Talking to Your Employer about MS
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. A common concern among people with disabilities is whether or not to disclose their medical condition to their employer. It is a difficult, very personal and emotional decision that requires significant thought and knowledge. Every person has a different experience and needs to carefully consider the pros and cons for disclosing their diagnosis. Disclosing has legal and job-related implications that can be ongoing. Although there may be good reasons to disclose medical information and very specific benefits to doing so, decisions made today can have an immediate and long-term impact on your employment.
As you work through this process, it is important to know your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
as well as your local human rights laws. Familiarize yourself with your company’s time and leave policies as well as short- or long-term disability plan requirements. There are several key issues to consider – who at work needs to know, when does your employer need to know, why would your employer need to know, and what do they need to know? Disclosing to your employer is something that might need to be revisited throughout your career, whether with the same employer or a new one. Planning ahead and educating yourself are essential and can help protect you should you decide to disclose.
Disclosure is required if you are requesting an accommodation in order to do the essential functions of your job. The ADA is the primary law that deals with disclosure and states that in order to request accommodations, a person must disclose. The accommodation can be requested during the interview process or over the course of your employment. Some of the practical or emotional reasons for disclosure include reducing stress, being able to more freely examine insurance and benefits, and simply making you feel more comfortable in case there is a change in your symptoms in the future.
Be sure to consider the legal and practical sides of disclosure as well as the advantages and disadvantages. Should you decide to share your diagnosis, assume your employer either knows nothing about your disability or perhaps has misconceptions. A large part of disclosing is educating your employer. Here are some tips to consider:
- Be specific, brief, and non-apologetic.
- Stay focused on your employer’s need to know about your ability to do your job.
- Rehearse what you are going to say.
- Speak confidently and positively of your ability, experience, and desire to do your job.
There are several resources available to help you navigate this important decision. These resources include the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
, a free service of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy. They can be reached at www.askjan.org
or by calling 800-526-7234. The National MS Society
also offers various publications covering disclosure and other employment issues, as well as a disclosure tool. This information can be found online at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Resources-Support/Employment
If you would like to discuss your decision with someone at the National MS Society, find out about local employment resources, or be referred to an employment law attorney call 1-800-344-4867 to speak with an MS Navigator. You can also pose your questions directly to this email address: EmploymentQuestions@nmss.org
and an employment specialist will respond within 48 hours. Whatever you decide, don’t do it alone. Being informed and planning ahead will put you in the best position for a successful disclosure.