Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect every facet of your life, including your job. It’s frustrating when a work task you once handled with ease suddenly takes twice as long or feels impossibly difficult. Whether you’re having trouble remembering a name, gripping a pen, or making it through an eight-hour day, it’s possible you might need to make some adjustments at work.
But don’t let that discourage you. If you want to keep working, MS doesn’t have to stand in your way. One quarter of people who have had MS for 20 years are employed, according to a survey by the National MS Society.
With creativity and flexibility, a rewarding career is still within your grasp. These tips can help you manage the challenge of MS at work.
1. Don’t give up too soon.
Some people suddenly stop working when first diagnosed or during a flare-up, and then they regret it once they’re feeling better. Giving up work is a big decision, so allow some time to think it through first.
It is usually better to keep working than to quit now and try to find a new job later. If you need time to recover from a flare-up, look into using sick days, medical leave, or short-term disability insurance.
2. Know your legal rights.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees with disabilities from job discrimination and allows them to request reasonable accommodations at work. Almost all people with MS meet the law’s definition of having a disability. To learn more about what the law means for you, call the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301, or consult an attorney.
Other laws that may be able to assist you in the workplace include:
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—Provides job-protected, unpaid leave for certain employees who need to take extended time off from work
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—Deals with maintaining health insurance and coverage for preexisting conditions
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)—Beginning in 2014, will provide new insurance options and protections.
Keep in mind that employment laws may differ based on the size of the business for which you work.
3. Decide how much to share.
Choosing whether to tell your boss and coworkers about having MS is a personal matter. Some people don’t like keeping their medical condition a secret. Others prefer to keep it private or worry that people will see them differently. Think carefully about how much you want to disclose. Keep in mind: If you’re requesting a job accommodation or medical leave, you’ll need to give your employer certain information.
4. Make helpful adjustments.
At times, you may need to make some changes at work to increase your comfort and keep up your productivity. Before suggesting changes to your employer, seek expert advice. Consult an occupational therapist or career counselor, or call your state vocational rehabilitation office.
A great resource for suggestions about specific job adjustments that might help you is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. For free, confidential advice from a JAN consultant, call 800-526-7234.
Examples of job accommodations that have helped some employees with MS include:
Setting up a flexible work schedule
Combining several short breaks into one long rest period
Using helpful equipment, such as writing aids or arm supports
Parking closer to the worksite
Making the workplace accessible for a wheelchair or scooter
5. Keep your options open.
In some cases, you might choose to explore a new career path. Investigate your options for training and education, and consider the kinds of jobs that might be well suited to your unique skills, interests, and abilities.
Looking for more information? The National MS Society has developed a Career Crossroads course, offered either in-person or by self-study. To learn more, call 800-344-4867.