Should Depression Be An Excused Illness?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning during time off because of depression.

I had been signed off work for 2 weeks with depression. Can my employer give me any warnings for being off sick during this time?

Signed, Concerned

Dear Concerned:

Your specific situation needs to be reviewed between you and your HR section. Warnings about using sick time are sometimes given as a matter of routine, to remind people not to abuse it. But, if you were diagnosed with a condition and your employer agreed to give you the time off, it would seem you should be completely cleared for that time.

Check with the department of labor for your state to find out if there are state requirements for employers regarding sick time or excused time. In most states employers are not required to pay for sick time–it is a benefit. Fortunately most employers do keep paying you when you are out of work. But, that doesn’t mean they can’t warn you about using too much of it, or that that they can’t have a rule about how much time is paid. Those are usually left up to the individual employer, but to find out for sure you need to talk to your HR section or to the state labor department.The fact that a doctor says you need the time off doesn’t obligate your employer to automatically allow it, and it doesn’t prevent the company from sending you warnings that the time will come out of your sick bank and you should return as soon as you can.

Having said that, let me note that usually when there is an issue about these things, it’s because of conflicts between the employee and a manager or supervisor. They think the employee is making excuses or they think the time is excessive. If you have an HR section, talk directly to them and ask about the policy and how it is being applied in your situation. Or, talk to your manager or supervisor about it, without revealing personal details. Often asking for assistance in working out an HR issue is the most effective way to approach it.If you don’t think you can do the communication that is needed, you may need to have an attorney speak for you. But, that seems to be an expensive way to get answers, when you could simply ask.

Consider writing your concerns and explain that you don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Or, talk on the phone to avoid a face to face conversation.The key issue is that clinical depression is not going to be gone in two weeks. So, you may need to let someone know you are dealing with a severe problem. Let them know you will continue to do your job well, although you are dealing with a challenging situation. You can tell them that you don’t want to discuss your medical situation, but wanted to let them know why you have been gone. You could even let them know that you are going to talk to HR about company policy as it relates to such issues. Best wishes as you work on this issue. You need to know where you stand with it, in relation to company policy and state regulations. And, perhaps all of that will help you as you deal with some of the issues related to your emotional condition.

Tina Lewis Rowe