Monday, January 17, 2011

Worker's Comp

Getting back to work was something I had put effort into making things happen fast. Besides the obvious factor of guarding off time hours in light of recent events, I really enjoy my job. The receptionists had never heard from me “Oh another Monday” or “TGIF” because my job was an integral part of my life not something that I did just for a paycheck. I believed in what I did and was excited about getting back to it.

So I turned in my clearance sheet to human resources and said I’m going to work. The human resources staff said:
“Whoa, you can’t do that. I have to get this cleared before you can return to work.”
“Well my doctor has cleared me and I feel so what I would do in the meantime?”
“You can keep using your sick time.”
“Maybe you haven’t heard but I have brain cancer so I’m valuing that pretty highly.”
“Um…well you can use vacation time.”
“I’m going to go to my office and get some work done”
“I didn’t say that you could so if you slip or something goes wrong, I didn’t clear you.”
“Nope, I didn’t say you did, me and my doctor are okay with it though. See you later.”

There’s an old joke about human resources being neither and it definitely felt true that day. I know liability is something has to be worried about everywhere but it would have been nice to have been welcomed with some humanity. This was a place where never once had I ever called in sick (which fortunately had given me over 300 hours of sick time saved up). In fact, I’d never called in sick to any job. I can only remember missing school during my academic career for one week of chicken pox. I was just trying to get back to work and it’s not like I was contagious. I went to my office and started catching up. Twenty minutes later I got what felt like a criminal trespass warning:

“You need to leave the campus and come back when we give you permission”
“What do I do about the time away?”
“Use whichever personal leave time you prefer.”
“I’m not going to do that.”
“You need to leave the campus and come back when we give you permission”
“Okay just put that in writing and I will.”

I never did get it in writing. Rather, a while later, I was called into my director’s office where I was told that the department was going to be reviewing what was going on and that I could sit in my office and do paperwork but I could not have contact with the kids or their families. Apparently, I was more contagious than I or anyone in the medical profession had realized. The director was clearly just doing what someone above him had told him. He had actually been incredibly kind and even visited me in the hospital. He expressed that he would like to keep me at the job but that the driving restriction might create complications. I told my work I understood but that I would do all that was expected of me (driving was minimal in our position) but that in the meantime while they were figuring it out I would work at a couple of places where I had previously worked that never required driving and/or if necessary clean the bathrooms but that I had too much energy to not be back at work.

Oddly enough, while on this isolation mode, my immediate boss kept assigning me new cases that I couldn’t talk to (the cases were in my name but I had to ask someone else to talk to them). I went to work everyday, making sure to be punctual and mostly trying to stay in my office. Being who I am and not good at being cooped up, I wasn’t perfect but I was decent. People kept coming by the office to say hi and I’d catch them up on the health stuff and then make some joke about being in quarantine because apparently brain cancer was more contagious than any of us realized. At that point, I still thought that this was a paperwork mix-up or a bureaucracy problem and thought it would be a few days and we’d clear this up. The human resources contact made me nervous but I wanted to believe that a place I’d given 5 years to and all I was asking for was to be allowed to return to was not going to turn out to be an unreasonable request.

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