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Job Performance Issues
Jan 14, 2002

Hi -

Thanks for your contributions. Over the last year I have felt progresseively worse. In Sept. and Oct. I had pnuemonia twice and then tested HIV+ with a 149 CD4 count (13). I also had thrush and eyesight problems although CMV not diagnosed. I'm on meds now and feeling some what better although it varies day to day. I'm a manager in our Information Technology dept., fairly high up, and considered a key employee which means a high degree of responsibility. To do my joy I work about 70 hours a week, seven days, all hours, on call always. I worked all through the pnuemonia, barely, and through the holidays. The stress is enormous and I'm sure is affecting my health and ability to maintain. Some days I'm either so tired, or distracted, or nauseated it is hard to get through. Anything that brings attention at work to my status is going to result eventually in me getting terminated. I can't envision how they would accomodate changes to my job for me to continue to do it, and I am concerned that continuing as is will result in my performance degrading seriously also resulting in termination which to me is not good due to loss of benefits. I want to be prepared in advance to take the appropriate actions to best protect myself - insurance, short/long term disability, etc. I've asked to hire help at work and told no. We are downsizing and business is down, on top of being in the midst of a merger. There is no indication conditions at work will change. Also, I help take care of my elderly and disabled parents which is very stressful and time consuming for me, not to mention how hard it is to see them decline. I have hired some help for them but still must do some things. I'd appreciate your advice, in general about what to do about work, and how to go about developing a plan to deal with things that might happen going forward - both now and if I get really sick. I don't know if I am close to the definition of disabled or not, and if not, do I have to get incredibly sicker or be hospitalized to be considered disabled? Thank you!

Response from Ms. Breuer

Yikes! You are incredible! So please don't kill yourself by working yourself to death, okay?

If your performance is suffering--and I can't imagine how you could deliver what you have delivered under these conditions--then you are not a good candidate for requesting reasonable accommodation. Besides, your employer is hardly inclined to accommodate, apparently, even though it's the law. Let's not fight that battle. You're sicker than that. You are indeed disabled, given your T-cell count, and I assume your health care provider would document that you are disabled. You are an excellent candidate for short term or long term disability leave so that you can regain your health. If you wait until they terminate you, you'll lose your benefits, meaning facing survival on public benefits. If you apply now for disability leave, you could keep an income going for years. Easy choice?

Please meet with your HR director. (Don't have one? Read down further.) At the beginning of the meeting, reconfirm with the HR director that your conversation is confidential because it concerns your medical information. If your HR director insists that s/he could share the information with others (officers) in the company, thank the person for his/her time, explain that you need to think further about this, and end the meeting immediately. Leave the room. Call an attorney, preferably one you've contacted through your local AIDS service organization, and ask what to do next. This is not a trivial matter: it's your financial future.

If the HR director agrees to keep your information confidential, take out a notepad and make it clear you're taking notes. Explain that you have a disabling condition (no need to name it, even if asked), and need counseling on how to set up your benefits package so that you have a safety net. Explain that you want a "benefits checkup." Whatever the HR director tells you, take that information to a benefits counselor at an AIDS service organization and ask for that person's review. No HR person? Follow the attorney's advice.

When you need to take leave, get an agreement with your primary care provider that s/he will not share the diagnosis with your employer. Unless you take leave under the FMLA, there is no requirement for you to disclose the diagnosis directly to your employer. At some point you may need to provide diagnosis information on a disability leave application, but that should go directly to the insurance company and not be provided to your employer. Ask your HR person about the confidentiality firewall between the insurer and the company. If there isn't one, take every step of this process with an attorney's advice. Keeping a job under these circumstances may be tricky, but losing one puts you in a real bind.

Your dedication to your job is truly admirable. Please have the same level of dedication to regaining your health. With your skills, you could find a job where they aren't so committed to killing off their employees. Please stay in touch with me. I'm very concerned about you, and want to be sure your rights are preserved. I wish you well, and I hope to hear from you again soon with a progress report. You have rights you don't know about, and I urge you to explore and use them. They were created precisely for committed, dedicated disabled people just like you. Strength to you!



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