Here’s the sad truth: I expected to face some workplace harassment when I entertained the entertainment/journalism industry more than 20 years ago. As a woman and an African-American, I was frequently warned about colleagues who had racial biases, were physical aggressive, would continue to ask for a date or tell inappropriate “jokes.” I wasn’t warned that the chronic illness I was battling would subject me to harassment. It would also prevent me from simply leaving a toxic workplace.
Over the years, I’ve had managers ask me to give details about my illness in violation of my right to privacy. I’ve been questioned about the use of my time off, which a company benefit is provided to every employee. I’ve even had on boss suggest that I was upset about a staffing issues because of my “condition.” I’ve had to work shifts that were tough on my body because asking for an accommodation might make me a target. I’ve stayed when I was ill so no one could look at my hours and try to use short shifts against me. I’ve used my vacation time instead of sick leave or disability so that I didn’t take more time off per year than other co-workers. I’ve returned to work as quickly as possible after procedures so employers didn’t look for a reason to let me go. I had to be better at my job so there was no excuse to doubt my ability.
Other than complain I could do little about these egregious violations other than complain or speak up for myself. Until the Affordable Health Care Act was passed I couldn’t leave a job. Why? I was unable to by health coverage on my own due to my pre-existing condition.
The autoimmune disease that tore through my body robbed me of job choices. My industry was going in a freelance direction. But, with bills piling up and the need for continuous health care, I couldn’t afford to be without a steady paycheck. I couldn’t take unpaid time off. I couldn’t risk having to explain my illness to someone else. Therefore, I endured being victimized repeatedly. I forced myself to work despite frequently being over burden by work while my healthy co-workers took unlimited time off.
Not much has changed over time other than I am now aware that it’s hard to be a woman and to be African-American in my industry and this world. However, it’s even more difficult and lonely to be a chronically ill person in the workplace.