Should you tell your boss about your MS?
When you’re first diagnosed with MS, a common issue is whether or not you should disclose your medical condition to your employer. Being upfront about the diagnosis can enable your boss to provide you with accommodations in the workplace if you need them, such as flex time to suit your medical appointments or relapse days, occasionally working at home, air conditioning in your work space, less physically demanding tasks, and so on.
On the other hand, telling all can be risky. Your employer may decide you’re less able to work, can no longer do the job, or consign you to the bottom of the promotion list.
A new survey in Australia asked people about how disclosing an MS diagnosis affected their employment (Kirk-Brown and colleagues. Mult Scler 2013; epublished November 21, 2013). A total of 1,438 people responded to one or more surveys over a three-year period.
Among those who responded to surveys in 2010 and 2012, 84% were still employed. People who had talked to their employer about their MS were more likely to be employed at the end of the three-year period. The association between disclosing and remaining employed was independent of a person’s age, sex, hours worked or level of disability.
To give a bit of background, this same group of researchers looked at this issue a couple of years ago (Simmons and colleagues. J Neurol 2010;257:926-936). Over a four-year period, they found that most people with MS had lost their job and were no longer employed. The reason for being unemployed was not that people had been fired or employers weren’t willing to accommodate their MS. Instead, the main problem was MS symptoms, such as fatigue, poor mobility, arm or hand difficulties and cognitive deficits.
The suggestion was that people were leaving things too late and their symptoms worsened before their employers could accommodate their changing needs. Taking these two studies together, the implication is that disclosing your MS to your employer will enable both sides to plan for the day when you need changes in the workplace to enable you to remain employed.
Of course things aren’t always that simple. The MS Society of Canada advises people to know their rights before making any disclosures, try to get a sense beforehand of what your employer’s reaction will be, and consider the consequences (good and bad) before sitting down with your boss. The MS Society’s Guide on Employment and Income Support can be downloaded at http://mssociety.ca/en/pdf/EmploymentIncomeSupport_EN.pdf. It’s important to note that the laws regarding employee rights and workplace discrimination are not the same in different countries. So learn your rights for your area as you consider the advantages and disadvantages of talking about your MS to your employer.
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