What to Know About MS in the Workplace
People who have recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis may be concerned that their symptoms could affect their ability to perform the duties required in their jobs. Deciding whether to disclose that one has MS is one of the first challenges a recently-diagnosed person might face, followed by gaining an understanding of workplace rights and reasonable workplace accommodations under the law.
Disclosing MS and confidentiality
People might hesitate to disclose their MS out of concern that they will be treated differently by their boss or colleagues. If a person does decide to not disclose his or her MS, that decision is allowed under the law. However, if a person requests an accommodation, the employer may ask for the diagnosis in order to determine whether the employee has a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If this happens, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the employee must disclose to the employer that he or she has MS. Different rules may apply regarding prospective employers.
If a person with MS does choose to disclose the diagnosis to an employer, then the employer is required under federal law to keep the diagnosis confidential. In some cases, the employer might need to discuss work restrictions and any necessary accommodations with supervisors and managers. In other cases, the employer might need to disclose a person’s MS to first-aid and safety personnel and government officials.
Knowing workplace rights
One big concern that people who have recently been diagnosed with MS may have is whether they will be let go from their job. Whether this happens depends on if the employee is able to perform the essential responsibilities of his or her job; if the MS does, in fact, interfere with required job duties, then the employer is not required to keep a person employed. If an employer considers all reasonable accommodations and exhausts all possibilities before deciding that an employee with MS is not able to perform the job duties, then it is possible that he or she may be let go.
If employees with MS believe that their rights are being violated, they may file a charge against their employer through the EEOC. Depending on the state in which a person resides, he or she has between 180 and 300 days to file a charge under the EEOC.
Asking for accommodations
A person with MS might take comfort in the fact that if he or she requests a reasonable accommodation to make it possible to perform his or her job, then the employer must provide such accommodations. Exemptions include requests for any accommodation that would create a direct threat to health or safety in the workplace or impose undue hardship on the employer. “Reasonable” accommodations include modified working hours, change of location where work is performed, reserved parking, modified equipment and wheelchair accessibility and allowing employees to use earned or unpaid leave for treatment.
In the event that a person wants or needs to find another place to work that provides a certain level of flexibility and support, there are many resources available. One of the more popular resources is a website called MS Workplace—it specifically helps people with MS find jobs that will accommodate their needs. The site was created by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), Biogen Idec, Elan and Monster.com.
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Jacqueline is a former content producer for HealthCentral. She is a multimedia journalist with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master’s in Broadcast Journalism and Public Affairs.