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Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder

Medical leave

If you need to be away from work temporarily due to worsening symptoms or treatment needs, you may have legal job protection available to you. Since August 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has protected US workers in public agencies or large companies who need a leave of absence. Only employees who have
worked 25 hours per week or more for one year are covered, and only if they work for a company with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

The Family and Medical Leave Act:

  • Provides twelve weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period for one’s own medical needs or to care for a seriously ill spouse, child, or parent-sometimes you can take intermittent leave, which means shortening your normal work schedule

  • Provides twelve weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child, or due to placement of a child in your home via adoption or foster care

  • Requires employers to continue benefits, including health insurance, during the leave period

  • Requires employees to attempt to schedule leaves so as not to disrupt the workplace, and to give thirty days’ notice if possible

  • Requires employers to put returning employees in the same position or in an equivalent position

Employers should have procedures in place for medical leaves covered by the FMLA. Usually you will need to present your employer with documentation from your doctor stating why the leave is necessary, and how long it is expected to be for.

The FMLA is enforced by the Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, US Department of Labor, and the courts. You can find the nearest Wage and Hour Division office in the US Government pages of your telephone directory. You have up to two years to file a FMLA complaint or a lawsuit if your employer does not abide by the law.

Help with getting a job

For those having trouble getting a job, the public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) system can be part of the solution. The VR system provides skills assessment, training opportunities, and job placement services for adults with disabilities. However, in many states the Vocational Rehabilitation system is severely
overloaded, with wait times for placement ranging from three months to as much as three years. Typical opportunities range from sheltered workshop jobs (splitting kindling wood, sorting recyclables, light assembly work) under direct supervision, to
supported placement in the community as grocery clerks, office helpers, chip-fabrication plant workers, and the like. Often people in VR programs work with a job coach, a person who helps them handle workplace stresses and learn work skills. In some cases, the job coach actually comes to work with the person for a while.

Pam, mother of 20-year-old Jakob, says the Vocational Rehab department has helped him move into employment gradually:

“We had never even heard of Vocational Rehabilitation when Jakob left the hospital. His therapist at community mental health sent him there. They had a job counselor who worked with him on his first resume, how to dress, and what interviews were like. They placed him in a part-time file clerk job with a hospital near the community college, and they checked up on him regularly for quite awhile.

“That was perfect: he’s been there two years, and now he’s taking classes part-time also.”

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, a federal law that is only now being implemented, will allow states to extend Medicaid health insurance coverage to people with disabilities who are working, or who would like to work. This law is intended to prevent people whose health improves from staying on SSI because they can’t afford to lose their health insurance. States will also be allowed to cover working adults with disabilities who have never been on SSI, but do need affordable health insurance. There may be an income-based charge for this insurance.

Some public and private agencies may also be able to help with job training and placement. These include your state employment department; the Opportunities Industrialization Commission (OIC); the Private Industry Council (PIC); and job placement services operated by Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent de Paul, and similar service organizations for people with disabilities.

Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder

Mitzi Waltz

APA Reference
Waltz, M. (2018). Coping with Work Issues and Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.