A few weeks ago, an American marketing executive was fired from her job after giving the finger to President Donald Trump as his motorcade passed. Juli Briskman, 50, was cycling through Sterling, Virginia last month when she was passed by the president, en route to his golf course at the weekend.
“Here’s what was going through my head that day: ‘Really? You’re golfing again?’” she said.
When the motorcade passed, she had no idea her one-fingered salute had been captured by photographer Brendan Smialowski, working for Agence France-Presse and Getty Images.
The image quickly went viral and the owner of the yoga studio where she worked part-time asked her to remove the image, and she began receiving threatening emails. To her surprise, on Halloween she was fired, and escorted from the building, with her bosses saying they wanted her to “be professional” – despite the fact that the incident was at the weekend, and she was not wearing anything that identified her.
“I’d do it again,” she said.
We don’t all get the opportunity to let the leader of the free world know what we think of him, but there is one other guaranteed method of getting yourself fired.
“But surely that’s illegal” you may be thinking. Yes it is, but it’ll still happen. I guarantee you.
If you work for a sizeable company (smaller companies may, or may not be better) and you are suffering from depression, for example, and you inform your line manager, the chances are that any major projects you are working on will be taken away from you, you can kiss goodbye to any promotion or pay-rise you may have been due and your boss will discuss with HR how best to get rid of you. You have become a liability.
Mental health has been gaining coverage in the news, with high profile events causing people to ask what the responsibilities of an employer actually are when it comes to employees with mental health issues.
In addition to statutory health and safety duties, employers are under a general obligation to take reasonable care for the health and safety of employees in the workplace. This means that they have a duty towards people who may have mental health issues, and also towards other employees (if there is a risk of a staff member with a mental health issue doing harm to others).
They also have a duty not to discriminate because of a person’s disability. It is often (but not always) the case that serious mental health issues will constitute a disability. This will often mean making reasonable adjustments to try to support those with mental ill-health.
After having discussed you and your problems with HR, you will probably be offered a severance package and asked to leave. This may well appeal to you, as your depression is overwhelming and a break seems like the best option. It may well be now, but it will be hard to get work in the same industry at the same level, because word travels and you have become damaged goods.
A good employer should be aware of how widespread and misunderstood mental health issues are, they should not stereotype or make assumptions about mental health; most people’s assumptions are remarkably ill-informed and wrong. Understanding mental health issues is important because it will create a more inclusive workplace. By the same token, misunderstanding often leads to unnecessary conflict, disruption and wasted cost.
If you feel that your depression is due to stress suffered at work, rather than taking severance pay, it may be advisable to get legal advice and seek damages, as you might for personal injury in the workplace.
There are some good companies and considerate bosses out there, some of whom will have suffered from mental illness themselves. In these instances you may be treated with respect and compassion, but until people feel able to talk openly and honestly about mental illness in the workplace, it is a definite career-breaker.