Should I disclose I have MS to my employer?

When diagnosed with MS, should you tell your employer? Rebecca Armstrong explains the facts

By far one of the hardest decisions we all have to make when it comes to multiple sclerosis (MS) and work is whether we talk about it and disclose it to our bosses. Working out whether we feel like we can trust our employer to use the information fairly, without it becoming a point of discrimination, feels like a huge conundrum. In this column we are going to address some of the key points relating to disclosure, confidentiality and talking about MS.

It’s your choice

Firstly, you are not obligated to disclose your MS, it is your choice. There are some exceptions where there is a health and safety implication and a medical is required as part of the role. An employer can only insist on this where it is proportionate to the role being undertaken and linked to Health and Safety. So, for example in the oil industry it is a common requirement due to the fact you are working in a dangerous environment, offshore. In that case, you may be asked to do a medical and if your MS comes to light, that doesn’t automatically exclude you from the role, but would be something that is reviewed and considered.

What we have to remember however is that employers can only work with the information that they have, so if we do need adjustments or support then disclosure may become necessary to facilitate putting things in place. That can be scary, and the good news is that the vast majority of employers are willing to adjust and support, but of course that’s not true all the time. Here is what you can expect when it comes to disclosure

  • When you make a disclosure, your employer should only share this information with those who need to know in order to support. For example, your manager may share it with HR. You can ask them who they plan to share the disclosure with and discuss this
  • They should not share this openly with others, unless it is discussed and agreed with you. Sometimes an adjustment is visible or has implications for others and in that case, it may be reasonable for a conversation to happen about how that is managed and shared in the team
  • They should ask you what you need in order to be supported and look to put things in place as adjustments. There may be things that aren’t possible but should still be discussing this with you
  • You may be asked about your condition and how it impacts you. Think about what you want to share and perhaps what resources are available to share. Remember if you don’t live with MS it can be difficult to understand due to how variable it is for many of us
  • Don’t be alarmed if your employer asks you to go to occupational health, this is a positive step as it helps them to understand what you need and occupational health can act like an advocate to support you as you navigate adjustments.

Disclosure is a big step;  having conversations about the impact of MS on our careers can be emotional and worrying so ensure you have support in place to lean on and to help you navigate the journey.