There are changes afoot at my workplace. Nothing really dramatic, on the surface; our director has set a retirement date – several years in the future – and my manager is being moved into position to eventually replace her. The manager for the other half our team is now my manager as well, and that’s about it as far as I know, but there seems to be more going on behind the scenes, I can’t put my finger on what, because I’m kind of dense about reading between the lines, but it’s making me vaguely uneasy.
Whatever is going on, it got me thinking about my position. This is, hands down, the best job I have ever had. I’ve had jobs with good benefits, jobs with easy to get along with coworkers, good work environments, interesting and challenging duties, and good employers, but never all of these things at once before now. In fact, all of my previous job have involved some combination of one or two really positive things and the rest being so bad as to put my stress levels through the roof.
Where I am now, I have all of those things simultaneously – plus the perfect balance of support and autonomy. I have a job where I look forward to going to work and as a bonus, I’m actually doing something important for my community. In short, I love this job, am grateful to have it, and I want to keep it as long as my health will allow: hopefully, that will be for many years to come. Anyway, I’ve started to wonder about whether there’s anything I need to do to protect my job, should something change in the future that might put it in jeopardy due to my health issues and neurotype.
This is an ‘at-will employment‘ state, which means you can be fired for any reason – or no reason at all – but they do have to follow non-discrimination laws for disabilities. I guess even the small changes that were just made, and the slight air of uncertainty I am picking up got me to thinking, would it be in my best interest to have it on file in an official capacity what my disabilities are?
I have a great relationship with our director, and my (now-previous) manager, and I have been 100% open with them about my narcolepsy and my Asperger’s. When I got the sleep study results, they immediately offered to accommodate my schedule in any way that would help, before it even occurred to me to ask, and when I disclosed the autism, I was permitted to move my office around (so no one could come up behind me and startle me) and my boss bought me sound-cancelling headphones. She also let me put up ‘stained glass’ window film to block out the blinking LEDs from the window to the server room beside me.
I even have some control over my schedule – as long as commitments are met, I can come in early, leave late, and shorten a lunch here or there so that I can leave early some Fridays because I’m usually out of spoons by the end of the week. I really am lucky… but it’s all entirely informal and based on my relationship with current management. What if that were to change suddenly? What if a new director was hired, and they decided I was faking sick if I had a sleep attack and had to leave suddenly? Or that I was just being a bitch if I got overwhelmed and lost my words?
I discussed this with my boss, and she checked into it with HR, and the consensus was that having documentation on file was absolutely a good thing for me to do, and additionally I should be enrolled in the FMLA program as well. I didn’t really understand the latter, because I haven’t had the need to take any medical leave, but it has something to do with my schedule adjustments; if (for instance) we got a new county manager, and they decided to cut staffing and use work schedule records as a tool for who to let go, I might be flagged as having problem attendance even though I have a pre-existing (but informal) arrangement. So I reached out to get letters from the sleep clinic that diagnosed my narcolepsy, and my therapist.
I now have the letters.
The sleep doctor’s letter is brief and to the point, and explains that he’s been treating me for Narcolepsy with Cataplexy since September of 2015, the condition does not pose a risk to me as far as suddenly collapsing but does cause badly fragmented nightime sleep as well as excessive daytime drowsiness, which I may need to manage at times with naps. Perfect.
And the letter from my therapist… is brilliant. It’s two pages and clearly explains not just my challenges but also the advantages conferred by my conditions1, and the accommodations that would help me succeed optimally. It’s two pages and explains ‘me’ so well I am thinking of also sharing it with my last employers to explain some of the issues I had there – not as an apology, but because I still consider them friends, and want them to understand why I’d melt down if there was a stressful event, like a very sudden change of tasks.
But now that I have the letters, I am getting cold feet. It’s one thing to ‘come out’ to people I already have an established relationship with, and trust, but putting myself at the mercy of the folks in Human Resources, who don’t know me, scares me. This is kind of a double-edged sword – it will (hopefully) protect me, but it will also define me, leave me open to be judged and subject to whatever biases and preconceptions the people reviewing the information have.
Has anyone else gone through this process? Was it a positive or negative experience? Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.
1 Yeah… ‘conditions’ plural: I wasn’t expecting that he’d throw in an ADHD diagnosis as well, or actually that I officially had one. We talked about this last week, and he gave me the option of removing it (from the letter, at least) and I’ve decided to just take ownership of that one as well. Not because of the groundhog incident, but because I really do have major issues focusing and use a lot of tools (software minders, mostly) to help me stay on track at work that I might need to justify the renewal/cost of someday.