Should I Disclose My MS at Work? - dummies

By Rosalind Kalb, Barbara Giesser, Kathleen Costello

When you’re trying to decide who (if anyone) in your office should know about your multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s important to remember that disclosure in the workplace should generally be on a need-to-know basis. So ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who needs to know?

  • Why do they need to know?

  • How much do they need to know?

  • What’s the best way to provide the information that they need?

Take the time to think through the answers to these questions carefully. Before disclosing your MS to anyone at work, you should research the issues and consult with the experts to ensure that you’re making the right decision.

The reasons for all this caution are pretty straightforward: After the information is public, you can’t take it back; you can never be sure that other people will have your best interests at heart, particularly if your interests conflict with theirs; and you want to keep as many options open for yourself as possible.

For help with your disclosure decisions at work, check out the National MS Society’s online disclosure tool.

After you’ve asked all of the appropriate questions, you’re ready to survey the situation and decide whether you’re ready to tell your boss or your office mates. Here are the best reasons for disclosing your MS at work:

  • You have visible symptoms. After you begin having symptoms that others can see or that require you to use some kind of mobility aid, you may want to explain what’s going on before they come to their own conclusions. Particularly if you aren’t as steady on your feet as you used to be, you want to make sure that no one mistakes your imbalance for problems with drugs or alcohol.

  • Your productivity is down or you’re missing a lot of work days. If you become concerned that your productivity isn’t what it used to be, it’s a good idea to bring up the subject before your boss does.

    But, make sure you’re ready to explain what the problems are — and what you’re planning to do about them — before having the conversation. Any boss will feel better knowing that you have a plan for solving the problem.

  • You feel more comfortable with things out in the open. Being open about things may simply be your style. Or you may feel that your work environment is such that total frankness is the best way to go. Use your best judgment, but keep in mind that even the most supportive employers can become less supportive when they believe that their own interests are threatened.

    Some people feel strongly that they need to be totally frank in a job interview. Even though this honesty may be admirable, it may not be smart. Remember that under the ADA, prospective employers can’t ask if you have a disability unless your need for an accommodation to do the job is visibly apparent. So, unless you need an accommodation for the interview process or for the job itself, you may want to keep mum.

    There’s no reason for you to include information about your MS on your resume! Even if you have a gap in your work history, don’t include information about your MS diagnosis. Of course, if you’re asked during a job interview about the gap, it’s important not to lie.

    At that point, it will be up to you decide how much information you want to share. You can, for example, say that you were dealing with some health issues, or you can go into an explanation about your MS.

  • You want to request accommodations. Maybe everything is still going fine on the job — you make it through the day, your productivity is good, and no one has a clue what’s going on. But, you’re wasted by the end of the day and convinced that you’re going to crash if you don’t make some changes.

    In this case, even though you have no obvious or visible reason to disclose, you’re required to disclose that you have a disability if you want to request some on-the-job accommodations.