Should I Disclose My Stress Disability?

A question to Ask The Workplace Doctors about having a stress disability: 

I have been on a new job about 3 months. I have a disability where I get stressed out by life at times and have issues with interpersonal situations. As a result, at times, I need a few days to a week to recoup, speak with my counselor and just reflect on the situation.

I like the job and want to stay. This particular job is working for me where I am a telemarketer so I mainly interact with people on the phone and not so much in the office. When I am feeling well I am in top form — performing well. I have received several compliments from my boss.

Should I disclose my disability to my employer so they can accommodate me or will doing so open a can of worms that will get me fired? I have never disclosed my disability with an employer before because I am scared as to what they will say. In the past I either quit or my actions have gotten me fired. Right now I can really use a break. I know I will feel better after some down time.What should I do?

Answer:

We are a workplace communications site rather than a site about areas requiring ADA expertise such as you will need for a stress disability. However, your question does link to the issue of communicating as openly as possible, when it is necessary–and finding out your legal rights and obligations about it.

A big issue here is whether or not you are considered disabled under Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines (ADA) and what the obligations of you and your employer are, related to that Act. It may be that you have already been designated as having a stress disability and have paperwork from your counselor or others to verify that you cannot perform some essential work or life functions without accommodation. But, my cursory research indicates that a formal diagnosis is needed, not just the opinion of an employee or even an employee and a counselor.

Here is a response from the ADA website http://www.ada.gov/ about a general issue of notification:

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Should I tell my employer that I have a disability?

A. If you think you will need a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions, you should inform the employer that an accommodation will be needed. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.

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That does not say much about your specific issue, so you will need to research it further or ask for assistance from ADA sites or offices. The Internet has a lot of articles about the situation, but make sure you also have ADA site opinions, rather than relying on a non-expert person (such as me!).

Having said that, let me also offer some practical advice. I am not suggesting that you can overcome your stress disability merely by wanting to do so, any more than you could overcome a physical disability in that way. Mental and emotional issues are often lifetime challenges. However, I would like to offer another view for you to consider:

You need this job. You’re doing well with it and have been complimented. I would like for you to consider that you may have developed a habit or personal expectation that leads you to think that when you feel stressful, you have to have a break from work of a few days or weeks and it is impossible for you to continue working without that time away. That  may be the case, but three months of work is just getting started. If you are doing well, maybe you can use that to buoy you up and keep you going for another few weeks, then some more and then some more, until vacation time. That is what many millions of people with even very severe emotional and psychological problems have learned to do.

Consider new and improved ways you can use the 16 hours or so a day that you have away from work and the two full days you probably have off every week, to recharge, re-energize and successfully manage your stress.  If you see a counselor, share that goal and ask for help to move you to that point. Just as with someone who has a physical challenge, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of, “I can’t do that.” “That’s impossible for me.” “That’s too much for me to handle.” “If I’m uncomfortable, I don’t like it and I need to take a break.”

If you and your counselor are convinced that it is not possible for you to work consistently for very long and you have reached the point where you must take the time off or risk harm to yourself or others, you may have to ask for leave, working with HR in your company, and almost certainly have to give a justification for asking for the leave. If you cannot show that your disability fits ADA status, with letters from professionals or other paperwork you have used in the past, you will probably not be granted the leave.

Consider it from the business position: Let’s say that 10 people are needed at work, to get the work done. If one of those is gone for several days, who will do the work? And if the other nine can do it, why is the 10th employee needed? Further, what about all of the rest of the employees who might be having stressful issues or severe personal problems? Can they take time off as well, and what if almost all of them need it at once?

I think you should talk to your counselor about this matter and ask if he or she has suggestions. If you are considered disabled under ADA, your counselor will know the degree to which you have a stress disability. The counselor may also have had other clients who have been able to work through the situation with employers. Then, perhaps you can do some ADA research for your state and find out if there are any state employment requirements that might apply to your employer.

If you have a family member or friend who could help you, that might make the process of finding answers less stressful for you.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens, so we can share the experience with others if we are asked about a stress disability or related concerns.

Tina Lewis Rowe

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Hi Tina,

Thank you so much for your response. I never realized there are so many ways to look at it. Because of my ignorance, I was hesitant to just go to my employer and advise I have a disability and see what they can do. I will definitely do some research on the ADA website and speak with my counselor. I was interested in hiring a lawyer, but they are expensive and I have limited income. I have been formally diagnosed as disabled but after working for about 20 years it’s hard to just stop working. So doing a part-time job makes me feel somewhat normal. I have a lot to think about. Thank you so much! Your website is great.