Should I Tell? - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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Should I Tell?

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In this article

Overview

People in the workforce may consider disclosing information about their medical condition or impairment for a variety of reasons — some that are more emotional and others that are more practical. They may feel uncomfortable in one way or another about keeping their medical condition a secret, or want their boss and colleagues to understand the ways in which their medical condition can impact their attendance or job performance from day to day. Or, they may consider disclosing this information in order to request time off or some kind of accommodation.

Emotional reasons

Many people consider disclosing information about their medical condition or impairment at work because they feel the need to share the information with the people around them. Feeling comfortable on the job — particularly with one's boss and co-workers — can make the difference between a satisfying job situation and a very unpleasant one. Disclosing can help you feel less alone. It may reduce feelings of guilt or dishonesty that can sometimes occur. But while there may be significant emotional reasons for disclosing this important information now, there are also significant reasons to delay disclosure.

Possible reasons to disclose now

  • Keeping a secret can be stressful and create anxiety.
  • Once you disclose, you may feel a sense of relief — and find support from people in the workplace.
  • Disclosing medical information sooner rather than later may provide an opportunity to speak about your MS in a positive light, as opposed to waiting until a problem arises.
  • It makes it easier to communicate your needs in the event that your condition changes and you need an accommodation.

Possible reasons to delay disclosure

  • Once you have given people this important information about yourself, you can’t take it back.
  • Some people have misconceptions about MS and prejudices. Despite your best efforts, they may react negatively toward you, incorrectly viewing you as someone less competent or less able to handle stress.
  • You could be held back from promotions following disclosure but find it difficult to prove this was due to your MS.

Practical reasons

People also have very practical reasons for wanting to disclose information about their medical condition or impairment on the job: to take advantage of available legal protections; to request time off to deal with medical problems or appointments; because a medication or the disease itself is affecting work performance; because symptoms are becoming obvious to others. Although disclosing now may be helpful or even necessary in some circumstances, it may also be advisable to delay disclosure by making optimal use of vacation time and sick days.

Possible reasons to disclose now

  • You may endanger your health by not getting the medical care you need.

  • Your job status or reputation may be negatively impacted if your work is slipping or your evaluations are poor and you need assistance to improve your performance.  

  • You need to disclose information about your medical condition or impairment in order to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — resources that will help you maintain your employment.

Possible reasons to delay disclosure

  • You’re currently experiencing an exacerbation that you could ride out by using your vacation and sick time, making disclosure unnecessary at this time.

I need to request an accommodation

Disclosure of information about one's medical condition or impairment is required to make certain common requests (medical leave or accommodations) from an employer. The person's doctor must support these requests by documenting the ways in which the medical condition limits his or her job performance.

Documentation required

If you decide to request a job accommodation or medical leave from your employer, or apply for short-term disability, you will need to supply documentation from your physician in support of your request:

  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your physician is only required to certify that you have a "medical condition" that limits you in a particular way. The doctor is not required to provide your diagnosis.

However, your employer has the right to ask for additional information if the information that has been provided is not detailed enough to support your request.

Bottom line

If you are requesting an accommodation or medical leave, your employer needs sufficient information  about your medical condition or impairment to determine that you have a qualified disability under the ADA. This may, in some cases, result in disclosure of your diagnosis.

While it may feel better to disclose information about your medical condition or impairment at this time, it may not be in your best interest in the long run. Special consideration should be paid if you  want to take advantage of available legal protections or request an accommodation.

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