FMLA in Massachusetts?
November 2, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I am an employee in Boston, MA who is strongly considering taking a medical leave of absence. Please help me to understand my rights.

YANML. But I have contacted a labor/employment lawyer throughout the bar association.

Basically, my job has created such crippling anxiety and stress that I feel that taking time to work through it is probably my best bet. My primary care doctor has supported this choice and I will see her next week to talk about this and to get a letter from her. I'm hoping the the bar association will help me. I guess I'm looking for any suggestions as to what I can do or what to expect.

My boss is the first part of the problem. She holds me to different standards. I am not allowed to work from home and am constantly being yelled at about everything...yet, she gave me a glowing review in April? All other employees are her friends hired from a past job. They all come and go as they please and spend the day shopping online or on Facebook. I have weekly 1:1 meetings with her where I come prepared with an agenda of items to discuss as well as typed notes on the status of everything else I'm working on. I'm not perfect, but my work is relatively flawless considering I'm doing the work of two people being that we are short staffed. I have been suffering from increasing anxiety from constantly being picked apart and yelled at (last week I was traveling for work and asked my boss if she needed a coverage plan for the three days I was gone. She said no. When I came back to the office, all of my work was fucked up beyond belief where it took the following two days of working 10 hour days just to get it back into reasonable shape...I was reprimanded for not providing a coverage plan). My primary care doctor said that I'm experiencing "PTSD levels of anxiety" and while she's not telling me what to do, I know she thinks I need to leave this job ASAP. However, in giving it some thought if I were to just leave and get a new job, these unaddressed feelings will remain, hence why I'm considering taking a leave to get things straightened out.

Meanwhile, my boss's boss (Senior VP of company) has been another major source of stress. She has done everything from calling me derogatory names based on what I wore to work that day (a conservative black dress with a drop waist and pearls) - I was called a concubine to my face a few times and overheard her say similar about me while sitting in my boss's office as I came in that day; to physically grabbing my shoulders and shaking me while I was on the phone with a client saying that I "need to relax!" While this would be ok if we were more friendly, but we are not because all I get from her is negative feedback. Several months ago I was dealing with a chronic condition that required lots of doctors notes. I was directly approached behind a closed door by my boss and my boss's boss demanding to tell them what was going on. I told them both that I was not prepared to discuss with them (honestly, I felt it was none of their business, I was getting all work done on time and felt like if I told them then they would treat me differently). It has since resolved, but I still get doctors notes for every visit, even just general check ups or blood work that has me getting to the office by 9am.

The list goes on and I have been documenting since August in a journal, and before that in Evernote. I have reported this to HR and nothing was done. I requested a consultation with an employment lawyer to navigate all this. Am I completely overreacting? I'm at the point where my personal life is suffering. I have nightly panic attacks which I'm been prescribed klonopin to manage, which helps. Then there is the insomnia. So many nights I've been wide awake with worry about what I'm going to get yelled at about the next day. I was initially prescribed ambien but have been shifted to trazodone which helps a lot. I've started having nightly dreams about work, waking up in shock on the weekends thinking I'm late for work and have cast aside my hobbies and family time to do work to hopefully keep me from being picked apart. It doesn't feel healthy and I just want my life back and to not have to take all these drugs just to deal.

What do you think? I figured a lawyer can tell me if I'm bring ridiculous or if I have a legit case and should be able to help me navigate FMLA. Does this mean career suicide? I'm scared that if I am able to take leave that when I return they are going to be even harder on me and try to push me out, or some other method of retaliation. I was seeing a therapist and am going to start again (stopped only due to health insurance) but I don't think it helped, or I'm far worse now that I was then. I started off loving this job because I felt like I was making a difference, but now I dread it and have regular, weekend meltdowns about it. FWIW, it's a small company of about 45 people in Boston. They just came out with a handbook. We just had short term disability added to our benefits and it does mention FMLA.

What else to consider?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
FMLA requires your employer to have 50 people in the location you work in for coverage. As a practical matter, you may not be covered by the FMLA even though your employee handbook mentions it.

What else to consider?

Find a new job.

It's not clear at all to me why FMLA would even help you. Whatever you did during the FMLA absence, you would come back to exactly the same scenario that stresses you. The sort of environment you describe is not one that is fixed by contemplation, it's fixed by finding a new job. You have far exceeded the point of trying to "fix" your work environment - you should realize that they are doing nothing to try to keep you as an employee.

It's rather clear to me why FMLA would hurt you. You will not get paid for your absence. You will probably not be perceived as a valuable employee if you require randomly disappearing for periods of time - since you have no reason to expect that FMLA will fix your working environment, your coworkers should expect you to need multiple intermittent FMLA leave. You could possibly be perceived as a difficult/litigious employee, which will not help you with your correct goal of finding a new job.

Every ounce of effort you spend trying to deal with your current working environment or trying to legally force your employers into a better working arrangement for you keeps you further away from finding a new job.
posted by saeculorum at 8:38 AM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

What I would really be discussing with your employment lawyer is how to collect unemployment due to leaving your job for medical reasons. Then give your two weeks notice.

This situation will not improve because you have a terrible direct supervisor and her boss is not any better. Taking a leave won't change that situation. You'll just come back to stress and anxiety.
posted by brookeb at 8:50 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm scared that if I am able to take leave that when I return they are going to be even harder on me and try to push me out, or some other method of retaliation.

My first thought was that they will make your life even more miserable when you come back. If you can get leave, great, but please for the love of all that is holy use that time to find yourself a new job!

What concerns me about your post is how inured you sound to this terrible environment. You wrote:

I was called a concubine to my face a few times [wtf?]
physically grabbing my shoulders and shaking me [oh, hell no]
While this would be ok if we were more friendly
I don't think it helped, or I'm far worse now that I was then
Am I completely overreacting?
It doesn't feel healthy

It sounds like you have been there so long that your perspective on what is reasonable has been skewed. So let me assure you, this kind of behavior in a workplace is not reasonable. Taking medications for mental health issues is one thing. Needing to take medications just to deal with your work environment is a whole different story.

Honestly, this sound like an abused/abuser situation. You are feeling that if you can just do X, Y, Z, your employer will be satisfied and treat you better. Like all abused/abuser relationship, this will not happen. A person like your boss will always find something to yell about.

What else to consider?

Do not spend one more minute working for free at home. People like this will pick you apart no matter how much you do for them. Even if you did all your work perfectly, then did the next three week's worth of work perfectly, then did everyone else's work and cleaned the office, your boss would still find some thing to criticize.

So take care of yourself first. Meet with the attorney. Get leave if you can. If you can't, take all your sick and vacation leave that you can. Update your resume. Get yourself a new job. Leave this terrible place behind you. Good luck!
posted by Beti at 9:04 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

However, in giving it some thought if I were to just leave and get a new job, these unaddressed feelings will remain, hence why I'm considering taking a leave to get things straightened out.

I think this line of thinking is a symptom of the stress. Because this idea is not logical or rational. Staying in a job where you are abused is not going to "address" the issue or resolve anything or make anything better. This is the employment equivalent of saying, "my spouse beats me, so I'm thinking of going on a solo vacation for a little while and then coming back to the abusive relationship, because I need to address the root cause of why my spouse beats me."

The reason your job sucks and is making your life miserable is that your bosses are assholes and you work in a sick system. No leave of absence is going to fix it. Here's what is going to fix it: getting out. And once you're out, if you have post-traumatic feelings to work through, you can address them in therapy. Right now, you're not in any position to work through the feelings because you are in crisis, and you're spending all of your energy just surviving. Once you're out, permanently, you'll have the mental energy to work through the aftermath.

Get out now. Get your lawyer to help you figure out how to make leaving financially viable, and start looking for a new job, pronto. It will be hard. But just like a battered spouse, your life and your capacity to care for yourself will improve immeasurably once you've escaped.
posted by decathecting at 9:14 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a terrible place to work. But I'm not understanding your medical leave solution as anything other than a temporary bandaid and way to try to fight these people when you should be focusing all of your efforts instead on finding a new job.

Let's take a step back. What's the hoped-for outcome here? A better working situation? You have the power to get that -- by finding a new job, not by taking a break.

You were quite dismissive of therapy. It can take time to find the right therapist and for there to be results. Please give that some time. It can also be really helpful for that therapy to bridge your current situation and a new job. That can help you figure out what in this situation is your anxiety and stress and how to navigate that.

The stress is definitely talking now, and, as you and your doctor have discussed, it's hurting you. You wanting to stay strikes me as a sort of Stockholm syndrome -- why do you want this particular job? Are you hoping to prove to them this place is toxic?

I'm glad you are seeking help. It's not necessarily wrong to work with a lawyer, but I think a therapist is more in order here. You need a supporter, a coach, not someone to help you fight these people. If you stay there, you will lose no matter the outcome.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:19 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone else that you need to get out of this job ASAP. I disagree with everyone else about FMLA. If your lawyer advises you that you are eligible to take FMLA, I think it would be a good option for gaining some perspective - and more importantly, the time and space you need to hunt for a new job. (Do run this by your lawyer to make sure it won't get you in trouble).

When you're in this type of toxic environment, it's going to be difficult to take days off to interview for other position (which you absolutely need to do, as soon as humanly possible). However, I don't think just putting in your two week's notice is advisable. It's harder for someone who doesn't have a current job to get an interview...and if you end up out of work for months, it's even harder. If you can swing extended time off via FMLA it might be a good option for ensuring you have a job to go back to if you can't find anything else right away.

Good luck, it's horrible to work in that type of environment and it can slowly warp your thinking. You're not alone - so many people have been through this.
posted by leitmotif at 4:34 PM on November 2, 2014

Just came across an article from the great blog Ask A Manager that might be of help in the future if you decide to get a new job. Good luck.
posted by Beti at 9:03 PM on November 3, 2014

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