Tuesday, August 13, 2013

To Tell or Not to Tell Employers You Are Bipolar?

If you are bipolar, should you disclose the fact to an employer when you apply for a job, or after you are hired, or not at all? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you do not have to disclose bipolar disorder unless and until you ask for special accommodation, such as extra time off during a manic phase.

A lawyer, however, may face greater career challenges than most, according to Melody Moezzi http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/opinion/lawyers-of-sound-mind.html?emc=edit_tnt_20130806&tntemail0=y&_r=0. In some states, admission to the bar includes a questionnaire that asks if you have been treated for, among other things, bipolar disorder. Lying on the questionnaire is risky, to say nothing of dishonest. Moreover, telling the truth does not necessarily prevent you from being admitted to the bar. Nonetheless, asking the bipolar question is illegal, and Moezzi says, "Call me crazy, but I think bar examiners ought to follow the law."

Moezzi isn't the only bipolar person who has recently made news related to employment. Both ABC News and PsychCentral picked up the story about The Cash Store firing Sean Reilly when Reilly asked for time off due to his bipolar disorder. Reilly had been doing well in the job and had been promoted. A judge ruled that firing him was illegal and awarded Reilly back wages plus $50,000 for pain and suffering.

According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), most and perhaps all bipolar people qualify as disabled under the ADA. Although not all bipolar employees will need some kind of accommodation, one JAN suggestion is to "provide space enclosures or [a] private office."

I know this can work, because even before I realized that I am bipolar, it worked for me. Years ago I was assistant to the managing editor at Cosmopolitan. My desk was in an open area outside his office and facing Editor Helen Gurley Brown's office. The traffic was constant. I got permission to put up a three-panel screen in front of my desk so that Helen's many visitors and I could not see each other, which greatly reduced the stress of my job. I just didn't want so many people looking at me all day long.

JAN also recommends allowing bipolar employees flexible hours, and again, Cosmo serves as a model. At first I worked there from nine to five. Then my boss said (with his dry sense of humor), "You're no good to any one between nine and ten in the morning. How would you like to work from ten until six?" I am not a morning person, and shifting my hours solved that problem. I can only hope that other bipolar people will be as lucky in their employers as I was at Cosmopolitan.

Whatever your situation, you may want to settle in your own mind how you want to handle disclosure or non-disclosure of your bipolar disorder to your employer, just in case it becomes an issue.

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