Lots of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) enjoy work and a fulfilling career for many years after their diagnosis. Some of those folks never disclose their illness; others wait until their MS status requires them to ask for workplace accommodation; still others don’t like keeping their illness a secret and so decide to inform select colleagues about their chronic illness.
When- and if – the time arises for you to share your health status, consider how much you want to share and how to explain your situation. Decide who you’re going to inform, and make sure you’re prepared for questions. And, arm yourself with information about your workplace rights before telling anyone about your health status.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
This is a powerful law protecting you against workplace discrimination. It lets you request what is known as “reasonable accommodation.” According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the ADA covers almost everyone with MS, even those who have never experienced disabling symptoms or never need accommodation.
What is reasonable accommodation? The law requires that employers make changes in the workforce to help a disabled person perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodations can include:
- Adjusting work hours or locations
- Providing special parking spaces for someone with mobility limitations
- Allowing an employee to use earned or unpaid leave for treatment
- Modifying job descriptions by removing marginal job functions
- Purchasing or modifying equipment or devices
- Altering the physical facility to make it accessible
Note that this law also protects employers from what might be unreasonable demands through its “undue hardship” and “essential job functions” sections. Undue hardship could include a costly renovation that disrupts business or causes unreasonable problems for other employees. The law says that an essential job function is one that, for example, may be highly specialized (a job that requires manual dexterity) or exists to perform that function (a receptionist must by the nature of their job be able to answer the telephone).
Should I say that I have MS?
ADA does not require that you disclose your MS when you describe your health status – unless you don’t provide enough information for your employer to determine if you do indeed have a qualified disability under the ADA. Further, if you don’t describe your condition fully enough, your manager could assume you’re not able to handle additional duties.
A great career and MS are not incompatible, so know your rights, decide how to share your story, and then get on with your job and life.