Q. My spouse was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and has been diagnosed as having a General Panic Disorder. Her employer has conspired to fire her from her job ever since she started missing work because of this. She had a pretty bad panic attack earlier last week and her doctor wrote her out of work for the rest of the week. They fired her today because of it. She has FMLA, but they claim that they had changed their format from a calander year to a rolling year so she hadn’t earned any days. My question is…..does Bi Polar disorder or General Panic Disorder qualify as a disability or even a handicap. Does the law provide any kind of protection to people who have this and are being discriminated against because of it? I was thinking along the lines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thank You

A. From my understanding, bipolar disorder or general panic disorder are disabilities (from a disability claim perspective) if a doctor believes they are and signs the disability forms needed to apply for a disability claim. You wife will need to contact the disability office in your state/area to ascertain the procedure for filing for disability. The disability office should give her all of the information she will need. To qualify for disability, it is usually required that potential applicants prove they are disabled by having a doctor agree she is disabled. If the doctor agrees that she needs to be on disability because her illnesses are so severe that she clearly cannot work, the doctor will have to fill out the necessary disability forms stating his or her case about why your wife cannot work. I worked with many clients applying for disability and it seems that the first time people apply for disability (no matter how psychologically disabled they are) their claims are rejected. This is not true in every case of course. If your wife does apply and is rejected, try a second time. From my experience, filing a disability claim takes time and is a lot of paperwork. Also, many doctors are reluctant to recommend disability. She should talk this over with her doctor and if she does not have one, she should find one who can treat her bipolar and panic disorder effectively.

As for the discrimination aspect of your question, there are protections for the type of situation you have described. I would recommend calling two organizations about your wife’s situation and asking their advice. Try the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) www.eeoc.gov or the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law www.bazelon.org. You can also look up information about the Americans with Disabilities Act on the web. I hope this helps. Take care.