MS at work: To tell or not to tell?

Many people with MS struggle with the decision of whether to disclose their condition to their employer. Each person's situation is different, and just as there are many reasons why someone with MS may want to tell their employer about their condition, there are many other reasons why they may want to keep it a secret.

You are not legally required to tell your employer you have MS. The decision of whether to tell your employer you have MS and if so, when, is up to you. Some people disclose their condition as soon as they have the diagnosis, others wait until it starts to affect their ability to do their job, and others choose not to disclose it at all.

Reasons why people disclose their condition include wanting to offer an explanation for visible symptoms, finding it stressful to keep the condition a secret, and wanting to have the support of their employers and coworkers. Reasons for not disclosing MS include concerns about discrimination from employers and coworkers, missing opportunities for promotions, or loss of job security.

You are entitled to ask for workplace accommodations in order to continue doing your job effectively (for more information, see the "Working with MS" section of this health feature). When asking for accommodations, you do not need to disclose to your employer that you have MS, only the limitations you face in carrying out the essential duties of your job. Your employer cannot ask about your diagnosis, only about your ability to carry out your job duties.

If you do decide to tell your employer you have MS, keep in mind that they may not know as much about MS as you do, and may be concerned about how the condition will affect your work. Explain how the condition may affect your ability to do your job, reassure them that you are committed to providing good value as an employee, and request any reasonable workplace accommodations that you may need in order to continue working effectively (see the "Working with MS" section of this health feature for more information). It can also be helpful to provide them with more information on MS, such as the MS Society of Canada's booklet "An employer's guide to multiple sclerosis in the workplace."

If you do decide to disclose your diagnosis of MS to your employer, your employer must keep this information confidential and respect your wishes about whether to disclose any information to your co-workers about your diagnosis.

Most people have found their employers to be quite flexible and helpful during this process. Seek legal advice if your employer threatens to terminate your employment or cut off your health benefits, or if they refuse to offer you reasonable workplace accommodations.

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