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  1. #1
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    Default Bipolar disorder - how to accommodate an employee who has it?

    Hi hubbers. I'm asking for advice for a friend here from any hubbers who are unlucky enough to have this affliction, or anyone else who can add some insight.

    My friend has a colleague who, until today unbeknownst to them, has bipolar. They found out because he is currently having a manic episode, he hasn't been seen or heard from in two days and his relative called to tell them. The relative also said he hasn't been taking his medication for a year and they haven't heard from him in days, either.

    This is a very small company that is currently overwhelmed with work (which may be what triggered the episode). There is no HR department and no capacity to put someone on extended, paid sick leave (ie, over and above the statutory right to sick leave) in that they can't afford to pay him plus someone to cover for him and they have too much work to just not have him there. The workload issues in the office were being dealt with by trying to hire another person but they haven't found anyone yet.

    They're at a loss about what to do and have still not heard from their employee. They want to do the right thing by him but paying someone who is not turning up to work is not an option, and having someone in the office with unmedicated and untreated bipolar is also not working (I'm not going into specifics, I'm sure anyone with bipolar can guess generally, but he was on his way to getting fired before his diagnosis was revealed, and that was before he started his no shows.).

    So how can they accommodate this? What's the process from here? What they reasonably expect from this employee? Are there organisations they can call for assistance?

    TIA

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    I don't know who they could contact or anything, but I can share my experience of what my employer did for me when I lost the plot after working for him for 7 years. I had gone from super reliable, handling things on my own (was only him & I in the office & I literally did everything - he was rarely there) to making simple errors that affected clients, not completing vital work, missing deadlines, turning up to work hours late meaning the office was unattended, not turning up at all for extended periods (both with & without notice) but talking weeks not days without contact at times.

    Because before that time I had been so reliable, he gave me time off without pay (ended up being nearly 6 months). Got a temp in to do my job while I was off then welcomed me back when I had stabilised enough to again be the reliable employee he needed - something he could do as we negotiated the time off without pay. Worked in both our favours until unfortunately the business had to close down, but this was nothing to do with him keeping me on (the temp actually cost less than me).

    The next 2 firms I worked for ended up sacking me (one after 3 years of good service then 6 months of rubbish - sacked on the day I returned to work for a hospitalisation). Given I had not been given any warnings or anything (particularly for the 2nd job) I'm not sure whether there would have been anything I could have done about it but at the time I was too unwell to care anyway.

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    Sally1981  (27-02-2016)

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    It's a really tricky situation.

    There is a centrelink payment that the person could potentially apply for for a "short term" illness where they are unable to work. I don't know the specifics of this or how it works, but I am assuming they would need to see a doctor. The work place could potentially put the person on unpaid leave if they want to keep them on. If the person is medicated, and on the right mix of meds, they may be able to stabilise enough that they could come back without the issues that they were previously having. But, finding the right combo of meds can be hard, and take time. I know people with bipolar who have managed to get it controlled well, and able to function pretty much normally. I know others that still haven't quite found the right medication for them.

    If they were looking to terminate enployment prior, and he has abandoned his position, most companies place this as an instant dismissal... but, depending on how unwell he is, this could be tricky. Otherwise, they could add it to their formal warnings and go from there.

    Maybe beyond blue could offer some information?

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    Sally1981  (27-02-2016)

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    Thank you. I don't think they considered unpaid leave. It must be so hard living with bipolar. I just can't imagine it. I have a chronic physical condition but it's nothing like this.

    I think the employer really wants to accommodate this guy, simply because it's not his fault he has to deal with this. He's only been there for six months and up until this episode he was a diligent worker.

    I think they're concerned that he's not following doctors' advice. I don't suppose it's reasonable to require him to continue with treatment as a condition of employment? It doesn't feel reasonable, but he's still AWOL and that's not something that can just happen over and over again if treatment may prevent it.

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    Default Bipolar disorder - how to accommodate an employee who has it?

    And thank you @pointless1 for sharing your story xx

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    I guess there's two options really - pay sick pay or offer unpaid leave
    Or
    Terminate due to going awol and not turning up.

    My DH has bipolar. He is stable 99% of the time. He may get a little manic at times but nothing to warrant any concern. You wouldn't even know if you met him. He had a co-worker try to imply he was having an episode (which he wasn't) and it has really affected him. He is always conscious of his behaviour - for this reason. He constantly analyses what he does etc because he is worried about his bipolar being an issue to others.

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    My dad has bipolar. It's often hard to manage. Initially the right combination of mood stabilisers was hard to find. Then he almost died in a bike accident (whole other story) and on top of the mood stabilisers is taking extra medication for ongoing nerve pain.

    The way he explained it is that while he knows he needs to take the meds, when he is feeling well, he doesn't really want to - because he finds it difficult to feel the normal highs and lows of emotions. He takes them anyway, but can understand why people don't take theirs.

    Another concern is self medicating with alcohol or other drugs. I know a number of people who have done this, and it can be as bad as you would imagine.

    I don't think it would be reasonable to state that he has to comply with treatment as a condition of his employment - simply because it could be seen to be taking away the guy's rights in terms of choosing medical treatment. They could discuss his health with him, their concerns and ask if there is anything they can do as an employer to help him in the work place. I guess the workplace need to look at it as any other chronic condition. What would they offer to someone who has diabetes, or arthritis for example. I know it is nothing alike, but in terms of managing it from an employer point of view, this may help.
    @kriista - I'm sorry your DH has experienced the prejudice he has. I wish there was more education and funding around mental health.

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    @Tiny Dancer - my DH says that he doesn't feel highs and lows which can be really hard.
    Unless you have/live with someone with mental illness people don't understand. It's not as easy as "just do it" - wish it was.

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    You're right, kriista, people don't understand. Some people want to though and this company is run by people who want to understand and accommodate him.
    @Tiny Dancer, I know what you're saying. It's not the same as a physical complaint like diabetes or arthritis though because they generally don't manifest by employees going AWOL and causing a lot of problems at work (he was actually doing things at work that were borderline illegal before he disappeared). If someone with a physical condition acted the way he's been acting they would be fired without question. These guys just don't want to do that to someone who has a condition where they actually can't help acting like that.

    I think they'll just have to wait and see if he shows up again and if he have an open and honest conversation about this and what he needs. The small amount of information they have has come from his relative.

    I hope I haven't upset anyone with this. My friend also has a chronic health condition and has been working 18 hours a day to try to cover for this guy. He's not in a physical condition to keep that up so I'm worried about him too.

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    I know. It makes it tricky and muddies the waters doesn't it. I guess you could see an episode (especially if he's going AWOL) as being so sick he should be hospitalised. I meant more in terms of how they should approach the general situation regarding illness. Sometimes if people are in pain or forget their meds they will need time off or make mistakes etc. These are things that should be discussed with the worker but, you'd still do so with compassion... if that makes sense? While his mental health could definitely be playing a big factor - the company still has a right (and an obligation even) to maintain their standards, especially in terms of clients, business integrity and so on. If things get worse and they haven't had the conversation and laid it all out, the company will be in a difficult situation. At the very least, a conversation with him will help him feel supported and put a plan in place for improvement.


 

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