Question: I have been struggling with this issue for ... well, years.
I am an administrative secretary to the director of my department. A few months after I was hired (five years ago), they opened up a position for a receptionist. We hired a woman who seemed bubbly and friendly: no problem with answering the phones and handling the mail. After hiring her, the director decided that I would be her supervisor (without any change in title or increase in pay).
Within the next year, she started having crying jags because her grandmother was sick. By the second year into her service, she got much worse. She was acting very oddly -- manic -- and then, she started becoming adversarial and started making claims that people were following her ... including helicopters. She was having hallucinations.
Within a month, she seemed to have a complete breakdown and collapsed on the floor, writhing and crying and begging for help.
One of the assistant directors helped get her to a psychiatric hospital. She was hospitalized and out on leave for about four or five months. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She had been prescribed medication previous to her breakdown, but we suspect that she stopped taking her medication.
She came back to work part time and gradually increased her schedule back to full time. And we accommodated her, allowing her to take the time off for all of her doctor appointments.
I feel for her, tremendously. I have friends who have had serious mental health problems. I understand how debilitating it can be and how important it is for her to have stability and a steady paycheck. I have wanted to help her.
Within the year after she came back from her leave, she seemed to be doing better. But then, slowly, she started sliding back to that unstable place. She comes to work dressed totally inappropriately: in flip-flops, sweat pants and t-shirts, many times. She walks around barefoot more and more frequently. He mannerisms and voice become very exaggerated and, well, odd.
She is constantly up and down from her desk, going into the kitchen, asking to use the bathroom eight to 15 times a day. (She does get an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks, as well). She has been in the negative for her sick time for several months now. She doesn't have any vacation or sick time left because of all the time that she has taken off (not doctor-related; I let her make up that time). A number of times, she come into work hours late, without getting an OK beforehand and with no plausible explanation.
I have spoken to her several times. I have written her up and had her sign the letter. I have kept records of all the problem behavior. I have contacted our employee assistance program on several occasions. She went to see them (at my request) on numerous occasions. I have talked to my boss; she basically doesn't want to have anything to do with the situation. I have researched the issues of bipolar disorders and the workplace on the internet, but it is mostly from the perspective of the person afflicted with the illness.
I am trying very hard to work with this situation. I can see, though, that it is unlikely to get any better. And it is really frustrating me and wearing me down.
To top it off, my boss has me cover for this receptionist whenever she is away from her desk or out for the day. So, not only do I have to deal with this very frustrating and delicate situation, but I am the one who has to compensate for her shortcomings by covering for her all of the time.
Frankly, I find all of this very unfair.
Even if I asked my boss to take over supervising this employee, it would not help me. My boss has a reputation for NOT dealing with anything. She is the proverbial head in the sand. If I was no longer this employee's supervisor, I am guessing it would just get worse and then I wouldn't be able to do anything to improve the situation.
It seems as though my only option is to continue to deal with this on a day-to-day basis or look for a new job.
I know this is a mouthful, but perhaps someone has experienced something similar.
Keep in mind, though, that this is not just another difficult employee who can be disciplined and eventually fired if they don't comply. It is not that simple. She has a mental illness and she is a union employee on top of that. It isn't that I want to fire her, but it has been literally years that this is going on now. I can't take it much more.
Any suggestions? -- Susan