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When you have a serious illness, it can be a challenge to maintain employment and still take proper care of yourself.  Unfortunately, many chronically ill workers face pressure or obligation to work not only to make a living and support their and their family`s lifestyle but also to pay for expensive medical bills.  In this article, we provide suggestions for steps you can take to manage an employment situation in light of a serious disease or illness.

  1. Know your legal rights.

It is important to understand the employment and health laws that govern your company in the jurisdiction in which you work. Some illnesses are considered disabilities and, therefore, you may be legally entitled to an adjustment in your employment.  In this regard, it may be prudent to seek independent advice from a lawyer, preferentially before disclosing your illness to your boss or colleagues. 

  1. Consider whether to disclose your illness

…to your boss or colleagues. In deciding whether to do so, you should balance your right to privacy, your need for support from your boss and colleagues, particularly regarding possible accommodations you may need, and your commitment to principles of good work ethic.

The last point may be relevant if you wish to demonstrate fairness and due consideration for the needs of your employer.  If your company would appreciate your honesty and/or you have a good rapport with your workmates, it may be worthwhile to be candid about your condition. Furthermore, if your illness begins to affect your work, you will have to disclose it at some point. Proactive disclosure may prevent your boss from concluding you’re lazy or indifferent about your work.

If you proactively disclose, you may also feel less pressure, for example like you`re keeping a secret, as well as be better able to control the storyline about your illness rather than waiting for someone to notice a change in your behaviour and/or work product.

Should you choose to disclose, you should also prepare for a range of reactions, which may include disbelief because you may not look ill.  Let them know if they can share that information with others or if you prefer it to stay amongst a small circle of trusted people.

  1. Talk to human resources (HR).

It is prudent to advise someone in authority other than your direct supervisor about your condition, but still give due consideration as to how much to disclose before doing so. As company representatives, they are required to follow applicable employment and health laws and may give you certain information in this regard. It would be a good idea to make notes of your conversation(s). Overall, such discussions can help to prevent misunderstands and/or help you to defend yourself should your job security become threatened.

Your HR department may also assist you in being granted an accommodation.

  1. Ask for accommodations.

There may be certain aspects of your work that should ideally be modified, such as your environment or work schedule. For example, you may have to attend medical appointments during business hours. You may also ask to work a shortened shift from time to time due to fatigue or even work from home.

  1. Develop an open and honest relationship with your medical advisors.

It is important for you to believe that your doctor(s) not only has your best interests in mind but that she is knowledgeable and actively seeks to advise you about the best medication and conditions for your employment situation. In this regard, you will have to provide her with details of your duties, schedule, work environment, colleague interactions, etc. so that she can help you navigate these factors in light of your illness and/or make requests as to recommended accommodations.

  1. Inform your family and friends about your condition.

Simply put, people cannot help and support you if they do not know what you’re going through. For example, you may need a friend to make dinner occasionally if you’re exhausted after work and just want to lie on the couch. Your doctor may provide some information about your illness to share with your supporters to help educate them about what is happening to you.

As it will be important for you to talk to someone regularly, consider retaining a mental health professional to assist you in working through the demands of balancing a serious illness with your workload. Specifically, they can help you deal with any sadness, anger, frustration or other emotions that are normal in your situation, in a healthy way.

  1. Record tasks as much as possible.

This will not only help you to remember what you are to do and demonstrate your accomplishments each day, but it will also help your boss or teammates to pick up where you left off should you suddenly have to be away.

  1. Regularly meet with your boss.

Clearly communicating with your boss about how things are going can help you succeed. Therefore, review your performance and any relevant issues with your boss regularly. It is better to ensure that you`re still performing well along the way rather than have a negative surprise at your official performance evaluation.

Regular check-ins also help your boss to trust you and an altered employment relationship, such as working from home. It is also one of the best ways to demonstrate that you are a conscientious, trustworthy employee who wants to make any accommodations successful and is not taking advantage of your boss or the company.  In turn, you will more likely develop a stronger rapport with your boss. 

  1. Prioritize your health.

Some wisdom should be exercised in terms of how much you exert yourself to complete your work tasks, as well as taking the necessary time and measures to achieve optimal health. This includes attending all doctor appointments, understanding medications and treatment plans, obtaining adequate rest in light of your condition, etc. Ultimately, you should not expect that you can accomplish the same work, in the same time frame and/or under the same conditions as a healthy person. Such an expectation will place undue burden and pressure on you.

Be self-aware, keeping track of how you’re feeling from day to day and address any symptoms as soon as possible with your health team as well as relevant treatment.

It is recommended that you get eight to nine hours per night of solid sleep to replenish your body`s energy reserves and maximize its healing processes. A healthy diet and regular exercise are also prudent, in accordance with your doctor’s advice.

  1. Enjoy leisure activities.

Related to number 9 above, leisure is important to maintain your sense of well being:  It can create internal joy and peace for your mental, spiritual as well as emotional health. On the other hand, managing work responsibilities while managing an illness can be taxing and burdensome. Simply put, it is a lot to juggle. However, time with family, friends, or with your faith community as well as doing your activities of choice, such as walking, reading, or meditation, can go a long way to provide you internal balance and self-esteem.

Our FREE ebook, “Achieving Health Victory Through Patient Advocacy!” contains excellent information and resources as to how family, friends and/or professional patient advocates can assist patients achieve the goals outlined in the points discussed above. It will also help patients to receive optimal health care and results from medical service providers working in different arenas.


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