That Time I Lost My Job

Work and Primary Immunodeficiency

I’ve been working since I was 15. My first job was as a teaching assistant at a daycare. I co-directed a summer camp. I was a box office assistant at a prominent regional theater. I worked retail. I wrote grants and individual solicitations. I planned in person meetings. I planned digital meetings. I have been very flexible in my career path, owing, in part, to CVID.

One employer after another said mildly terrible things. One opined on how I shouldn’t complain about my low salary because I had health insurance. What a luxury! Another “didn’t want to do the paperwork” required for intermittent FMLA, so decided I could have an ADA accommodation. That’s how I first learned there was such a thing.

I have worked through pneumonia and various other illnesses. I only took 2 days off for the flu the last time I had it. I’ve held up my end of the bargain, often at high personal cost.

None of that mattered to most employers. I had all excellent performance reviews from those with whom I worked. One day, that all changed.

I had told my boss I was going to an early morning doctor’s appointment, but that I expected to be in on time. I got to the doctor’s office and, despite being the first appointment on the schedule, it was clear something was going on that had knocked them off schedule. I got called to the back and I waited. And waited. My start time for work came and went. I had texted my boss to let her know, but hadn’t heard back, so didn’t think anything of it. I knew I need the appointment, so I stayed until the doctor could see me. I thought my boss understood that.

I got back to the office to find my boss really upset with me because my other coworker was out as well. I apologized and let her know it was a situation outside my control. She suggested I should have walked out of the doctor’s appointment to get to work on time. She said they had been very lenient with my sick leave, and I was taking advantage of that. Perhaps, in hindsight, I would have left the appointment, but that is crossing a line I was not and am not ready to cross. Unless I’m due in the emergency department to provide treatment, nothing about my work is that urgent. When it’s just a random day, I will do what I need to for medical care first.

In this circumstance, that choice cost me my job.

Of course, they created a paper trail to say I’d been put on a performance improvement plan and that I was actually fired for a clerical error, but the sequence of events leads me to believe otherwise - especially since I had not had a similar issue with small mistakes before. I was also made to sign what I now know was a questionable waiver document about not holding them liable. It was an incredibly difficult circumstance for me, and losing that job taught me a lot about what I should be willing to take from an employer. There’s a lot that I will compromise, but my health is not something I’m trying to give in service of a job. No work should cost you that.

Why didn’t I file an EEOC complaint? That takes time, money, and effort I did not have. I needed to get a job so that I wouldn’t lose health insurance. I did not want to feel the stress of that kind of process. If I had it to do over again, I probably would make a different choice, but there are also other things I may have done differently in that position.

It’s been a long road from there, but I learned a lot from that job about what I wanted out of my work and what was and was not negotiable to me. There are some things that no one could ever pay me enough to sacrifice. My health is one of those things.

Has your illness affected your job? Share how you have dealt with health issues in the workplace...maybe it can help someone else going through the same thing!