When it comes to working with ulcerative colitis (UC) things can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, most people with UC are able to continue to work as normal. As long as your UC is in remission it is likely that you can work without any problems. However, when you have a flare-up you may need multiple bathroom trips, doctor visits or missed days.
If you have UC it is important to know your rights within the workplace.
American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Amendments to the ADA provide protection for people with UC who need reasonable accommodations to continue to work and protects from discrimination in the workplace. Work with your supervisor to clearly outline what accommodations you need to get your job done. Depending on what you do for a living it could mean anything from extra bathroom breaks, making the bathroom more accessible, or modification of your work schedule.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
FMLA can protect you if you have to miss multiple days of work for doctor’s visits, hospital stays or illness related to your flare ups. The FMLA can also provide protections for your spouse if they also have to miss work to help care for you. A gastroenterologist can help you fill out the paperwork required. Check with your Human Resources Department for the specific paperwork you will need to have on file.
Who to tell and when.
Now that you know your rights, what do you have to tell your employer? In actuality, you do not have to tell them anything if the illness does not affect your work.
If you are having symptoms during the work day that affect your performance then it is important to discuss the issue with your supervisor. Scheduling an appointment with your supervisor shows you respect their time, ensures privacy and prevents interruptions. Printing out a basic info sheet about UC can help your employer understand your condition and how the accommodations will help.
Depending on where you work you may also need to talk with your Human Resources Department. They will need your FMLA paperwork in place and an outline of your needed accommodations. Remember: Save yourself a copy of all of the legal paperwork and make a note of any verbal discussions with your employer.
If you have any co-workers whose work may also be affected by changes to your schedule, it is polite to let them know. The conversation can be as simple as letting them know you are dealing with a health problem and may miss some additional days of work. You by no means have to go into every detail of what is going on. If you supervise employees, they may need information to get a hold of you or may need know who will be in charge if you will be gone for a longer period of time.
Finding a new job.
If your UC is just not practical for the position you currently have then you may need to switch positions. Larger companies may be able to provide you with some ideas for employment within your current company. Should staying with your current job not be an option, then you may want to make an appointment with a career counselor. They can help you determine a position that would be feasible and that you would also love.
Very few people with UC will need to apply for Social Security disability benefits. If you can’t come back to work for a short period of time, for example after recovering from surgery, you may be able to qualify for temporary disability. Permanent disability can be harder to prove. Organizations like The Jennifer Jaff Center or the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives can help you with the application process.
Use these guidelines to come up with a plan that will be beneficial to your health and to your career. Balance between dealing with UC and work can be tricky but it is possible.
Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.