Mental Distress

Christine Drake struggled with mental illness all her life, finally getting off public assistance when she took a job as a barista at a Seattle Starbucks in September 2001. With support from her supervisors, including extra training and time to practice making new drinks, Drake, 34, got good reviews and felt confident about her duties, though she suffers from bipolar disorder, major depression and borderline personality and attention deficit disorders.

The accommodations ended when a new manager took over in August 2003. Instead of bending the rules for Drake, the manager allegedly berated her in front of customers,

"People will arrive in the middle of the day and say stress is triggering their disorder and they need to see a doctor," says Bryant McFall, shareholder in Ogletree Deakins. "If the employee is taking a few hours here and a few hours there, there can be constant coming and going."

An employer that doubts an employee qualifies for a leave can challenge the medical certification by getting second or third opinions from a doctor of its choosing. But once the employer grants an intermittent leave, he or she can't challenge the medical certification.

While employment attorneys preach treating and documenting all employees' performance problems consistently, they acknowledge that employers face complicated issues with employees who can do the job, but are difficult to work with.

"With psychiatric disabilities, it is often difficult to measure performance problems," Segal says. "Someone may be able to achieve the outcome, but may create issues along the way.

Senior Editor

Mary Swanton

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