Life with MS

Disclosing MS in the Workplace : How, What, Where , and When

By MSF Staff
MS is not as disabling as people presume. Separating fact from fallacy, however, takes time. Once you've come to accept your diagnosis, and the adjustments it entails, new questions immediately begin to surface. Whom do you tell about your illness? When is it appropriate to disclose this information? How much do you tell and how do you tell it?
From a career standpoint, disclosure can be a complicated issue. You may be uncertain of the risk involved or whether your current job status will be jeopardized as a result. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as seeking professional advice before disclosing any information.
If your MS has not yet imposed any limitations in the workplace, and you do not appear disabled, you may opt to postpone disclosure until another time. If you feel confident, however, that the disclosure will not be used against you in any way, informing your boss and coworkers might be the right choice for you. You may discover some much-needed emotional support, while alleviating the stress of having to appear healthy all the time.
On the other hand, if MS is beginning to negatively affect your job performance, you are probably feeling pushed toward immediate disclosure. Without disclosure, it will be impossible to request extended rest periods, flex time, accessible office space or computer software to enhance your productivity. Be aware that full disclosure is not required. Using the phrase medical condition is sufficient. This is a personal choice that should be considered carefully, based upon issues of trust, professional etiquette, job security, and other issues that pertain to your specific workplace.
While the ADA does provide a certain degree of protection, it does not cover employers that have less than fifteen employees. Neither does it eliminate ignorance or discrimination. Once you've made the decision to disclose your condition, get some moral support. Call a close friend, a member of your support group, or the MSF. Role-playing with someone experienced in the business world can enable you to practice what you're going to say, and how you're going to say it.
Keep the conversation professional, only discussing your diagnosis as is relevant to your job performance. Be brief and nonapologetic. By maintaining a positive, confident attitude, you will discourage any feelings of pity. Offer literature to educate your employer, as you once had to educate yourself. Mention the ADA only if your employer is unwilling to discuss your situation. If necessary, a formal complaint may be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Remember that it took you a while to adjust to your diagnosis. Allow your employer some time to digest this information, too. Should you experience an inappropriate or discriminatory response, try to be patient. Following a short period of adjustment, you might be pleasantly surprised. Either way, try to prepare yourself mentally beforehand.
Disclosure horror stories, resulting from fear and ignorance, are not unheard of, and it would be remiss not to acknowledge this possibility. Remember that you are not alone. Help is available. Disclose your information in a professional manner, offering workable solutions. Anticipate a win-win situation for both you and your employer.
JAN (Job Accommodation Network)
Call 800-ADA-WORK (232-9675) or visit
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Call 800-669-4000 (Voice) or 800-669-6820 (TTY).
People With MS Work By Jane Camara and Mary Joe George. An in-depth look at employment, health and disability issues.
(Last reviewed 7/2009)