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Bipolar Disorder on the Job Part V: What If I Can't Work? Protecting Your Rights

(This is Part IV in a five-part series on bipolar. To catch up, see Bipolar on the Job Part I: “Will I Be Able to Return to Work?” Part II: “To Tell or Not to Tell?” Part III, “How to Talk about Bipolar Disorder” and Part IV, “Requesting Reasonable Workplace Accommodations.”)

An “occupational hazard” of bipolar disorder is that it can trigger snap decisions, especially in the midst of a major manic or depressive episode. The illness can limit your foresight. You can’t work or foresee a time in the near future when you’ll be able to return to work, so you decide to quit, resign, or take early retirement.

These options are certainly acceptable if you’re in a position to take advantage of them and are making the decision in a state of sound mind and judgment. If you’re not, however, making a snap decision to quit can seriously jeopardize your rights as an employee and your future prospects. Before you hand in that letter of resignation, consider what you have to gain and lose. Here are some suggestions on how to evaluate your situation:

  • Take as much time as you need to feel better before making a final decision. Your employer is probably not going to fire you when you’re on medical leave under a doctor’s care, and if she does, you have good grounds for a lawsuit.
  • Take a sheet of paper and divide it in half. List the pros on the left and the cons on the right. Spend some time reviewing the pros and cons, so you clearly understand what’s at stake.
  • Discuss your options with family members, friends, and associates you trust the most.
  • Discuss your options with your doctor and therapist.
  • If you have a union at work, meet with your union representative to discuss your options and possible consequences of resigning. A union rep is likely to have more experience in this area and can clearly explain what you stand to gain and lose if you resign. He or she may also have knowledge of lateral job positions that more effectively support mental health needs. Likewise, you may be able to access such information from HR (human resources) or EAP (employee assistant program) professionals at your workplace.
  • When stable, work with an occupational therapist, psychiatric rehab professional and/or career counselor to conduct a job search that identifies career options which match your health sustaining requirements with work interests.

We’re not telling you to keep plugging away at a job that’s making you miserable, but we would hate to see people quit (especially when they’re not feeling well) and then regret the decision later when it’s possibly too late to do anything about it.

If you’re unable to work temporarily or permanently and need some information about filing for disability, check out our post, “Do You Qualify for Social Security Disability Pay?

Additional Resources

Looking for even more information about managing bipolar or other psychiatric conditions on the job? Laurel Cargill Radley, MS, OTR, Associate Director of Professional Affairs and Heather R. Huhman, Media Relations Manager of the American Occupational Therapy Association recommend the following online resources:

If you had to battle for your employee rights, in or out of court, or are an attorney or other professional who can offer some guidance regarding employee rights related to psychiatric illness on the job, please share your experiences and insights. Also, please let us know what you think of our five-part series, “Bipolar Disorder on the Job.”

Bipolar Disorder on the Job Part V: What If I Can't Work? Protecting Your Rights

Candida Fink, MD

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APA Reference
Fink, C. (2010). Bipolar Disorder on the Job Part V: What If I Can't Work? Protecting Your Rights. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 5 Jan 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Jan 2010
Published on All rights reserved.