How to Talk to Your Employer About Chronic Illness

In many cases, treatment and management of your disease mean you can experience few interruptions of your daily life. However, living with a chronic disease can sometimes impact your ability to be as productive as you’d like in your workplace. Employers may not understand the fatigue, pain, and difficulty arthritis can cause because these things are often not seen on the surface. You may wish to have a conversation with your employer explaining your diagnosis and how it might impact your performance to better their understanding. Here are some tips:

  • First, understand whom you should speak with. In many cases, a supervisor and your human resource department are good starting points.
  • Explain your diagnosis, what that means for you, and why you feel they should know.
  • Become familiar with your company’s disability plan and insurance policy.
  • Know your rights:
    • Understand that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks off each year for medical emergencies. This is unpaid, but will at least allow for job security.
    • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers.
  • If need be, it may be a good idea to request time off while you adjust to treatment.
  • It is also helpful to go over your benefit plan with HR if you receive health insurance from your employer.
  • If interviewing, it is suggested to not disclose your disease history — it could compromise your standing.

Here is a list of helpful websites you can use to research options should your condition impact your work:

If you’re insured through your job, ask your HR department if your company or its insurer has a patient advocate or employee assistance programs as part of your coverage. These advocates or advocacy programs are designed to work on your behalf to provide information or assistance related to your healthcare.