Facing MS Challenges in the Workplace
When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may have to deal with unique issues at work. Should you tell your employer about your condition? Will the diagnosis put your job in jeopardy? What protections do you have?
Unfortunately, there's no one right way to navigate MS in the workplace. The disease affects every person differently, and each situation is unique. As a result, it's important to make decisions that are right for you. Below is information that can help.
Should I continue working?
If you've just been diagnosed with MS or are experiencing new symptoms, you may question your ability to continue working. Many people with MS go on to work successfully long term. Your choice depends on your individual condition and job requirements.
One thing is certain: Don't be rash. Experts suggest waiting until your condition has stabilized to decide. During an exacerbation, the thought of working may seem overwhelming or impossible. But you may find your job quite manageable after symptoms subside or you begin a new treatment. In some cases, federal laws can help by giving you the time off you need to explore your options.
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Do I have to tell my employer about my MS?
It can be difficult deciding whether to tell your employer about the disease. Some people want colleagues to understand how they're feeling or why they might be acting differently. Others tell for practical reasons, such as asking for extended time off for treatment or special accommodations like a different workstation.
Keep in mind, there may be risks involved in sharing your diagnosis with your employer. Some people fear being passed over for promotions. Others worry it may put their job in jeopardy. Before you disclose your condition, think through the decision carefully and understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you want to discuss your decision with an expert, call the National MS Society at 800-FIGHT-MS (344-4867).
What rights do I have in the workplace?
Most people with MS who work for a company with 15 employees or more are covered by the ADA. The ADA helps protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. Under the ADA, your employer must make reasonable accommodations to allow you to perform your job duties. This may include changing your work hours, providing you with a parking space closer to the building, or modifying your work equipment. But there are limits to this right. If the accommodation would pose undue harm to the company—for example, if it's too expensive—they are not required to do it.
The ADA also prevents a company from firing you or limiting your promotions or benefits because of your condition. However, this protects you only if you are still able to perform the duties of your job. If you aren't able to perform your work tasks, your employer can let you go.
Like the ADA, the FMLA provides rights regarding time off from work. It may allow you to take short leaves of absence for treatment or other medical needs without losing your job.
What can I do to improve my working life?
It's believed that fatigue is a primary reason that people with MS opt to leave the workforce. But there are many ways to effectively manage this and other symptoms of MS.
Talk with your doctor. In addition to eating right and getting regular exercise, learn methods for reducing fatigue and conserving energy. Taking steps to care for yourself can help you feel better each day and give you more options for staying on the job.
Many people with MS go on to work successfully long term. Don't make any decisions until your condition has stabilized.
Before you disclose your condition, understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act.
Fatigue is a primary reason that people with MS leave the workforce.
- Talk with your doctor about managing fatigue and other symptoms.
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- Talking About MS, Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, accessed Jan. 1, 2010 (http://www.msif.org/en/life_with_ms/talking_about_ms/index.html);
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