Time off for depression
March 11, 2010 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I think I'm depressed and need some time off from work, but I'm also a new employee. What do I tell HR?

I've been working for my current company for 10 months now though I was working as a temp for the first 9 months and as a full time hire for just one month. I have been feeling depressed for a while now but it seems to be acting up lately and I haven't been able to get myself out of bed the last few days. I have an appointment with a therapist at the end of the week but I'm not sure if I can make it through and get to work until then and calling in sick every morning without providing a reasonable explanation (I don't want them to know I'm depressed) doesn't seem like a good idea either. Any suggestions as to how I might approach this? What can I tell my HR?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a legit medical ailment and should qualify you for sick time. Take it as sick days. I don't think you have to provide details to HR but I'm not sure where you are. Requirements in Europe are way different than the US depending on how many days you're out and may require a doctor's note.
posted by charlesv at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2010

Does your company have an Employee Assistance Program for this sort of thing?
posted by neuron at 8:25 AM on March 11, 2010

(Note: What I'll say is valid only for the US. Other countries and areas may vary)

Call the therapist's office to see if you can get in sooner. Go to your general practitioner and explain the situation, so that you can begin documenting this as a medical issue. If your doctor says you're sick, then you are ill from a legal standpoint and you can work on the rest of the situation from there. If you do have to take time off, you may become eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which opens the door to more possibilities. For what it's worth, you never have to tell your employer anything other than "I am sick and cannot come to work." Any inquiries should be directed to documentation that your doctor and/or therapist will be able to provide.

You never have to tell your manager anything other than the fact that you are ill. HR may know the diagnosis or have to review documentation from your doctor confirming that you are, in fact, ill. They can't share a diagnosis or anything else with your manager according to HIPAA regulations.

I hope that helps. I haven't directly had to invoke these rules, but I've known people who have. It's important to document as much as possible.
posted by mikeh at 8:30 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. I've been there, and thankfully my supervisor is very accomodating.

Do you have anyone other than HR to talk to? They're the last people I would go to with this. And yes, I wouldn't divulge that you're depressed. I just feel it's none of their business. Can you afford to take a few days off unpaid? You could try saying that something came up and you need to be out of town for a few days, though personally I don't really like having to make stuff up/lie.

I hope you get relief soon.
posted by noxetlux at 8:31 AM on March 11, 2010

Where I work, for any illness, you need to get a letter from a doctor if you're out for 5 days or more. It does not need to state the illness. If you call in sick, state that you have an appointment with a health care provider, and are trying to get in sooner.

However, from personal experience, I've found that staying home a lot is not a healthy response to depression. Perhaps your doctor could write a letter saying you need to be on reduced hours for a period of time. If you need a cover story, a couple of chance comments about needing more iron and b vitamins will suggest anemia to people who are nosy.

Lots of ask.me answerers recommend fishoil supplements for depression. I'm trying them, but am on several meds for different things, so who knows what's making the difference. I do strongly recommend getting outdoors; sunshine helps a lot, and there's consensus that exercise is critical to recovering from depression. Even a short walk outdoors helps. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 8:48 AM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

One of the issues here that the person will need to look into is that he's only been with this company for a month. Some places benefits don't kick in until 90 days. I am not sure how the Medical Leave Act works for a new hire. In the first 90 days some companies consider an employee to be on probation and can let you go for not showing up.

I will point out that health is more important than a job, but unemployment could contribute to worsening depression.

Without knowing country/state/province people aren't going to be able to offer anything other than generalities. The best place to get these answers is the HR Department. It's what they are paid to do. Some of this information may be on your company's website as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:58 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm sorry you're going through this.

I've spent a lot of time doing HR. Keep in mind that none of us know much about the company you're working for or the jurisdiction in which it is located. But the likelihood is that, from the company's perspective, they hired you a month ago, you've earned maybe half a day of sick leave so far, and you're in probationary status (the nature of which status varies from company to company and state to state) that allows them to dismiss you with little to no future obligation for no particular reason at all.

I strongly second getting the therapy appointment rescheduled for ASAP, and to use it to focus on strategies to avoid missing work -- because if you start missing work after only a month on the job, only the most compassionate management/HR department is going to forego cutting their losses with you immediately.
posted by gum at 8:59 AM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't take off work to "work on" depression. Unless you need to be hospitalized it's much better to be engaged in your daily life to the greatest extent possible.

However, it seems like you might be asking what to do given that you're having trouble getting into work in the morning.

1) I would urge you to follow the advice to be seen by a doctor or therapist as soon as possible.

2) FMLA often has restrictions associated with an initial length of service. I work for a government entity (in the US), and here we cannot claim FMLA until we have been steadily employed here for one year.

3) I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not offering you legal advice, but my understanding is that the ADA covers mental health problems. Under the ADA your employer may be required to make reasonable accommodations so that you can do your job. Given the nature of mental health problems you would probably have to explicitly discuss this with your employer to claim your protections. (I don't think this is always true, but if you have no visible disability then your employer can not really reasonably be expected to accommodate you.) Talking to HR about this issue may be the last thing you want to do, and it may not result in you getting to keep your job (you would have to talk to a lawyer to determine what kinds of protections you could get), but you might at least trigger another layer of protection.

4) I know you probably don't want to hear this, but I would classify this as a very serious problem, insofar as you've just recently changed your status at this job. Were you my employee I would be very concerned that you were on your best behavior as a temp and are now showing your true colors. I mention this because I think your understandable reluctance to discuss mental health issues with your employer might put your job at jeopardy. This does not mean that the correct option is to discuss it all with them, but you might consider it.

Good luck.
posted by OmieWise at 9:05 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your employer almost certainly has a policy regarding use of medical leave that spells out what is available to you as a new employee. HR can tell you what that is, if you can't abide by it you'll have some trouble.
posted by ghharr at 9:13 AM on March 11, 2010

They hired you after knowing already for nine months. That means they like you and are likely to be willing to work something out with you even if you aren't yet eligible for benefits -- unpaid leave, for example.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 9:46 AM on March 11, 2010

Just so the OP knows, FMLA will not cover him or her.

In order to qualify, an employee must:
1. Work for a covered employer;
2. Have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months;
3. Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months; and
4. Work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.

As an employee of one month, the OP doesn't qualify.

Also, in regard to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) rights/compliance and depression, just having depression does not make you "covered" by the ADA. In 1999, a lawsuit clarified the rights of a depressed person under the ADA. The result of the lawsuit says that the depressed person must prove that they continue to experience limitations despite their medications and therapy. If your job performance is compromised by your illness despite the fact that you are in treatment, you would still be protected under the ADA. If you're not in treatment... no ADA. Get in treatment as soon as possible to document your condition.
posted by juniperesque at 10:01 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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