Our handy guide on dealing with MS at work, including advice on telling (or not telling) your boss and how to ask for reasonable adjustments
Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) doesn’t automatically mean you have to leave your job – quite the opposite in fact! Leaving work is a personal choice; everyone is different and experiences different symptoms, so the decision will depend completely upon an individual’s circumstances. Essentially; you do you.
But if you do decide to stay at work, you may find that you have to make changes to your work life, to adapt to your MS symptoms and this may involve talking to your boss and colleagues about your condition.
We’ve answered some of the concerns you may have when it comes to MS, work life and talking about your condition:
1) Should I tell my boss?
You don’t have to, but you might want to.
This may not be the straight forward answer you were looking for, but there are a couple of things to consider before you decide on this one.
If you work in a job where MS could have an impact on your own health and safety or the health and safety of others, then it would be wise to tell your employer. If it involves activities like operating heavy machinery or driving for example, you should let your employer know. It’s also no secret that MS is progressive. Telling your boss sooner rather than later may be easier in the long-run
Otherwise, it’s completely up to you! If you need support at work or if you want to request reasonable adjustments, it will probably be helpful to explain exactly why. Or if you’re worried about the impact MS might have on your work in the future then you might choose to tell them simply so they are aware. For example, if they understand that fatigue is a symptom of MS, they can understand how this may affect your work.
2) What “reasonable adjustments” should I ask for?
If you decide you do need extra support at work, you can speak to your boss about reasonable adjustments. A reasonable adjustment is a change your employer has to make to your job or the place you work, in order to ensure you are not at a disadvantage compared to your colleagues.
Reasonable adjustments will depend on your symptoms, your job and your work environment, but some examples include:
• Flexible working hours
• The ability to work from home
• A desk assessment and adaptations to your workspace to suit your symptoms. This could mean getting an ergonomic chair or getting your computer screen adjusted for example.
• Extra breaks throughout the day
3) If I want to tell my boss, how do I approach the topic?
We know it’s not necessarily easy to talk about your MS at the best of times and it can feel even more intimidating talking about your condition and symptoms with employers and colleagues. But don’t worry, there are a few ways to make the “MS chat” feel less awkward and more constructive.
• Depending on your relationship with your employer, you may like to talk to your direct manager or someone you work with more closely first. They can then advise you on what to do next and could even talk to more senior team members on your behalf.
• Whoever you end up talking to, the conversation can take whatever form you are comfortable with: it could simply be an informal chat over coffee or you might like to arrange a more formal meeting in the office. It could even be over email to start with if that’s what feels right to you!
• Beforehand, prepare the things you know you want to mention in the chat, including things like explaining what MS is, what treatment and care you have outside of work, and how MS might affect the way you work. You may want to arrange another meeting specifically to discuss the support and reasonable adjustments you may need, to give them time to prepare.
• If your company has an HR department you may also like to talk to them. This could be before you talk to your boss, so they can give you advice on how to approach the subject or it could be in a meeting with your boss in the room as well, to discuss next steps.
4) What about my colleagues?
Once again, you do not have to tell your colleagues about your MS and your boss isn’t allowed to tell anyone either unless you’ve said it’s ok. Disclosing your condition to your colleagues may be a good idea if you want to help them understand why and when you may need extra support. Colleagues are often friends too, so having their support may make work life with MS much easier.