Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bad Medicine

“At the time my youngest son Ryan had developed a very serious, life threatening medical condition and the major medical coverage which DC offered to all contracted freelancers actually turned out to be a 30,000 dollar family policy. When I pointed this out the DC’s upper management they actually tried to use my son’s illness and a promise of a better policy as a negotiation point for extending my contract another four years.”
-- Pat Broderick, via Journalista via LITG

To which I would add:

1. In late Fall of 2003 I was suffering from debilitating side-effects from the cholesterol drug Lipitor: grotesquely swollen joints, extreme arthritis, numbness, and general fatigue. At the time, I was assisting at least three editors, two of which were going or had gone on maternity leave. On top of which -- it was the holidays. I had a tremendous workload; not only my own, but to make up for the missing editors. I was in physical agony and requested a possible short medical leave to ride out some of the pain. Dan Didio went into my office, closed the door behind him, and said he talked to upper management about my request. I was not eligible for paid medical leave, he said, but they talked about it and decided to grant me one unpaid week of leave -- as a special gift to me. Unable to afford the break in income at that time, I declined, and continued to work in physical pain through the holidays, getting all the books in on time.

When my physical condition deteriorated even further the following Spring, the HR woman from Time Warner on the West Coast was absolutely shocked to find out that I was told I was not eligible for paid medical leave. Of course I was. And failing to get the appropriate rest earlier had compounded my condition and made things much worse.

2. When I resigned from DC in the Summer of 2004, medical insurance was used as a bargaining chip in order to get me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If I signed the NDA, they would "fudge" the paperwork so I would get one extra month of health insurance. So basically, they would lie and say I was still working there when I wasn't, and my insurance would be temporarily extended. Part of the reason I was resigning was because I was still ill, and they said they knew how much I could use the insurance. But -- I would have to sign away my rights to ever speak ill of DC again in order to get that coverage. Which would basically take care of me ever bringing up sexual harassment again. I declined to sign the NDA. But the best part of all this was that by "fudging" -- they were basically lying. They were offering to use fraud to "help me out" -- but only if I signed a piece of paper covering their ass.

To be fair, this sort of shit happens at a lot of places. And had I not trusted DC as much as I did right off the bat, and really done my homework, I could have avoided a lot of this. And that's the best thing you can say about any of this -- that the worker really has a lot of rights and resources. They do. But you have to seek them out. Don't just consult your shiny worker's manual or believe what some upper management suit tells you. Be informed.

Companies have no right to offer "bargains" concerning your health.


  1. Wow... that is so beyond FUBAR. Glad that particular period in your life is over. But companies/corporations will do anything to save themselves. Anyone that believes otherwise (who isn't a top level exec) should really do their homework.

    I was mentioning to my wife how the older generations that believed in company loyalty and keeping their bosses happy, accepting the company's terms, etc., in the end screwed us over because that is what they expect and conduct themselves in that same manner. A total disregard for the humanity aspect of the working class, however what i find even more appalling is that there are pople out there willing to have themselves bent and distorted by their place of employment out of fear of losing their job. That I must say is beyond sad and extremely pathetic.

    Some of the most important figures of this world rose against that fear (or other similar repressive pressure) to overcome and eventually better their environment/world. Lately, I feel that if those same people would have seen what is happening now they would have just given up.

    Things have to change.

  2. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Absolutely. Two stories.

    1. On PRI's This American Life, a sub-story involved an HR director. He said he felt guilty because people came to him with problems all of the time. He didn't know why. They just did. And, for some reason, they expected him, implicitly, to be an unbiased help to them.

    He wasn't.

    He was an employee of the company. All issues that he thought might affect that employee's job would be told directly to his/her superiors. Potential harrassment claims had mandated legal channels, but other stuff? Just someone saying how tough it is to get to work, when you have a sick kid at home or are going through a divorce? That went straight back to the manager.

    2. My mother had an attack of heart arrhythmia at work. She was taken out of the office in an ambulance. The doctors told her she had a heart condition that was exacerbated by the amount of stress at her job. Her doctor extended her leave of absence for several months.

    Now, she's been working for this company for 21 years. Next year, on her birthday, she planned to retire. But they've been driving her to the wall. She worked 12 hour shifts trying to catch up on the 3 positions she's trying to cover.

    She was the third person to have some kind of breakdown in that office.

    Two weeks ago, she gets a call at home from her supervisor. "You've been released," she said. She used that term, specifically. "Released." What'd she mean? They were hiring someone else to do her job.

    Under FMLA, she was guaranteed 12 weeks of protection. Her employee handbook states that 26 weeks are provided. Neither term had passed.

    FMLA doesn't guarantee that you will be able to take back the same job at a company. It says that you are guaranteed an equivalent job. Her employee handbook says she can receive a job "within 2 pay grades" of her original, and she has to apply for it.

    Don't trust these people. A company that employs people is not the coworker you're friends with. It isn't your nice boss. It's an entity that only serves itself. Don't trust that person with your health or your life. Do your research. Talk to either the Department of Labor or a labor lawyer.

  3. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Jesus Christ.

    One of the peripheral benefits of having to pay for healthcare, then?

    I wonder how often companies operating in the US use healthcare as a negotiating tool? Quite frequently, I'd imagine.

  4. You're right. Happens everywhere. I just happen to be a GM at a restaurant/sports bar, No. 1 behind the owner where I work, . The things I've seen him do/say would make your hair curl, straighten, and curl again. There are no friends in business when the dollar is so heavy.
    Miss Val-I hope you're feeling better, and Pat's child as well.

  5. So basically, I now have a genuine reason to find Dan Didio despicable.

  6. Yeah, you owe it to yourself to be up on company benefits. There are a few people around who feel they should look out for others, and I've been lucky enough to know a number of them. But any employee should be aware of the facts. I don't think a company owes anyone more than what they promise, but they do you owe you what's in your contract. And I think they do owe you treatment and consideration as a human being rather than a mere cog or a component.

    The best companies value their employees and manage some flexibility. The crap employers routinely shaft people without mercy.

    When my father had a heart attack, his original plan was to get a doctor's okay then go back to work at the post office. A short time after his hospital release, one of his supervisors called our house and demanded he come into work. The guy even told my mom they had confirmation from a doctor my father was cleared to come back.

    My mom was like, "I don't know how that could be, since the latest tests were just done yesterday and they haven't even told us the results yet!"

    Dad went back to work when the real approval came through, had a recurrence of chest pain and then modified his plan to take almost a year's worth of accumulated sick leave (the man never missed a day on the route in 30 years), then retire with an extra year towards his pension.

    Luckily, my mom stayed right on top of all of this stuff at our house. There's not much anyone can put past that woman.

    I hate that Pat Broderick (or you, or anyone for that matter) would have trouble like this. I've admired Broderick's work since his run on Marvel's Micronauts all those years ago. And his story in the American Flagg hardcover is pretty nifty. Hope things are going well for Broderick and his family!

    I'd like an update sometime.

  7. When your medical care depends on your job, your country is pathetic. I hope that your HMO industry gets caught up in your general financial failures and gives your politicians a chance to push through a vaguely humane policy like in the rest of the First World.

  8. Good god.

    It's amazing what corporations will do to their employees if they think they can get away with it.

    And they usually do.

  9. the company of DC Comics might win new awards for being a horrible place to work, though the actual comics are actually good so long as the 52 boys are writing them.

  10. Well done for you for making this public. Many of us comic book readers feel such a childhood-inspired fondness for the comic book companies that it can be hard to see what wretched organisations they can be, and so regularly have been. Alan Moore knows of what he speaks.
    Secondly, I recently had to retire after a serious illness. I had no choice over the matter. Say what you like about the "socialised" economy of the UK, I was supported throughout the ordeal & am in receipt of a paltry but managable pension. The USA has GOT to get some universal health care up & running so that what happened to you can't happen over & over again. And quickly, before our own men of money destroy our health service & its no longer there as an example, no matter how limited, to others.