In this case, I think it is indeed legit to quit
October 3, 2018 7:52 PM   Subscribe

I had official disability status as a student, due to some mental health issues. I'm quitting my job due to the work environment, and I realized I may have underestimated the significance of those issues outside of the university. As I search for a new job, how should I anticipate and address these issues so I can be happy and comfortable in my future workplace?

Am I disabled?

I've been at this job for a month and a half. I'm halfway through my training period. I won't go into details, but the work environment is bad enough that literally everyone I know has been telling me to quit immediately. Key points here: there is no training plan in place, I have an enormous workload, there is zero positive feedback, and they micromanage the hell out of me. No one is vindictive, they just don't know how to manage or train people.

It's not a good work environment for anyone, but I think I've been reacting more strongly than most people would. I've been having panic attacks during my morning commute, can't focus while I'm there, and have generally been miserable since I started. It took a while to connect the dots and remember that I have a lifelong history of very debilitating mental illness, and that I did spectacularly well at my university thanks, in part, to the accommodations they granted me as a disabled student.

As I search for new jobs, what can I do to avoid this kind of situation again? Or to seek out accommodations? I'm applying for a couple public-sector jobs that have given me the option of claiming disability status (as a fair employment thing). I'm assuming I don't have that option in the wider job market, but what options do I have? It's helpful for me to think in terms of having a disability (to forgive myself, to recognize where my strengths are), but I don't expect everyone else to see it that way.

Are there any resources for job hunting with mental illness? The little I've seen says I can present documentation of a disability-qualifying condition to my employer, but that's all I've been able to find (I've seen much more information for employers). What other steps can I take as a job-hunter? Is it just a matter of seeking out an environment that I won't expect to clash with my needs as an employee?

Lastly, I'm concerned that I'll never be able to hold down a job, because I've struggled my whole life. How can I take a more positive approach to the job search, especially after such an intensely negative experience?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What country are you in?
posted by maurreen at 9:44 PM on October 3, 2018

Response by poster: Sorry, in the US. In California.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:50 PM on October 3, 2018

Best answer: Be careful. There's not really such a thing as "disability status" in U.S. jobs. Just because applications allow you to self-identify as disabled (which is for measuring demographics in hiring) doesn't mean you are guaranteed any particular accommodation after they hire you (see below). I personally would be hesitant to disclose up front, especially if "very debilitating mental illness" means anything perceived as more grave than depression. Discrimination in hiring is illegal, but it can be awfully hard to prove. Here is NAMI on this.

If it substantially impairs a major life function, you're disabled. There's no reason to question yourself over this. (Here is the EEOC on this.) But, in the U.S. workplace, you have to be able to perform the essential functions expected of the position with reasonable accommodation. You are entitled to that reasonable accommodation, but you are probably not going to be able to successfully request accommodations like "give me a certain amount of positive feedback" or "don't give me a ton of work"--basically anything that implies an inability to handle the essential workload or operate within an ordinary supervisory structure. (This is a little bit different from accommodation in school under IDEA, as you might be used to, where they will do things like alternative assignments, or specific feedback rubrics, or the like.) You need to figure out specific kinds of environments in which you think you can work successfully and/or specific ways in which another environment could be reasonably modified to help you succeed, so that you can present them to your new employer convincingly. You're really the one who knows best what those are--you're the top expert on your own disability. Helpful accommodations will vary from disability to disability, so it's probably hard for people to advise you without knowing your specific condition. Sorry to be so general, but what might help a person with generalized anxiety disorder is likely quite different from what might help someone with schizoaffective disorder.
posted by praemunire at 10:09 PM on October 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, and sorry, I realize I was phrasing stuff in a way that implied I think of a lack of feedback as relevant to disability. I'm frustrated with management, and I should have just restricted information to the relevant stuff. But I get what you're saying, and no, I have no expectation of alternative assignments or anything.

Are there guidelines anywhere that suggest possible accommodations for specific issues? I'm a little reluctant to go into too many specifics, just because this is public-facing internet.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:50 PM on October 3, 2018

Best answer: You will get the most relevant help from support groups for your conditions. I have multiple disabilities, all of them invisible disabilities unless I am using my cane or wheelchair that day. None of my doctors were particularly helpful when I was questioning if I should still be in the workforce. They have all been incredibly suppose of my decisions, but they count a lot on patient input about your daily life. You have to think about the key functions of the job and then see what you may or may not be able to do. Don’t try to sugarcoat things, it won’t be a helpful exercise if you aren’t brutally honest with yourself. It sucks having to admit that things others may find easy you find painfully impossible. This does not mean you are a bad person or you cannot find something that is a good fit for you- it just might not be what you were thinking it might be or it’s not a traditional role. There are job network boards for disabled people, some of them helpful but others less so. The most helpful ones are state boards for disabled veterans. The social security administration also has resources for job seekers . Your first step should be speaking with both the career help sector of Your university and the disability office of Your university. All universities have some kind of job placement help, even for alumni. If you have worked with them in the past they may be able to steer you towards jobs that fit your particular needs.
I hope you have luck finding a job that fits your needs. It’s always hard to find a job that is a good fit, but it’s even harder when the deck is stacked against you to begin with. Feel free to message me if you like. I may be able to help you out with particulars. I managed retail stores for years and my favorite part of that career is mentoring and coaching people to be where they need to be. I will try to update this as soon as I can get my laptop running- it’s hard to find my bookmarked sites on mobile.
posted by shesaysgo at 12:16 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The website of potential accommodations is Job Accommodation Network. It’s run out of WVU? And is designed for people to get useful information. That being said, the strength of the accommodation process is much better when the employer’s HR is primarily managing it. Quietly seek them out to explore your options.
posted by childofTethys at 4:23 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Job Accommodation Network, I've found it very helpful.

If what you're dealing with is trauma-related, feel free to MeMail me, I'm in the process of trying to get accommodations at my work for that stuff and I'm glad to talk about it.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:43 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Best advice I've gotten: if you're trying to figure out degree of effect, base it on your worst days, not your best ones. (Or at least, say, your bottom quarter or third, not the top.)

My last job moved me into a physical location that lead to my migraines ramping up to a scary degree (I don't get pain, I do get aura issues and what I refer to as neurological glitchiness - I'd come home from work and not be safe to cook because I didn't trust myself to handle a cooking knife, hot pans, or hot dishes. It sucked.)

I've had usually quite managable chronic stuff for a long time, but this is the second job (out of, effectively 4 in my adult work life) where it's been an issue because it became suddenly inconvenient to do the things that would let me actually get work done.

(This story has a happier ending than that sounds like...)

I was job hunting already at that point, and what I did was go through the AskJan links (same as the link the people above me gave you) and looked for what I knew was helpful, and then made a list of what I probably needed to make the next job work better.

When I looked for jobs, I looked at the posting carefully (I'm a librarian, so there's a lot of "let's dump all the stuff we need to do into this listing" stuff that happens). Was it reasonable? Were they already expecting someone to be superhuman? If so, I wasn't applying.

If I made it to the interview, I looked really carefully at the work environment. "Can I see where this position would be working?" is a good way to phrase this. (I'm fine with saying "A lot of setups work fine for me, but I've had a couple that really didn't - so it'd help to know up front what it'd be like." but actually no one ever asked me why. It's a pretty reasonable question for reasonable humans.)

Room with four other people, tiny monitor, and no desk space? Not a job I was going to take. Lot of people coming and going all the time and the job involved a lot of focused work? Not great for me. (It might have been okay in a culture where headphones were fine or if most of the job was patron interaction.) Job where people made jokes about the internal temperature varying by 20 degrees if you moved 10 feet in the building? Not ideal, but that one I could live with.

Room with people working with headphones on, smiling pleasantly when I got my tour. Great. Signs people had control over the lighting directly around their desk? Awesome. My current place which is an office with fluorescent lights but they have filters on them to protect materials? Turns out to be just fine (but it's also very clear if I wanted a few desk lamps and no overhead, they'd make that happen.)

My current job is somewhere where a significant number of staff have disability-related needs, and if anything like that is on your radar, I have to really recommend it. There's a lot of general "HR sent out a thing early because people need info to plan" and awareness about accessibility, even though the things that affect most of our staff with access needs aren't the specific things I need.

A culture of it being fine to ask about an accessibility thing that will let you join in or do your job better that has been a big stress reduction for me, even though a) my migraines have gone back down to once every month or two and triggered by weather and b) my direct workspace is much better for me.
posted by jenettsilver at 12:04 PM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm an attorney who helps companies understand their obligations in these contexts (but obviously not your attorney, nor am I providing legal advice). The Job Accommodation Network is a good place to start with understanding potential accommodations for your condition. This FAQ from the EEOC may also be helpful to you, particularly the part about discussing accommodations to perform the job. I personally think it's a good idea to wait until you have an offer in hand for a number of reasons, and praemunire has the general framework right on. Do not assume that checking a disability status box will put the employer on notice that you may need an accommodation - it won't.

Don't be surprised when they give you a bunch of paperwork to give to your healthcare provider to establish (1) that you have a disability, and (2) what accommodations would allow you to perform the essential functions of the job. Know that in California, unlike other jurisdictions, they cannot ask you what the disability/condition is, they can just have a doctor confirm that it limits one or more of your major life functions (work counts) and set forth any work restrictions you might have. To put it more simply, they're not entitled to know that you have PTSD, they're only entitled to know that you have a disability and the limitations are that you cannot work in a space that does not have more than one method of egress. They then can use that information to determine that a reasonable accommodation might be moving your desk to a different part of the office, or whatever.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:05 PM on October 4, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you for all the advice. This is all very good information. I am checking out all the links people provided. JAN seems like a very good resource.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:25 PM on October 4, 2018

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