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Disclosing MS in the Workplace
The decision to disclose personal medical information in the workplace is a complex one, requiring careful thought and planning. Although there may be good reasons to disclose medical information such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and very specific benefits to doing so, any decision you make today has immediate and long-term implications for your employment that need to be considered. So it’s important to weigh your options carefully before making a decision to disclose — keeping in mind that once information is given, it can never be taken back.

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.

Should I Tell?

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.

Select the reasons that best describe the situation:

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. But while there may be significant emotional reasons for disclosing this important information now, there are also significant reasons to delay disclosure.
Examples are:
I feel guilty.
I am afraid of being found out.
I’ll feel less alone; I want the support of others.
I just want to tell.
I prefer to let people know before they begin to wonder what’s wrong.
I want them to know it’s not "all in my head."
I feel dishonest — I’m just not comfortable keeping it a secret.
How can I expect my employer to be straight with me if I’m not straight with him or her?
I don't want people to misinterpret what's going on with me (e.g., think I'm drunk, lazy or uninterested).

Practical Reasons

Sometimes people 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, for example, or to request time off to deal with medical problems or appointments. 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.
Examples are:
I need to take time off because I don’t feel well.
I need to take time off for medical appointments.
My medications are affecting my work performance.
My work is suffering and I’m afraid of a bad job evaluation.
I received a bad evaluation.
My symptoms are becoming obvious to others.

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.
Examples are:
I need an on-the-job accommodation (e.g., flex-time, a parking spot near the building, an office closer to the bathroom, voice-activated software for my computer).
I need to take a medical leave of absence.

Whom Should I Tell

If, after carefully considering the pros and cons of disclosing your MS at work, you decide to proceed with disclosure, the next step is to decide whom to tell. With each of the following options, there are important issues to consider when making this choice.

Boss

Although it may seem logical to begin the disclosure of information about your medical condition or impairment with your boss, there are important issues to consider before making this choice.

Possible Reasons to Disclose to Your Boss Now:
You’ve been at your job more than a year.
You and your boss have a good working relationship.
Your performance reviews have been positive.
Your boss has a history of supporting others with special needs.
Your boss will be supportive and help you obtain accommodations if and when you need them.
Your boss is discrete and unlikely to gossip about you.
You will be relieved of the stress related to keeping a secret.

Possible Reasons to Delay Disclosing to Your Boss:
You are new to your job.
Your performance reviews have been inconsistent or poor.
You don’t know if your boss will keep the information private; he or she isn’t legally required to do so.
Your boss is not known for his or her support of people with special needs.
Your boss may worry that you will hurt the company's productivity.
Your boss may view you as less competent because you have MS.
Your boss may become overly protective or hesitate to promote you.

Human Resources

Many people consider the Human Resources (HR) manager at their workplace to be the first point of contact for all employment-related issues. However, deciding when to disclose to your HR manager may depend on several factors.

Possible Reasons to Disclose to Your HR Manager Now:
You need to request an accommodation, some type of work modification, or time off because of your MS.
HR managers are trained in the specifics of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can help you seek accommodations.
HR managers are trained to assist people with disclosure issues.
HR managers are required by the ADA to keep all medical information confidential.

Possible Reasons to Delay Disclosing to Your HR Manager:
You don’t need to make any special requests at this time.
You have heard that your HR department isn’t all that knowledgeable about the ADA or supportive of people with special needs.

Co-Workers

Because co-workers may also be close friends with whom you share information about your personal life, you may want to talk to them about your MS. However, there are several important issues to consider first.

Possible Reasons to Disclose to Co-Workers Now:
You will have the opportunity to educate them about MS and the symptoms you’re experiencing.
You will have the opportunity to get their support.
You will be relieved of the stress of keeping a secret and trying to hide how you feel.
You will feel more comfortable on the job and less isolated.
You will feel more able to ask for some help if and when you need it.

Possible Reasons to Delay Disclosing to Co-Workers:
Some people may react negatively — e.g., pulling away from you, not knowing what to say to you, doubting your ability to do your share of the work, worrying that your MS might be contagious.
People who have limited knowledge of MS may make incorrect assumptions.
Co-workers are not required to keep the information confidential so you may lose control of who knows about your MS and who doesn’t.

Deciding How Much to Tell

Once you have decided to whom you want to disclose, your next step is to decide how much information to share. You may decide to share some or all of the information about your MS. Consider the following options when making this important decision.

"I have a medical condition"

When requesting time off or an accommodation, it is your right under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to state only that you have a medical or neurological condition. You are not required to say that you have MS.
However, if the information you provide is not sufficient to determine that you have a qualified disability under the ADA, your employer has the right to ask for more detailed information — which may lead to disclosure of your diagnosis. Since state and local definitions of disability may differ, it is worth your while to check with state and local human rights offices.
Partial disclosure leaves the door open to speculation on the part of those you have told; they may wonder what you’re hiding and make incorrect assumptions based on incomplete information.
Without an accurate understanding of MS, your employer may jump to the conclusion that you are unable to handle increased responsibility and pass you up for promotion.

"I have MS"

Full disclosure gives you the opportunity to educate your employer about MS and how it has impacted you, and opens the door to communicate your needs as they come up. The National MS Society (1-800-344-4867) can provide you with education materials for your employer.
Full disclosure also eliminates any speculation regarding your condition.
You may find that you get the support and assistance you need as well as welcome relief from the stress of hiding your condition.



The Americans with Disabilities Act
http://www.ada.gov


U.S. Labor Department Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
http://www.eeoc.gov


Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/


Disability Evaluation Under Social Security (The Blue Book)
http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook


Social Security Planner
http://www.ssa.gov/dibplan


Disability.gov
http://www.Disability.gov