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Should I Tell?

MS Navigator Tip

Disclosure in the workplace is a big decision, one not to take lightly. Call our MS Navigators who specialize in employment to discuss the pros and cons for your unique situation and understand the implications of disclosing or not so you can make an informed decision.

Please call 1-800-344-4867.

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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 and help educate your employer.
  • You have opened the lines of communication, therefore if your condition changes and/or you need an accommodation it’s easier to communicate your needs.

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.
  • Fear that you could be held back from promotions after you disclose, which could be difficult to prove it 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 need time off from work for doctor appointments but aren’t able to take the time and may put your health at risk.

  • Your job status may be negatively impacted because your work is slipping, or you’ve received poor performance reviews and 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, but you have enough vacation and sick time to take, therefore not needing to disclose at this time.
  • You are not in need of any accommodations to do your job successfully right now.

I need to request an accommodation

In order to make common requests such as medical leave or accommodations a person does need to disclose. The person will need their doctors support, which includes documenting the ways in which his or her medical condition limits their job performance.

Read more about how to request an accommodation here.

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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