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Employment Woes, Please Help If You Can


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  • Employment Woes, Please Help If You Can

    HCMA family,

    I apologize for the length. I've made every attempt to distill it to just the highlights:

    November 20, 2002

    Diagnosed with HCM and MVP at Montana Heart Institute, borderline obstructive, with moderate to sometimes severe symptoms of shortness of breath, palpitation, arrhythmia, dizziness, etc. Doctor advised me not to return to my job as an Archaeological Field Technician, which involves a great deal of heavy lifting, excavation of heavy soils by shovel, screening of dirt through wire mesh, etc. I assumed at the time though that this meant i had several months to look for other employment, and that i was not going to drop dead on the job anytime soon. Thus, I returned to work.

    January 2, 2003

    Returned to archaeological fieldwork after six-week recuperation period following hernia surgery (yeah, as if cancer and HCM weren't enough, LOL). My return to fieldwork did not go so well. HCM symptoms were more severe this time, often requiring me to stop work for extended periods of time after heavy exertion, until my heart stopped going wacky, my head stopped buzzing and throbbing, and the little bright white fireflies stopped dancing in front of my eyes.

    January 6, 2003

    Saw my local general practitioner after several days of fieldwork and continuing HCM symptoms. This is the first time a doctor has ever listened to my heart and said 'oh my god'. Poor guy, he was much more startled by the way my heart sounded than i was. Heck it's been sounding like that for a bunch of years, which I had always assumed was 'normal' for me! He told me in no uncertain terms that i was not to return to work, under penalty of death, literally. That evening i sat down with my crewchief and explained the situation in detail, having to give up my fieldwork position due to the severe health risks involved. He was very accepting and quite sympathetic, as he knows I love doing archaeology more than anything else in the world 8)

    January 13, 2003

    Filed for unemployment compensation while i look for new work, citing health risks as my reason for separation.

    January 18, 2003

    Drove to my company's corporate office, unsolicited and as a gesture of good will, to provide them with medical documentation supporting my reason for having to resign my position with the company. This was met with much unexpected hostility, as well as an impromptu meeting with several higher-ups, during which I was yelled at, verbally abused, and was accused of trying to 'scam the company out of unemployment benefits with this so-called medical condition from which I suffer'. Exact words. I was also told that they will do whatever it takes to fight my unemployment claim, and that they 'have a business to run and will act accordingly'. To my own amazement, I kept my cool throughout the entire meeting, and did not say anything that could possibly be used against me, even when papers were being thrown at me and I was being yelled at. Their behavior was, to say the least, unprofessional and humiliating.

    Okay folks, I have worked my butt off my entire life and have never asked for a handout from anybody. Unfortunately, through no fault of my own, I am no longer able to do the job in which this company hired me, and by the way, this is a job that I love dearly and had hoped to do for the rest of my life. My only goal right now is to look for new employment in one of several geographic areas my former cardiologist has outlined for me as having treatment available for this disease. I am currently without a job, medical insurance or medical care, nor have I been prescribed, to date, any medications which I probably should be taking to control my HCM. I might also add that I am living on the good graces of my family, and have less than five dollars in my checking account

    Please, if any of you have any insight as to how I should proceed from here, or even just to tell me that you feel my unemployment claim is justified or unjustified, any input at all would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks Much!

    Still keeping my chin up
    "Some days you're the dog... some days you're the hydrant."

  • #2
    You should see a lawyer who specialty is employment law

    Hi Jim,

    I cannot give you any specific advice since I am not an employment lawyer and I don't know anything about Montana law specifically. I will tell you however, that the behavior of your employer smells funny, and may violate both federal and state laws.

    If I were you, I would seek advice from a lawyer in Montana that specializes in employment law, and find out what your remedies are. I would think that your employer might try to find you a non-physical job, or to otherwise accomodate your physical disabilities. There is something called the Americans With Disabilities Act which I would think covers your situation.

    Anyway, as to cost, a lawyer should give you a free consultation and tell you whether you have a case or not, and if so, they would likely be willing to take it on contingency so you won't have to go out of pocket.

    Check it out. You have nothing to lose.

    Good luck.
    Daughter of Father with HCM
    Diagnosed with HCM 1999.
    Full term pregnancy - Son born 11/01
    ICD implanted 2/03; generator replaced 2/2005 and 2/2012
    Myectomy 8/11/06 - Joe Dearani - Mayo Clinic.


    • #3

      Wow, Jim, you are in a tough position, aren't you? I think that Cynaburst is right about the Americans with Disabilities, providing you told them you couldn't do the physical work any more, rather than resigning outright. Unemployment is difficult to get if your employer argues that you left work voluntarily. But in some states, after a waiting period you can get it anyway. What you should be getting is short-term disability. Were you getting that while out for the hernia operation? Do you still have remaining eligibility? Of course, I think all this is predicated on your still being considered an employee. If they, not you, said you were leaving the company entirely, I do think you need a lawyer. Lisa knows about this stuff and can maybe advise you. I'm sorry they were so mean and horrible about it. Good for you for keeping your cool. Good luck!


      • #4


        I don't have time to post much right now (I'm under the weather, too).

        Even if you don't think you can afford it, you can't afford NOT to get an attorney. Most states have pro bono (free) legal aid available, you just have to find it. You MUST get an attorney --as least for advice on how to go forward and who to get redress from. There are laws to protect you from this type of stuff but it varies from state to state.

        Hang in there and talk to your state. Also, you need to make sure your doctor has put all his opinions in writing and you have copies of all of it.

        I'm sorry you've been treated so shabbily, more later.



        • #5
          Hi. I don't really have anyting to add to the advise others have given you, but I wanted you to know that we're pulling for you.


          Husband has HCM.
          3 kids - ages 23, 21, & 19. All presently clear of HCM.


          • #6

            I don't suppose you belong to a union or professional organization which advocates for individuals in workplace issues? It was my active membership in Arizona Education Association which kept me from facing the situation you are now facing and gave me guidance, assistance, and support along the way.

            If you are a member of such a labor organization, start with it. They know laws, employers' policies, procedures for appealing decisions, and more. If you don't have such a membership, I'd second the suggestion to seek a lawyer. Often in small towns you have to go out of town--like to Billings or Helena--both because those lawyers who specialize in disability & employment law are in the larger cities and because small town politics usually prevents a local lawyer from filing against a local employer.

            Good luck--and don't let the intimidation tactics succeed!



            • #7
              Jim, Sounds like a real nightmare that you've been through, esp. considering the whole thing is so new to you. You have a lot to sort thru about your employment, but I'm also concerned about your medical care at this point. You have to learn your HCM treatment options real soon. You say you are not yet on any meds. How has your doctor addressed this? Have you had any treatment? Please call Lisa at the HCMA office, 973-983-7429 - She will be able to help locate an HCM specialist and also give some guidance as to how to procede with the work issues. I know she is under the weather right now, but leave a message, or email her directly (that is on the home page) and she will get back to you as quickly as she can. Thank goodness for family and friends! Keep us posted, Best wishes with a very difficult situation. Linda


              • #8
                Hi All, and thanks so much for the advice and support!

                I'm a bit under the weather myself right now, but i do want to address a few of the points you brought up. It also helps me to keep everything straight in my head so it helps to write it down regardless

                Although i am a resident of Montana, the project i have been working on for over a year now has been in PA. I flew back to Montana for the surgery and testing because i was paying cash and everything was cheaper there. Also, my cancer specialist whom i trust so much is there.

                My employer does not carry disability on their field personnel. Any time off that is required for medical care is without pay. Government disability benefits only apply if i am not able to work at all, and this is not the case. I do want to work, specifically in areas where the kind of medical expertise i require are available.

                I don't belong to any labor union or professional organization that could help.

                PA unemployment law does provide for voluntary separation from your job if continuing to perform it poses risk to health. I have documentation from my doctors to support my diagnosis and what they told me to do. My employer now has copies of those as well.

                Even if my employer were somehow to offer me suitable work, it would be a 140 mile (roundtrip) daily commute from my residence. As a field technician, housing and perdiem were provided at the site, but this would no longer be the case.

                To date, my employer has not advised me of my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, despite the fact that i specifically asked the director of human resources what those rights are, and informed her that my disability is covered under that act.

                As far as the health issues, my doctors at the Montana Heart Institute performed the tests and made the diagnosis, however i was informed that this is not their area of expertise and that there is nothing more they can do for me. That is where it stands right now. I do not have the means right now to follow up with a specialist, which would certainly also involve travel expenses as well.

                PA offeres low-cost health insurance which would cover me immediately and get me the medical care and prescriptions i need, especially since the meds i need could probably be considered life-sustaining. However i cant submit the application until i get a financial determination on my unemployment, which should be coming soon.

                Thanks again, and take care,

                "Some days you're the dog... some days you're the hydrant."


                • #9
                  too much


                  Your situation is very complicated and just reinforces my belief that you need to see a lawyer. Please investigate pro bono people in PA and talk to their state's office for help.



                  • #10
                    Hi Sarah,

                    How are you feeling? Much better i hope

                    You can bet that i have been keeping detailed records of everything, medical documentation, correspondence, phone calls, meeting notes, anything i could possibly need to support my case should the need arise. I should get my financial determination this week and get the ball rolling on the health issues. In the meantime, as per your advice, i'll find out where and who in PA i can contact for free legal advice, and be ready to jump if my determination comes back unfavorable.

                    And don't worry about me, i'm doing enough of that for all of us right now My family isn't ready to kick me out in the snow just yet!

                    Take care,

                    "Some days you're the dog... some days you're the hydrant."


                    • #11
                      Call the HR lady in Harrisburg and ask her about yout ADA rights..it may give you the info. you need to getyour unemployment through... then you can begin to look for other work... you are going to have to change your scope a bit...you may want to go to an agency and see what is available as a temp...it may lead to something full time. I know many people are talking about unemployment being high now...HONESTLY if you look at national averages and history it is MUCH lower then it was in the early 90's and MUCH MUCH lower then in the 70's so do not let the news scare you...get out there and look
                      Best of luck,
                      Knowledge is power ... Stay informed!
                      YOU can make a difference - all you have to do is try!

                      Dx age 12 current age 46 and counting!
                      lost: 5 family members to HCM (SCD, Stroke, CHF)
                      Others diagnosed living with HCM (or gene +) include - daughter, niece, nephew, cousin, sister and many many friends!
                      Therapy - ICD (implanted 97, 01, 04 and 11, medication
                      Currently not obstructed
                      Complications - unnecessary pacemaker and stroke (unrelated to each other)


                      • #12
                        Hi Lisa,

                        Sorry to hear that you've not been feeling well and i sincerely hope that you are feeling much much better today! And don't worry about me, i'll get things straightened out with my company one way or another.

                        Company = Big Fat Meanie-heads
                        Jim = Cool and Good 8)

                        I'll let ya know what happens,

                        "Some days you're the dog... some days you're the hydrant."


                        • #13

                          Dear Jim,

                          Glad to hear you are on top of it. After you get rolling in PA, you may want to see if Montana has any protection in place for residents regardless of where they work. Knowing what I know of law, I suspect that everything will be based on where the employer is HQed but it is good to cover any potential bases.

                          I feel like cold crap and have to write instructions for how to paint a pair of garden boots with flowers, butterflies, and a bunny. All the flowers have happy faces. Don't forget the matching garden gloves, either. I want to roto-root my head.

                          thanks for asking. keep us posted.



                          • #14

                            Please don't roto-root your head. I understand it is very bad for you!

                            Get well

                            "Some days you're the dog... some days you're the hydrant."


                            • #15
                              Jim, you should be able to continue your health insurance for 18 months. through COBRA. You would have to pay for it bud do NOT be without it. Really look into ADA, and talk to your HR people. Sounds like they should be able to find a fit for you within their company. Good Luck.

                              Diagnosed in 1977, Myectomy in 1981 @ Mayo Rochester
                              ICD&Pacemaker 1996
                              Heart transplant March 19, 2004 @ Mayo Rochester
                              Mom of Kaye.


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