Disability Issues in the Public Workplace
Eloise, a supervisor at the Federal Administration Agency (FAA), was faced with trying to ensure productivity when one of her workers became ill, and was not maintaining her level of work. Brenda, who had been a computer programmer for the Management Information Systems Support Division of the FAA for nine years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 1991. She left work immediately to have an operation and to start treatments. Brenda was supposed to return to work after the medical procedure so Eloise reached out to her in February. Brenda stated that she did not feel up to it, that she would continue to use her sick leave and would return in March.
Seeing that Brenda would not be back in the near future, Eloise asked the other workers in the office to “pitch in” and help pick up the slack in work due to her absence. To entice one employee to pitch in, she upgraded his work status from a GS7 to a GS9 (which is what Brenda’s status was) until Brenda returned. In March, Brenda could not return to work on her scheduled date and had her medical leave extended until she became better accustomed to the chemotherapy treatments.
Brenda returned to work on April 1st. She was apparently not up to speed and could not handle the work that was assigned to her. In addition, she stated that she needed some accommodations in order to stay at work.
These accommodations included rest hours during the workday and the need to leave work early on certain days. Eloise allowed these accommodations. When Brenda started taking breaks and putting her feet up on her desk to relax, the other workers didn’t seem to mind, and they would even try to be quiet around her. Brenda felt like the other workers had changed their attitude towards her and “freeze up when she came into the room.” Eloise tried to explain that it would be natural for the others to feel uncomfortable around her and recommended that Brenda speak to Employee Counseling. Brenda refused and soon thereafter started to call in sick again.
Even with Brenda’s return, the other workers still had to continue doing her work. The worker that Eloise upgraded to a GS9 was returned to GS7 upon Brenda’s return. He refused to do Brenda’s work unless he was reinstated to GS9 status. When Brenda was at work, she didn’t meet her deadlines and resentment started to grow in the office. There were resentments because Brenda didn’t look sick and the other workers felt that she was just taking advantage of the situation.
During the summer, Brenda’s attendance became spotty and tensions grew even higher because of her push-backed deadlines.
Productivity began to suffer because of these missed deadlines and the overworking of the other employees. Brenda was out of sick time and the other employees even donated their leave time (25 days) to her through the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program. By October, Brenda had reached the end of her sick leave benefits and had finished her course of treatment, but she continued to miss work. Eloise called the personnel officer to get some advice.
The real problems that exist in this case in our viewpoint are the approach Eloise has taken to managing Brenda’s absence in relationship to the other employees in the office and her one on one handling of Brenda’s initial return to work after treatment of her illness. Eloise has taken a piecemeal approach in her attempt to make up for the loss of Brenda’s productivity during her absence and then her reintegration into the office workforce on her return.
Upon first being informed by one of her subordinates, Brenda, that she would be out of work due to a diagnosis of breast cancer, Eloise, the supervisor in charge of her section took a very humanistic and natural approach to Brenda’s situation. General statements of consolation and support by Brenda upon her learning of Eloise’s health crisis ranged from “I’m so sorry . don’t worry about anything . don’t worry about a thing here . whatever you want” to a statement she made to her two weeks after .