Today is a sad day in the history of our nation as it is the anniversary of the devastating surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces in 1941. But it also marks a sad anniversary in my personal life.
Three years ago today, my employer, whom I had dutifully and tirelessly worked for since 1999 ,fired me. They terminated my employment on the day my short term disability ended. Funny how these days stay in our memory and it’s made easier when they fall on national holidays. I went out on disability on Labor Day weekend and got fired on Pearl Harbor Day.
I had never been fired from a place of employment before and I remember when my HR director casually told me that this happens to everyone, at least once in their lifetime and I was due. We had this discussion way before I got ill, so it wasn’t like she was predicted the end of my time at this company. She just matter of factly stated this.
I know I wasn’t fired for poor performance or anything related to the quality of my work product. I was fired because I was ill, which makes it worse because I had no chance of fixing anything. My illness dictated what my body was capable of doing. I couldn’t work harder or longer hours to change the situation.
My workplace had accommodated my disability for as long as they felt they could. I was given an ultimatum of sorts, come in to work 5 days a week or be replaced. For the months leading up to my termination, I was able to work at home most days and come in to the office 1 day a week. The type of work I did could basically be done remotely and with phone conversations. People would call me at home and we’d discuss what needed to be done and I would complete it at home. My day in the office would be for necessary meetings. This worked for a while, but then people started gossiping, as people do and I suspect the rumor was that I was milking the situation and was really able to come to work.
So on the 1 day I was in the office, my HR director called me in and basically said, “You either come to work 5 days a week or we will have to replace you.” I said, “I guess you’ll have to replace me, as I can’t come to the office everyday. I barely make it in 1 day and then recover until the next time I have to come back here.” She said, “Why don’t you take some time to think about it.” I replied, “There’s nothing to think about, it’s not possible.” And that was that.
A place where I had spent the majority of my 40’s had let me go because I was sick. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I had heard all the stories of people who were ill that lost their jobs, it’s just something you never think will happen to you, but it does happen to you. And when it does happen, you deal with it, as I dealt with it.
You wake up the next day and nothing is different except you have a lot of free time on your hands and aren’t getting a nice pay check. But you are the same person. Work shouldn’t define who I was and shouldn’t change who I am. I probably would have handled the situation differently, if I was my employer, but then that’s just me.