Help navigating work issues when planning to go on short term disability
November 15, 2018 9:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning to take short term disability leave at work to help manage some mental illness and need help with how to inform my boss and understanding how it will impact a possible future job offer.

I'm located in Canada, in case it matters. For the past several months I've been suffering from anxiety and depression. Recently, my psychotherapist diagnosed me with PTSD. I've started having more physical symptoms in the past weeks (uncontrollable shaking in my hands, increased heart rate) and my psychotherapist strongly urged me to take time off from work under my short term disability coverage. The nature of the coverage is that I can apply for benefits after missing five days of work. I'm not able to apply before that happens. After being approved my benefits kick in immediately. My psychotherapist recommended taking two months off. I'm planning to start taking time off in the middle of next week.

I have two parts to my question:

1. I'm terrified of speaking to my boss about this. He is a huge factor in why my stress levels are where they are. Is it reasonable to explain to him about taking time off under short term disability through email after I'm away from work? Or is this something I ought to have a conversation with him about before I actually leave?

2. A few weeks ago I had a job interview for an internal job posting. The job was a great match for my skillset and I'd worked with the person in the past. The hiring manager also mentioned that there wasn't a lot of response to the posting. So, for these reasons and a few others, I feel like I have a good chance at getting the job. Working against me is the fact that my job performance has suffered during the past year due to my mental illnesses. I followed up earlier this week and the hiring manager said he'd have a final decision in a few days. I'm wondering - would taking short term disability jeopardize my chances of getting this job? How and when should I bring this up with the hiring manager if I'm offered the job?
posted by NoneOfTheAbove to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How solid is your HR department? That is one way of bypassing too many details with your boss. Would your plan still be the same if you got the new position, or reduced with lower exposure to that stress? Any chance of a delayed start with the new position?

I don’t know Canadian specifics, so these questions would help with generally sussing out a plan.
posted by childofTethys at 4:36 AM on November 16, 2018

I'm not sure how solid our HR department is. The new position would cause me lower levels of stress, but I'm still planning to go on short term disability either way. I think that I'm at a point where I really desperately need it. Even if things aren't as bad in the new position, I could see myself crashing in two or three months. So, I'd rather just take the time off that I need. A delayed start might be possible. I'm really not sure. I know that the department had been planning on putting up the job posting since January before it was actually posted a few months ago. It's a new department and they were still working out the best way to structure things. So, it sort of feels like there isn't a huge rush. But, I don't know for sure.
posted by NoneOfTheAbove at 5:43 AM on November 16, 2018

If your company has an HR department, I second speaking to them. You don't need to tell your boss anything if this is the case - they should handle informing him. I took short-term disability and told my boss directly, face-to-face. I regret doing this. Also, HR was insistent after that point that all communications go through them anyways.

I think it's OK to inform your boss by email. The only problem with this is that it may seem abrupt to him and like you're avoiding a conversation (this is his problem, not yours, but still). I actually suggest just taking a few sick days - since you need to be away 5 days before applying for disability anyways - then letting him know by email that your doctor told you to take short term disability. Counter-intuitively, this comes across as less avoidant. If you can tell him it will be for 2 months, great, but if the time is still up in the air you don't have to.

But go through HR instead if you can.

You don't need to inform the hiring manager. If they want you to start earlier, just tell them you're not available until X date. I only see them being concerned if they hear about your leave through the grapevine and don't know when you'll be back. Just give them a clear start date - they don't need any details.
posted by ersatzhuman at 5:54 AM on November 16, 2018

An illness is an illness--if you had a heart problem and your doctor told you to take time off right now I don't know if you would hesitate. Since part of your illness is anxiety, this is just doubly hard--but you've been told it is medically necessary--so you need to do it. I would suggest that you don't need to tell either HR or your boss what specifically is going on. Just tell them you have an urgent medical problem that requires you to go out on disability immediately. Period. As a courtesy, you could also inform the hiring manager for the new position--that way you don't just disappear--if they want you, they'll wait.

Take care of yourself. This is why disability benefits exist.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:24 AM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you should take the leave. I also think you should be quite realistic about the fact that they will have to prefer you very strongly for the new position to wait multiple months for you. I wouldn't tell the hiring manager, as there's some possibility that their process will putz along at such a slow speed that it won't have to be an issue, whereas, whether it's fair or legal, knowing that you are presently unable to work at all, for a non-time-limited condition, is unlikely to increase their eagerness to hire you.
posted by praemunire at 8:31 AM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is no law that says you have to tell WHY you are taking short-term disability. In fact, the laws protect your privacy in these cases. Are other people's offices like mine where they care about you so they ask a lot of questions because they want to make sure you are ok? If so, use some of this language - vague but comforting:

For your current boss, you just call in sick for the first day for a medical issue - you are not feeling well but you are going to the doctor. Email later to say your doctor advised you to take the rest of the week off, but you are resting and taking it easy. You'd rather not discuss the exact issue. Everyone in my office would assume you pulled a groin muscle or needed a colonoscopy or something embarrassing that you don't want to talk about. Then work with HR for the short term disability.
posted by CathyG at 10:09 AM on November 16, 2018

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