by Exhausted Designer
I’ve been working at my job for about 7 months. The job was advertised on the web as being in the City of Chicago, when in fact it is about 30 miles outside of the city in the suburbs, in an area that is not accessible by public transportation. There is no way I can get to and from work without the assistance of someone with a vehicle. I do not have a driver’s license or a car.
At the two interviews I had prior to taking the job, I made my transportation situation very clear to my future boss. I was nervous about the real location of the company, but my future boss played it down and assured me that many people in the office carpooled together, commuting from Chicago out to the suburbs and back every day. He agreed to carpool with me, and said there were other people in the office that I could potentially ride with, too.
So, I accepted the job. Over the next few months, I carpooled with various people in the office. The commute is terrible. Door to door it would be at least 70 minutes, but because I have to additionally take public transit to get to and from the agreed-upon pickup/dropoff points with my carpool drivers, it is routinely 90+ minutes one-way. That’s an average of 3 hours per day commuting, or almost 20 hours per week. Also, I have been splitting the gas cost with whomever drives me, as well as paying the exorbitant Chicago public transit costs to get to the meeting points.
On top of this, our office culture is fairly relaxed, and many people will leave early or take personal days off. This has impacted my commute severely. I cannot rely on any one person to carpool with, and sometimes have been left stranded at work when someone forgets to tell me that they can’t drive me back to the city. It is extremely stressful not knowing what my commute situation will be like day-to-day. I’m unable to make plans outside of work because it is so inconsistent, and unable to take care of my non-work responsibilities. I am lucky to have a partner who takes care of the domestic responsibilities for me, but if not for him, I don’t know how I would manage. The stress and energy drain of this commuting situation have been impacting my health, to the point that I am filled with anxiety and have been succumbing often to illness.
I have spoken to my immediate supervisor about this problem several times, to no resolution beyond being told that, as we are a startup company, “we must all make sacrifices.” A couple weeks ago, I made it clear to him that the commuting situation is driving me to my breaking point, and asked him if he could speak to his superior about the possibility of me telecommuting. My boss was sympathetic and asked, but his superior denied the request.
(Note that my job, related to graphic design, is entirely feasible to do at home. I have limited interaction with others on a daily basis at my office, and I have in fact worked from home before when I was sick.)
Due to stress-induced illness, I have taken off what is considered by my employer to be an alarming number of sick days. (Nearly 14 days in 7 months, I believe.) I have been verbally reprimanded about this several times, but never written up. Neither the quality of my work nor my overall productivity have suffered for my absenteeism–I complete all projects on time, and have been praised by many senior staff for my work.
However, I feel that I am in danger of being fired for absenteeism. I took two days off last week for illness. Shortly after midnight before the first day I took off, I posted something on my personal site. The site only shows date stamps, not time, so the update appeared to have been posted on the day I took off. My boss was apparently monitoring my site, saw this, and sent me an email saying that he saw the update on the day I was supposedly sick and that we will be having another talk about absenteeism. This is beside the point, of course–he has no idea whether I posted that site update myself, or if the content of the update was created at some earlier time and only happened to be uploaded to the site on that day. That is none of his concern, and I feel very uncomfortable that my personal activities are apparently being monitored by my employer.
Truth be told, I would almost welcome being fired. I have been privately searching for another job for a couple of months now since the commuting situation has become unbearable. However, it’s difficult to do this when so much of my waking life is spent at work or commuting to/from work. So, I am interested in the possibility of unemployment insurance while I continue to look for a new job closer to home.
I do not know how my employer would react to an unemployment claim. Being that they are a startup company who lives on venture capital, I have a strong hunch that they’ll contest my claim. (Apparently, at one point last year, the company did not pay its employees for an entire month because it ran out of money! They were only paid after funding came through.) So, it will probably be a fight to get UI. I am also concerned that being fired for absenteeism will disqualify me from benefits. However, my absenteeism arises from stress-related illness due to long, inconsistent work hours.
I have only recently become eligible for health insurance through my employer. I am seeing a doctor to determine the cause of my frequent illnesses, but I do not have documentation saying that I saw a doctor on such-and-such day that I took off. It is also extremely difficult to even schedule doctor’s appointments, since my schedule is so crowded due to lack of time.
I’m trying to figure out the best course of action here. Please advise.
Start getting medical documentation going forward. If they fire you at least you’ll have it in hand with regard to any further absences and the “final incident”. Employers who fire people with a doctor note for the last absence .. rarely win .. unless they can prove the note was forged .. and believe me they try. When people are denied unemployment due to being absent for illness .. it is usually a failure to follow the prescribed call-off procedure that get them denied.
I wouldn’t worry too much about updating your personal website either .. what .. an employer can determine whether we’re sick or not because we updated a website .. give me a break……… ………………….
Sorry, I’m back now .. just puked in the trashcan next to my desk.
Now let’s move on to what the employer told you at the time of hire .. and how this influenced your decision to take the job in the first place.
This is iffy at best, unless you have written confirmation of some kind. It will end up being he/said, she/said.
Your argument would be that you based your decision to accept the job on erroneous information provided by the employer at time of hire, but how will you explain the seven months. It’s a possibility, but not something I’d do if I couldn’t live without unemployment benefits.
The facts are that you were entirely aware of where you would be working and unless you had some type of agreement to telecommute at a later date or telecommuting is an option for everyone, but you .. I think it would be irrelevant.
Since you are going to the Doctor and trying to figure out what is going on and if “stress” is the culprit ….
You may also consider a written form of communicating your problem. Don’t talk, write. If the employer responds verbally .. respond in writing reiterating first what they said.
Something along the lines of …
I accepted this job after careful consideration and assurances from you .. yadayada … I again request that I be allowed to telecommute until at which time you, the employer, are able to accommodate my transportation needs, of which I made you fully aware of before hire and to which your solution was instrumental in my acceptance of this job.
Do NOT say you will quit if they don’t comply.
This serves as something you can provide and shows you sought to preserve the employment.
Explain how you’ve been stranded, the stress it is causing you and the effects the stress are having on your health .. This may make them sit up and take notice ..
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