Sharing health conditions with your employer can be a difficult yet important decision you may have to make. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a serious health condition recently or you may always have had an ongoing illness that you’ve kept in check. You are now worried that this condition could affect your work environment and your productivity. You start to feel anxious that people may notice this change in work habits, your appearance, and your emotional state.
Your thoughts start to race. Will I use all my sick days? Will I not be feeling well enough today to perform my day to day tasks?
You also may be struggling with many questions such as who in the workplace should you tell? When you should tell them or should you instead keep everything quiet and to yourself?
All of these thoughts and feelings are normal and could add even more stress to an already difficult situation. Before sharing health conditions with co-workers, your boss, or the human resources department you should first get an understanding of your rights.
Understanding Your Rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability. The law also protects people from discrimination based on their relationship with a person with a disability.1
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
Eligible employees are entitled to twelve work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.2
According to the United States Department of Labor 3 a serious health condition is:
- a condition requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility;
- a condition that incapacitates you or your family member (for example, unable to work or attend school) for more than three consecutive days and have ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a health care provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication); or
- a chronic condition that cause occasional periods when you or your family member are incapacitated and require treatment by a health care provider at least twice a year; and
- pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest).
Before Sharing Health Conditions – Weigh the Pros and Cons
Prepare a list of pros and cons and things to consider when you talk to your employer. You can rate each pro and con by adding a numerical weight of importance to your pro/con list. This list is just to get you thinking and determine if you feel a conversation should take place.
Everyone’s situation is unique and your current work environment may determine if you should move forward with this conversation. You could discuss it first with a close friend or family member who you trust and who could help shed light on your decision to move forward with the conversation.
Key Point: Creating a good support system with your family and friends will help you through your journey.
A sample of a ‘pro’ point for telling my employer may be…
- By talking with my manager we could discuss adjustments in hours or a different work schedule to suit my needs
A sample of a ‘con’ point for telling my employer could be…
- I‘m not sure my condition will stay confidential, and I do not want others to find out my personal information
Download a pros and cons worksheet below to help gather your thoughts if you should decide to have the conversation with your employer.
You can always revisit your pros and cons list at a later date and update it to help make a better decision on whether telling your employer about your serious health condition is the right choice for you.
It’s important to understand your rights as an employee and what is required by law of your employer. See resources at end of this article.
Having the Conversation
Remember, sharing your health conditions or medical information with your employer is your choice. You have the right to privacy as to with whom and when this information is shared and how much.
If you decide to move forward and share health conditions with your employer, then a good starting point would be to create a list of questions. Share only what you feel is necessary and are comfortable with. You do not need to go into exact detail of your condition, just enough to explain how it may affect your work.
Some questions to think about and discuss:
- How long you may expect to be out
- When or what dates you may not be able to work
- Will you need help performing your job responsibilities
- Accommodations you may need
- Will you need to work from home some days
Below are some additional resources to help you better understand your rights as an employee and the responsibilities of your employer.
Resources – Additional Support
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Disability Discrimination, https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm
- United States Department of Labor, Family and Medical Leave Act, https://www.dol.gov/WHD/fmla/index.htm
- United States Department of Labor, Serious health condition, https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm#9