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Should You Share Your MS Diagnosis at Work?

Should You Share Your MS Diagnosis at Work?

Here are the essential factors to consider when disclosing an MS diagnosis in a professional setting.

If you're living with multiple sclerosis or another chronic health condition, you may be grappling with the difficult decision of whether to share your diagnosis at your workplace.

There's no right or wrong answer, since everyone's situation is very different, according to Steve Nissen, MS, CRC, Senior Director of Employment and Community Programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. But he says that before you decide to tell your employer, it's important to weigh all of the possible consequences.

"Once you have disclosed the diagnosis, the information is out there and there really is no way of knowing how it will be taken," Nissen explains. While there are laws in place to protect against discrimination, there's still the possibility that the knowledge will affect your career in a negative way.

Nissen suggests taking some time to look at all of the angles before you come to any conclusions. It's important to consider the following:

Your reason for telling
What do you hope to get out of sharing this news? Perhaps you're looking for emotional support and validation of your situation. Or maybe you feel guilty hiding the information from your coworkers. You could also need to disclose your diagnosis in order to access certain health benefits. Identifying your motives can help you to think the decision through more thoroughly.

Timing
When to tell can be as important as why to tell. If your symptoms are well controlled and aren't interfering with your productivity, you might want to hold off on sharing your news until there's a genuine need for people to be aware of your situation. On the other hand, if you're expecting a big crunch at work and you're worried that your symptoms will interfere with your performance, it may be time to alert your supervisor to your situation in advance.

If you'll be taking extra time off for appointments or are too ill to work and need time off without pay under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this may prompt you to share your diagnosis.

Who to tell
It's important to identify the right person to whom you disclose your personal health information. It could be your direct supervisor, the manager of your department, a human resource representative, or a combination of these. Each workplace has its own unique culture and you'll need to know what's most appropriate where you work.

What to tell
When you're ready to share your diagnosis, Nissen says that writing a disclosure script can help you determine what information you want to offer without giving too many personal details. Having a specific plan about what to say can also take some of the stress out of your disclosure and may help you maintain your privacy and professionalism while still getting the key points across effectively. He suggests practicing reading the script aloud at home so you can see how it might be received and get more comfortable with the delivery.

What accommodations you may need
From a practical perspective, you may want to share your diagnosis because there are modifications you need in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations requested by employees with disabilities that will allow them to perform their essential job duties. These accommodations might be anything from modified office equipment to a more flexible schedule and/or the ability to work from home. When asking for such accommodations, Nissen recommends framing the request in the context that these changes will allow you to do your job more efficiently, so it will benefit both you and your employer.

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