Sunday, April 16, 2006

Brain Cheese...It's Not Just A Job, It's An Adventure!

     OK, I think I really AM brain dead tonight!  I returned to work today (this time I hope for a permanent stint) after what seemed like a terminal relapse period, and finally came home exhausted, but triumphant. 

     It was a fairly good day, in spite of myself.  I only lost one cell phone, forgot two important phone numbers, and left my briefcase where I couldn't find it once...the good news is, no one died on my watch!  Or at least no one I KNOW of did.

     I've spoken before in previous blogs about my employment and fears of becoming disabled from Multiple Sclerosis.  I fortunately work in an environment of coworkers who are very aware of my MS issues and constantly supportive of me.  They were some of the first people I told about my diagnosis.  I couldn't imagine NOT telling them and having their support.

     But for some, the decision to disclose your diagnosis and symptoms in your work place is not such an easy one to make.  It can be a tough balancing act deciding when and whom to tell.  I know some MSers who choose not to disclose this information to anyone...that seems to work for them.

     Because of the type of work I do and also the fact I am a government employee, I was very careful at first how MUCH to tell my employer.  I researched the Americans With Disabilities Act and carefully reviewed the federal Family Medical Leave Act and decided discloser would be in MY best interest.  I am also protected by my local union, so I felt I had enough legal safeguards in place to protect me and my rights of fair employment.

     I believe it is important to decide for yourself what is in YOUR best interest before disclosing the diagnosis of MS or your disabilities to an employer.  It is very important to establish what you would gain from the discloser and what the potential losses may be if your employer is told you have MS.

     I work in a healthcare environment, so Multiple Sclerosis is not an unknown entity to my employer.  My personal experience and needs in dealing with the disease is, however.  When I decided to tell the "Big Boss" I had MS, I came to the meeting prepared to educate her about the disease and also answer any questions she might have about how MS affected me personally.  I felt this was important information to share to help dispel any fears she may have about my ability to do my job effectively.

     The important thing to remember when deciding to disclose your diagnosis to your employer is THERE ARE LAWS PROTECTING YOUR RIGHTS TO PRIVACY AND YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO TELL THEM ANYTHING.  Your employer is also not allowed to ask you anything about your disease...this is a protected right in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

     If you DO decide to talk to your employer about your MS, go into the meeting prepared.  Think of the gazillion questions you had when you first received the diagnosis and ratchet that down a few notches...these are some of the same fears and questions your employer may have.  Offer them confidence in your abilities to continue to perform your job as always, but advise them MS is an unpredictable disease and you may need to seek accommodations in the future.  Let them know they will be the FIRST to know if that happens.

     If you find yourself needing special accommodations in the future to do your job, such as equipment changes or work hour changes, you do have the right to ask for these.  What the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) states is the employer must make "reasonable accommodations".  The word reasonable can and is interpreted by employers in various ways.  Essentially they are required to provide you with tools and access to do your job with your disabilities as long as it doesn't create "undue hardship" on the employer.  This means if you ask for a $1,000 chair to sit in to help ease your pain and your employer can't afford it, they don't have to provide it for you.  Likewise, if you ask for a change in your schedule or work duties and there is no one available to cover your work or absence, they don't have to provide it.  There are many "gray" areas in this interpretation, so it might be helpful to find out what prioraccommodations have been made for anyone else who has a disability if you know who to ask of this question.  If they've done it for someone else in your work force, it will be hard for your employer to argue NOT doing it for you.

     It is also important to know you have the right to ask for accommodations without disclosing your diagnosis...only your disability can come into question with your employer.  When I was asked to file FMLA papers (request for Family Medical Leave Act coverage) last year after an extended absence from work secondary to a relapse, my astute neurologist at the time simply disclosed I had a "neurological disorder which may or may not require periods of an unknown time frame of absence from work with possible IV treatments and oral medications".  She stated a few other things in the paper work, which my employer required, but never disclosed my actual diagnosis of MS.  Gotta love her for that one!

     Whatever you decide to do...to disclose or not to disclose in your work place, there are many websites available to consult prior to making this decision.  The National MS Society is a great place to start at http://www.nationalmssociety.org because they have many brochures and online tips to assist you.  The ADA law is available for review at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/ and information about the federal FMLA can be found at http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/ .

     As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I AM truly brain dead tonight, so I apologize for the lack of "wit" in this writing.  I am certain something tomorrow will strike my funny bone and I will be once again compelled to add humor to this site!  Until then, I hope you find this information helpful or at the very least a starting point for you in navigating your decisions about your MS in your workplace.

2 comments:

sbbridges said...

Your words are very helpful.  Being in the legal profession I am very familiar with ADA and FMLA, however have become more familiar since my diagnosis.  So many people with MS and other disabilities really do not know the extent of their legal rights in the workplace and, therefore, find it difficult to disclose their situation for fear of losing their job.  Dealing with a disability/disease, such as MS, is stressful enough without adding to the stress.  You perform better in your job when you are not stressed out about whether you have a job or not.  Keep up the great postings.  Your postings are as informative and helpful as they are entertaining.

baitulos said...

Spoken like a powerful MSer, Suzanne!  Thanks for the comments...I am certain any input you may have on this subject would be enlightening to us all, given your profession.  And by the way, I suppose I should post my disclaimer here again:  I AM NOT A LAWYER NOR OFFERING LEGAL ADVICE.  PLEASE SEEK THE ASSISTANCE OF A LAWYER FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.  There, that said, everyone now knows I'm not a doctor or a lawyer!

LD