALL emails for something like 7 years.

Not necessarily. I am a federal employee, and there are rules about which emails need to be kept, and which do not. There are certain triggers which determine if an email is an "official record" or not. If it is, then it is supposed to be archived. If not, it can be deleted. (In general, emails that have policy or legal ramifications are official records. Assuming the employee in question is adhering to the rules.) In my position, I am not required to keep any emails, even those in which I deal with vendors. It might be a good idea, but it's not a requirement.

Having said that, there's no harm in asking for email copies, if the employer has them. (My office only allows us a very small mailbox as well, so...)
posted by The Deej at 7:50 PM on November 16, 2009


Now at least you can say "I had a problem, I didn't even know I had it, and now it's solved and as you can see it's not happening any more. I can back this up with documentation from my doctor." It's better than being in a situation where you don't know why it happened and can't stop it from happening in the future.

I second this. Also remember that you cannot be fired directly for something that was disabling you, and I would say something that caused "brain fog" was disabling, at least to some degree. But hey, now you feel better, and this stuff won't happen any more! Just explain that, in private, to your boss and any other superiors that must here it. It's not a very controversial issue you had, I'd say. Thyroid problems are common. Hopefully someone will know and understand that, and you'll be good to go. Notes and info from your doctor will help lots, too.
posted by metalheart at 7:55 PM on November 16, 2009


Check with tech support and recipients (also cc'd or bcc'd individuals) for emails. Go through Outlook or Oracle (whatever calendar you use for work) to try and reconstruct your days.

- ever printed out any messages?
- Contracts, agreements, appointments made for hours you need to account for?
- articles, information, purchases requested (i.e.from suppliers)?

Every email that goes through our work system is assigned an acession number so it can be tracked at any time, so possibly this goes for your workplace as well. Essentially any email going through that system they have permanent access to; receiving/deleting 'your' mail changes MY access; everything is still in the virtual filing cabinet.

Get over the squeamishness and tell your supervisors it was a side effect of a medical issue which has since been resolved, as they can see from the abrupt recent change for the better in your work habits. Ask your doctor for advice on how to do it.

Chances are your supervisors do not want to know any more about your medical problems than they have to. If there are trust issues involved, ask what you can do to work back up to the same level of autonomy when it comes to documentation.

Anything you see coming at you, address it right away; you look smart for noticing, and responsible for wanting to deal with it so you can get on with your job.
posted by variella at 8:05 PM on November 16, 2009


An ADD-like endocrine disorder isn't a mental health issue, it's an endocrine disorder. You're not dragging mental health into it, you're explaining to your boss that you've fixed your underlying health condition and are ready to return to your normal excellent performance levels, backed with documentation from your doctor and, if needed, an endocrine specialist.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:25 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


I would avoid using the term ADD at all, and talk about it only as effects of hypothyroidism--people still are more likely to have a dismissive response to ADD ("It's not a real disease" bla bla) than they are for hypothyroidism, which has effects that can show up in chemical tests. You can explain the symptoms and how they affected you and how you worked with your doctor and they gave you medication that has helped, and look how it has helped: example! Think of it this way: hypothyroidism isn't a mental condition, it just has side effects which affect your mental capabilities. Having a cold will cause the exact same symptoms you mentioned, but nobody is going to claim that having a cold makes you mentally ill!

I am also personally distressed by the thought that they may be perfectly willing to fire an excellent worker because of some timesheet questions. But then again, I hate the fact that most jobs reward you more for the time you spend sitting at your desk than the amount of work you do while you're sitting there.

Also, look into saving copies of your email locally. If you use Outlook, look into .pst files, if you use something else . . . there should be options there too.
posted by that girl at 8:40 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are a number of logs of your time. Do you work in a secured area? Your badge should identify when you entered and exited the building. There will be a few times when you entered with others, but the general trend will be there. Also, your computer login and logouts can likely be pulled. Do you access or upload files to servers? Those files will have timestamps. You won't get a definitive picture but you should be able to show most of your time.

About your history of timekeeping problems, I'd suggest you disclose that you had a medical issue and can provide doctor's records of diagnosis and treatment. Otherwise, you just look like you we're being a flake. I'd wonder when your attention is going to wander again. A medical condition isn't a source of shame.
posted by 26.2 at 8:49 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am not normally one to say to lawyer up, but I think you should talk to an HR professional who has experience in this sort of issue from both sides and/or an attorney who has seen it all. My gut says to 'fess up about the thyroid issue (as suggested above) and work to prove it was not an honesty issue but rather an organizational one brought on by the thyroid issue, but maybe there is a better way. The timing of the disclosure could also be important. Do you tell them now or wait until they accuse and you try to explain?

Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:40 PM on November 16, 2009


Are there server logs that show what time you logged into / unlocked your workstation? Do you have an access card for a car park? Building access logs?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:32 AM on November 17, 2009


I think a lawyer is a good idea, just to run it by someone,* as well as a letter from your doctor validating the timeline. I think you should tell your employer this, because I can't think of any reason they wouldn't fire you for this, so I think you need to haul out the only explanation you have.

Incidentally, you sound like you're maybe equating 'hypothyroid' condition with 'crazy'. If I were your employer, an actual physical problem would go a long way with me accepting your explanation and trusting you again, with the caveat that you be open with me in the future.

*on second thought, if I were your employer, that would make me feel like you were untrustworthy as well. Never mind the lawyer, unless he or she stays out of the picture (no letters to the employer, etc.)

I would say be open, honest, factual, and apologetic. If we got rid of everyone in this country who was on some sort of medication we'd lose half our labor pool.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:18 AM on November 17, 2009


I agree with those who suggest that this is not a mental health disorder, and that you do yourself a disservice by presenting it as anything akin to one. If you decide to talk about it I would talk about it in terms of symptoms and solutions.

I am also personally distressed by the thought that they may be perfectly willing to fire an excellent worker because of some timesheet questions.

The OP is correct to take this seriously. Your employer is likely thinking of this as a potential case of fraud, and rightly so. It sounds like they're paying you by the hour and not the deliverable. Everyone has a right to know if your workload is too low, too high, or just right.
posted by OmieWise at 6:45 AM on November 17, 2009


I don't believe you have a chance in hell of defending yourself if you don't have any supporting documentation for your billable hours. When I was a consultant (not even in the government) I kept a daily (hourly) log of my activities (Yay Day At A Glance Calendars!). I realize this won't help your current situation, but may be of help to you in future endeavors and those reading this for similar assistance.

Unfortunately, I see this as a "you've made your bed, now it's time to sleep in it" type situation. You live, you learn, you move on and hope to not make the same "serious mistakes" again.

Good luck!
posted by torquemaniac at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2009


Do you turn your computer on when you get in? If so, "Event Viewer", in "Administrative Tools" will save your life. It's the only way I ever manage to do my timesheet, and it goes back a year on my computer.
posted by kjs4 at 3:24 PM on November 17, 2009


I agree with what others said about checking your event viewer on your local PC (assuming you login immediately in the morning). A logon event is generated every time and since workstations aren't typically audited to the extreme of servers, it is common to have events go back years. However, I believe you need to be an administrator to view the Security log. Domain Controller event logs will overwrite themselves very quickly unless they're archived or exported to a 3rd party product so the server event log may not help much.

As for remembering to log into the time clock system every day, you could try a trick I used when my last company introduced an online time clock. Create a shortcut for the time clock web site and then save that shortcut to your Startup folder on your workstation. Every time you login, the site will automatically launch.

IANAD, but I remember reading an article about mental health issues at work (and I agree with others that this is clearly not mental health). The article said it may be beneficial to disclose your condition to your boss or HR but it must be done before it affects your work. You certainly have less credibility now that you're already in trouble.
posted by bda1972 at 11:23 PM on November 18, 2009


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