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Speaking to your employer about your disability

Our health is such a personal issue, and we all differ in terms of who we wish to disclose this information. By law you do not have to tell your employer about any disability that you are affected by, however, sometimes this is necessary to ensure it does not become a disadvantage.  

Rebecca Armstrong, MSer and HR specialist says, ‘the issue of disclosure is a tricky one, particularly as you won’t know if you have done the right thing until it’s too late. What is true is that once you have done it there is no going back but remember that can be a good thing. If you decide to disclose, you then must decide who to tell and how to do it’.  

Rebecca founded a Facebook group called MS and work to support people living with MS in the workplace. Following the link to find out more and join this private group.

Depending on whereabouts you are in your MS diagnosis, can determine whether you feel ready to share your diagnosis with your employer.  

‘I told everyone about my MS at work as I am proud of my work and as long as I can do the job, I find everyone overlooks the MS’ 

If you are newly diagnosed, it can take time for you to process your new diagnosis and it may be that you are not ready to share it outside of your immediate family or friends. That is understandable and it is important for you to feel comfortable sharing such personal information.  

However, if you have been off work with symptoms, or having to take time off to attend medical appointments, your employer will already be aware that you have been experiencing health-related issues, so it may be that you feel okay to disclose your diagnosis.  

In other circumstances, perhaps you have been diagnosed several years, you are changing jobs and you are not impacted by your condition, so you choose not to share your disability. It is a personal decision. Others may choose not to disclose through fear of discrimination, despite being protected by the Equality Act. 

Some people choose to share their disability from the beginning of changing job roles. Many find it is better to disclose and use the opportunity to educate others about the condition, so they feel more supported. It can be a very positive experience and can help to protect and assist you in the workplace. 

Things to consider

Before you arrange to speak to work, it’s a good idea to prepare what you will say. It is important to remember that MS can be difficult to understand and so you may need to explain exactly what it is and most importantly how it impacts you. Think about examples of how it impacts your work (if at all) that can help explain. 

Consider taking some resources with you. MS-UK has a range of Choices booklets available which you can order copies, print or provide links. 

Once you have decided what to say, the final consideration is who to tell. Typically, this would be your line manager as they will be the person who supports you day to day. You can expect that they will need to tell the HR department so they can make sure you are properly supported. They may ask you who you want to know about your MS at work and of course, you can choose that you do not want anyone else to know about it. The choice is yours. 

Disclosure is a big step and one which is entirely your choice; you are not obliged to tell your employer about your MS. However, if they are not aware then they will not be able to support you. 

Work/life balance

It can be difficult to find the right work/life balance when living with a long-term condition, especially when symptoms can fluctuate from month to month, week to week or even day to day. 

A recent short survey conducted by MS-UK found that people living with MS generally find it difficult to get the balance right. The survey found that the most common way of managing work and life is to either reduce working hours or work part of the week from home. This may be particularly helpful for people affected by a disability as it will lessen the stress and challenges that you may face when commuting to the office. 

Working from home is not something available to all but is very much worth exploring if it is an option. Some employers are happy for people to work solely from home, whereas others may suggest a hybrid approach, whereby a percentage of the week can be home working with the rest conducted in the office. 

‘I have cut back on my hours. I now understand not to overdo it’ 

Achieving a work/life balance is more than just about being able to work from home. Many other factors play a part in achieving this goal, for example ensuring an employee’s workload is appropriate, providing support for parents and those that care for others and making sure staff take breaks during the working day. It follows that the path to achieving an appropriate work/life balance is bespoke, and tailored to the individual employee’s needs. This is especially so when considering the complexities and challenges that impact people affected by disabilities. 

‘I no longer give my all to work but instead, focus on time for myself and my family’ 

There are a growing number of employers that recognise the importance of employees maintaining a healthy work/life balance, as it helps to reduce absences due to ill health, whilst increasing staff morale and productivity. For example, many companies, particularly larger ones, have implemented Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) into their staff care packages. EAPs provide employees with access to a wide range of support mechanisms to help them practically and emotionally. This can include helping them to devise and implement a plan tailored to their needs, that is designed to promote a better work/life balance.  

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have produced an informative guide to flexible working and work/life balance which is a must-read for employees who are keen to learn more about how to achieve a work/life balance, including looking at the pros and cons of different approaches and employer’s obligations.  

We asked the MS community for their own experiences of achieving a work/life balance. The following is a selection of responses we received. 

  • ‘I work two days from home and three in the office. The office is a one-hour train commute away and is a draining journey’
  • ‘I get early nights and explain to my employer if I need to take it easy’
  • ‘My employer is very flexible so I can manage my workload, and working hours and take regular breaks when required’
  • ‘Finding work I am more in control of and being mindful of my mental and physical energy’
  • ‘My employer supports work/life balance. I can adjust my hours to mine and my employers’ requirements’
  • ‘I have changed my career which allows me to work from home. This has made a healthy diet and regular exercise easier to follow’
  • ‘I plan my workload so that the most important elements get done in the mornings when my mind is fresh’
  • ‘My employer has agreed I can work from home two days a week. In addition, when I am struggling with fatigue, my manager has allowed me to work from home temporarily until I feel better’
  • ‘On reflection, I realise that I was living to work and not working to live’

MS Awareness e-learning

MS-UK have devised a CPD certified online course aimed specifically at professionals who wish to learn more about MS and the impact it has upon those affected. Employers will find it of particular benefit as it will improve their understanding of the condition. This in turn will help to provide a greater level of support to their employees affected by MS.