One of the trickiest minefields in the life of a person with chronic illness involves employment.
If your symptoms aren’t obvious and don’t affect your ability to do your job, should you inform your employer and your co-workers? That’s an intensely personal decision, but you are under no legal obligation to do so.
The Americans With Disabilities Act, which covers employers with fifteen or more employees, prohibits on-the-job discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Knowing your rights in the workplace is essential to your ability to earn a living and remain independent.
Are you disabled? Under the ADA, you are considered disabled if you have a have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Multiple sclerosis is not always, but can be, a disabling condition. You are covered under the ADA if you can perform the duties of your job with or without reasonable accommodation.
What are “reasonable accommodations?” Reasonable accommodations include making facilities accessible by disabled people — with handicapped accessible parking spaces, entryways, and rest rooms for example, and acquiring or modifying equipment. Exceptions can be made if such accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.
What is an “undue hardship?” That would be something that requires great difficulty or expense to the employer or the business operation. There is no obligation on the part of the employer to lower standards or to provide personal use items. An employer is not obligated to assign your work to someone else.
What about the interview process? When interviewing for a job, you need not reveal your diagnosis. The potential employer is under no obligation to offer preferential treatment to people with disabilities and is free to choose the most qualified candidate. If you are offered a job and you require accommodations, you need only reveal the limitations involved. If your employer offers medical insurance, they cannot refuse to hire you because you or your spouse has MS.
What about COBRA protections? If you lose your job, you will be allowed to keep your medical coverage through COBRA. COBRA protections end after 18 months when due to loss of job, and after 36 months when loss of coverage is due to divorce or death of the covered spouse. You are 100 percent responsible for the premiums during that time.
What should you do if you have a complaint? If you believe your rights in the workplace have been violated, you can file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
All of this assumes that your MS has not progressed to a level where full-time employment is no longer an option. Scaling down to part-time work or freelancing comes with its own set of problems, financially and where health insurance is concerned.
Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace due to MS? Share your story in the comment section below.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a multiple sclerosis patient, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2.com’s Reform Health Policy blog in Causes.