I have written before how the Americans With Disabilities Act needs to be strengthened to protect those of us with mental illnesses. I want to bring your attention to a tactic that many corporations use to distant themselves even further from working with survivors.
The proper course of action, if a survivor self-identifies and reveals that s/he has a mental disorder, such as depression or PTSD, is that the manager/supervisor, along with the employee, should contact their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) manager. What is supposed to happen is that the EAP manager contacts the employee’s doctor(s) to determine if the employee has a valid diagnosis and is receiving proper care. The EAP manager is then supposed to consult with the employee’s manager/supervisor and work together with the employee to develop a way to help the employee function better on the job.
In my case, I could not function with my manager standing over me, constantly asking me: “Where is this? Where is that?” I simply asked that she tell me what she wanted, when she wanted it, and then to leave me alone and not to constantly badger me. She refused to do so and just made the situation worse even though the EAP manager had told her to knock it off.
In 2003, I wrote to 59 Fortune 100 CEOs. My letter stated:
Our firm is currently researching adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the workforce. Specifically, we are reviewing what resources are available from corporate America to meet the needs of this population.
There are times when sexual abuse survivors find it difficult to function and to perform their job. We are interested in knowing how your company would respond to an employee should they make their problems known.
The following are some of the responses I got.
- “We do not see the issue of child sexual abuse as a managerial problem but as an EAP and provider problem. Our view is we have to dot all our “I’s” and cross all our “T’s.” If you are interested in helping survivors, you need to talk to providers, not to corporations.”
- “This is not a management issue; it is strictly a medical issue. If a survivor tells a manager about their problems, it opens us up to enormous litigation risks. First EAP determines if the accommodation is or is not “an essential component of the job.” If they can be accommodated, fine. If not, that’s just the way it goes. The cost of litigation is huge and a lot of times it is just a lot easier to pay them $200,000 and get rid of them.”
- “Our company has hired a for-profit company to handle EAP issues. I’ve been in the job for ten years and no one has ever identified themselves as a child abuse survivor.”
- “We don’t capture that type of information and don’t intend to.”
This behavior just continues to stigmatize and shame survivors and is very effective in making sure survivors keep their mouths shut—just like they were programmed to do when growing up. We need to talk about this shameful behavior of corporations to bring it out into the open.