If three-quarters of Washington isn't already on on psych meds, they should be
August 19, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Does being treated for anxiety disorder pose a threat to the career of a mid-level Treasury employee?

My sister is concerned that my brother-in-law is showing signs of an anxiety disorder (out-of-control fearful ideation, controlling behavior, difficulty managing stress, etc.). This is causing problems in their relationship and affecting their kids.

When she confronted him with her concerns and asked him to get treatment, he was reluctant, saying that it would harm his career with the U.S. Treasury, where he has a mid-level role.

She thinks this sounds like the anxiety talking, but she's also concerned that there's a kernel of truth in it.

I'm looking for information to help her understand how real his fears are. Also appreciated are resources for someone in her situation. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is a federal Employee Assistance Program that may help with stuff like this (says it "helps employees resolve personal problems that may adversely impact their work performance, conduct, health and well-being.") I would think an anonymous call could give you the relevant information.
posted by *s at 9:06 AM on August 19, 2012

Hiding it from his bosses poses a far, far bigger threat to his career. Treatment will not harm his career at all, unless the care provider decides that his issues will have a direct impact on his work and cannot be resolved. If that's the case, then the issues will have an impact on his work anyway and won't be resolved, so he'll be fired anyway, and likely with a prejudicial character that will have a grave impact on his ever finding governmental work again.

On the other hand, if he goes to the EAP, then the worst that will likely happen* is that he may be shunted to another desk for a little while until he presents a clean bill of health. Depending on his relationship with his supervisor, it might be to his benefit to tell that person early in the process.

* -- Yes, there's a chance that he'll be fired immediately. The only way this happens is if he is already slipping at work, his boss just flat-out doesn't like him and there's someone waiting in the wings to take his job. Firing a federal employee is a distinct pain in the ass and won't happen just because he's expressed a desire to get help.
posted by Etrigan at 9:35 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Always, always get help for these things. Especially when there are job sensitivities! If you get fired for seeking help, you were going to get fired anyway.
posted by gjc at 9:59 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm unclear how Treasury would hear of your husband seeking treatment for *anything* health-related unless he were not disclose it himself. It's not like any employer can contact an insurance company and get medical information on an employee. It is illegal to do so.

HIPPA is the federal law that protects any patient's privacy regarding medical matters, as an inpatient or outpatient. This is very serious stuff, and at my institution (hospital) it is a firing offense if violated.

With that in mind, I hope your husband seeks help immediately for his anxiety. There is no need for him to suffer as he is right now.

Finally, if his anxiety does have a grip on him and he is thoroughly convinced of not seeking help through an MD, then there are a variety of alternative medicine practitioners that can help him (though get a recommendation, there are definitely hacks out there amongst true practitioners).
posted by honey badger at 10:19 AM on August 19, 2012

* -- Yes, there's a chance that he'll be fired immediately. The only way this happens is if he is already slipping at work, his boss just flat-out doesn't like him and there's someone waiting in the wings to take his job. Firing a federal employee is a distinct pain in the ass and won't happen just because he's expressed a desire to get help.

The idea that someone would be fired immediately for contacting their EAP is untrue. Most EAPs have strict rules of confidentiality. They do not contact supervisors or put notes in personnel files. Your brother-in-law should verify this with the EAP before spilling his guts, but unless the process goes very very wrong, it is safe to do so. Untreated anxiety poses a far greater threat to his career than seeking confidential help for it.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

If he receives treatment through an EAP, it's probably confidential (the program's literature should make it clear). If he receives treatment through a medical care provider, it's definitely confidential, with confidentiality specifically protected by law. Thus, his employers don't even need to know about his problem (and, in fact, they are probably much happier if they don't, since if they did terminate his employment or obstruct his career advancement and knew about his condition, it might be a lot worse for them than if they didn't).

If it becomes an issue which he decides is necessary to bring to the attention of his employers (e.g. because he needs some specific disability accommodation), then this issue might arise again, but as I hinted at earlier, employer awareness of a disability can, under certain circumstances, be a position of strength for the employee (which is not to say that disabled employees don't often get shafted, so tread lightly here), since the ADA does require certain support by employers, and particularly a government employer is unlikely to step out of line here.
posted by jackbishop at 10:39 AM on August 19, 2012

Does he have security clearance?

The only thing with clearance and mental health is if you're a risk for disclosing or being blackmailed. (I think, I'm not an authoritative source on this.)

Otherwise, I think this is the anxiety talking and he should seek professional help.
posted by k8t at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2012

Federal HR person here . . . and my answer is, I can't imagine any circumstances in which a federal employer could LEGALLY take an adverse action against an employee merely for seeking treatment for mental illness, or any medical condition for that matter. Unless the employee starts missing work extensive periods of time, with no foreseeable end, there is a
a such a thing as removal for "medical inability to perform." If that happened, he would probably have a good basis to be approved by OPM for disability retirement.

Additional points:

There is no need for him to disclose his condition to his boss, unless he chooses to do so. If he does, I would advise him to wait until he has seen a health care provider for a professional assessment. If there is a chance he may be displaying noticeable unacceptable behavior at work, including frequent unscheduled sick leave, there is a thing called a "Request for Medical Documentation" his supervisor could issue if a medical condition is suspected as the cause of said behavior. Your husband would then have two options: provide a provider's diagnosis and prognosis to his boss, or not, in which case he could be held accountable for any unacceptable behavior or poor performance his condition may be causing. Because without medical documentation, his unacceptable behavior or performance is just him being a problem employee to his boss.

Even if he just told his boss unofficially that he thinks he has an anxiety issue, the boss could still issue a request for medical documentation on the grounds that the employer needs to make sure he can perform his job safely for himself and others. Either way, if he chooses to disclose his condition to his boss, it will reflect better on him if he can demonstrate he has proactively chosen to seek treatment and can provide his employer with some idea of what to expect as far as use of sick leave and possible reasonable accommodations.

If your husband has a security clearance or must maintain eligibility for a clearance, this issue should not need to come up until he is due for reinvestigation. There is a space on the investigation form that asks about mental illness and it is ALWAYS better to show that he has sought treatment. If he engages in sort sort of behavior, either on or off duty (such as being arrested for disorderly conduct), that his boss finds out about and feels could pose a risk, the boss is obligated to report that to Security, who can then investigate. It would be much better at that point if your husband could prove he is seeking treatment for whatever condition may have contributed to the behavior.

Whoever he discloses his official diagnosis to, his boss, Security, etc., it is considered confidential information that can only be further disclosed to others with an official need to know. This could end up being a whole lot of people, including HR, Legal and so on, who may form an opinion about your husband IN THEIR MINDS but in no case should ever act or say anything that could be considered discriminatory unless they want to open the agency up to a boatload of liability. And believe me, in the annals of employee issues, anxiety disorder isn't anywhere near novelty enough to be tittered about behind closed doors.

FWIW, I work with a woman who for many years has been very open about her own anxiety issues, and that did not stop her from becoming HR director for our organization of about 6500 employees.

Bottom line, your husband should seek a medical assessment, mainly so he can be appropriately treated if need be, and also to protect himself at work should his condition lead to issues that may reflect poorly on his performance or conduct.
posted by auntie maim at 12:53 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

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