Disclosing Your Multiple Sclerosis at the Workplace
Telling people that you have Multiple Sclerosis is a very personal choice. For some, it flows naturally from their lips without hesitation. For some, it is a secret which they hold close to the breast. In Part 1, I discussed telling those people closest to you - family members, other doctors, perhaps your best friend.
Ultimately each patient must decide what feels right to him/her. It is not necessary to inform every person you encounter, but you might want the added support of friends, co-workers, or even your boss. Keep in mind though that once your secret is told, it is impossible to un-tell it.
Who do you tell?
Chances are that those closest to you may already know that something is going on and that putting a name to it is just that, naming what was already there. For me personally, one of the first things I did was to send a newsletter to my students' families explaining the diagnosis and reassuring them that I would continue to teach as usual, although I might need more time off.
Many of these families have known me long enough to know that something was going on with me. I am not one to cancel things at the last minute and due to overwhelming fatigue, emotions, and not fully recovered from the last relapse, I was doing just that. The responses I received were both touching and enlightening. I even learned that one of the parents has had MS for over 20 years and was doing rather well.
When do you tell?
If your MS has not created any limitations for you, you may decide to say nothing at work immediately after diagnosis. But if you feel confident that disclosure will not be used against you, and that telling your boss and co-workers would be better for you than remaining silent, then you could consider telling.
Why do you tell?
Before disclosing your MS at work, think what it is you wish to gain. If your job performance is threatened by your symptoms - for example, if you need time for a nap, or a workspace near the bathroom - then you need to seek an accommodation. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most employees are guaranteed workplace adjustments, as long as the accommodations don't present an undue hardship for the employer.
Be aware that ADA protections apply only when the employee discloses disability-related problems on the job. With or without full disclosure, the employee has to discuss the problems in order to obtain accommodations. It is up to you, the employee, to find out with whom to meet for this discussion and to request a meeting. You must be ready to suggest the possible solutions as well. Be prepared!
Who do you tell? When and Why?