Managing employment with chronic illness
February 11, 2020 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I have a chronic illness which, some days, some times, can make sustained office work challenging, or even inviable. Working from home helps, but many employers don't offer this an option. How to handle this when starting new employment? Snowflake details inside.

Let's say, after the annoying job application process, fake-smiling through multiple interviews, pretending I'm wildly enthusiastic about trading my life for a paycheck, I'm offered a 40 hour/week office job. I accept, because I have bills to pay. Work is mostly screen-facing. Some meetings with colleagues, some outside the office.

I am not asked about, and I do not mention, health challenges that, some days, make open office, ~8am - 5pm desk work difficult. My condition is not exactly a disability, but it is limiting. I also prefer to keep its exact nature private.

My initial thoughts are that I'll focus on getting hired first, and then broach the subject with HR. I'm not going to discuss it with the hiring manager, as this isn't really their domain.

* What am I required to tell my employer, and when?
* What accommodations are they required to offer?
* How do other folks handle this issue?
* What are my legal rights around this?

*Note - If I must see an employment lawyer or other specialist, I can do that.
posted by falcon42 to Work & Money (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you don't have a disability then I'm not sure an employer is required to offer accommodations.

The definition of disability is quite broad so check and see if what you're dealing with is considered one. You may need medical documentation of some kind.

If they want you, then you could ask about the option for telecommuting in the negotiation stage. It is becoming a popular benefit in high demand, so I think most employers won't necessarily bat an eye at the question.

Also, when I came here with a similar question, I was guided to this helpful resource.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:28 AM on February 11, 2020 [5 favorites]


You can feel this out a little bit in the interview process, by asking about office culture. Often this will allow the interviewer to bring up work from home days. If not, you can probe a little more by asking if work from home days are ever an option. You can gauge whether or not you want to work for them by how they react to that. If they're like, "OMG no, that never happens," you have your answer. If, like most employers I've interviewed with lately, they say, "We have the philosophy that butts don't necessarily have to be in seats 40 hours a week," then you know there's some room for negotiation.
posted by cooker girl at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2020 [3 favorites]


I've coped by napping in the car at lunch, but I'm at a point where 40 hours plus commute isn't feasible, so I'm actively seeking remote work. I'd do searched on companies that need your talents with a strong remote program, where you have 2-3 days in office (or mornings only), or where the remote culture is strong and supported by remote supportive activities like chat roulette type meetings and so forth.

My last job they were open to me working remote but they were so scattered and a mess that it just wasn't possible for me to get the information I need from the people I need to get it from, reliably, without physically being in the office full time.
posted by tilde at 10:56 AM on February 11, 2020


I am not asked about, and I do not mention, health challenges that, some days, make open office, ~8am - 5pm desk work difficult. My condition is not exactly a disability, but it is limiting.

That's a disability.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:57 AM on February 11, 2020 [10 favorites]


My condition is not exactly a disability, but it is limiting.

A chronic illness that impacts your ability to work is absolutely a disability.

Once you're hired, meet with HR, disclose, and ask for accommodations. A lot of places have some level of work from home options and can be flexible. I don't know where you are, but if you're in the US and need more time off than you have with sick days you can file for FMLA.

Do not disclose before you're hired and the paperwork is done.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:03 AM on February 11, 2020 [8 favorites]


if you're in the US and need more time off than you have with sick days you can file for FMLA

Please be advised that FMLA does not apply to very small workplaces.
I have both a chronic physical illness and chronic mental illness, one of which is "officially" considered a disability for employment purposes. I chose to, and was able to, give as little indication as possible that I have either one of these things while applying and interviewing. Once you are hired you have at least some protection, but in reality in many places, they can still pretty much fire you whenever for whatever.

I get by with meds, good headphones, a heating pad, an adjustable standing desk, sometimes naps at lunch (on really bad days, naps on breaks too). I also make a point of always taking the full time for my breaks and lunches. The JAN link above is good to brainstorm what kind of accommodations you can ask for.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:54 AM on February 11, 2020


Also, I know what you mean by "not exactly a disability but limiting." In reality there is a wide gulf between how people treat someone who has a "legit disability" that's on a list of disabilities, and how they treat someone with a chronic illness that isn't on the list.

Once you disclose you can't unring that bell. I would counsel not disclosing as long as possible.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:57 AM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]


I just noticed this: in my first comment, that should be "(less than 50 employees)". I borked it with my less-than sign.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:28 PM on February 11, 2020


A chronic illness that impacts your ability to work is absolutely a disability.

not in my particular jurisdiction where they define things differently, including a sort of intermediate designation which does not carry the same benefits as an official "Disability". Which is where I currently find myself.

I'll focus on getting hired first, and then broach the subject with HR.

A while back, I lost a particularly good job that I just couldn't consistently "show up" for. I did disclose my my situation up front. They wanted me regardless. I took the job. But in the end, it was too much. The income etc wasn't worth the hit my health was taking.

* What accommodations are they required to offer?

In my particular situation, none. From their point of view, they gave me a chance but I wasn't up to it. End of story. They're not running a charity.

* How do other folks handle this issue?

I walked away realizing that self-employment of some sort was my only realistic option, certainly in the line of work I prefer. It's been a struggle but I've sort of kind of managed to put something together that works for me, that doesn't aggravate my health, that does get me some income. It's not ideal, but what is?

* What are my legal rights around this?

I imagine this is jurisdiction specific.
posted by philip-random at 12:46 PM on February 11, 2020 [3 favorites]


How do you prove on paper that you have a disability? If you had that, then you would probably be protected.
posted by societypages at 1:14 PM on February 11, 2020


I am not asked about, and I do not mention, health challenges that, some days, make open office, ~8am - 5pm desk work difficult. My condition is not exactly a disability, but it is limiting.

That's a disability.


Sorry, that's not necessarily true, at least not under the ADA here in the US. Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. "Health challenges that, some days, make open office, ~8am - 5pm desk work difficult" don't necessarily constitute a legal disability. I obviously don't know the nature of your illness, OP, but "disability" isn't quite as broad as some here are making it out to be, and whether the employer would have to offer accommodations depends on the specifics of your situation. I would actually consult a lawyer on this.
posted by holborne at 1:25 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]


so if this is a small company with fewer than 50 employees FMLA does not apply, and fewer than 15 (and some other instances) even ADA does not apply. if any of these conditions are true, and you do need some kind of accommodation, i'd stop interviewing at these places. employers who are not required by law to offer you some human consideration absolutely will not and your physical or mental health will suffer.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:26 PM on February 11, 2020


Thank you, MeFites, you're the best.
posted by falcon42 at 1:48 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]


In case you haven't seen it, you may find some support and ideas in this MeTa thread:
Disability/ableism thread: access intimacy, taking care of each other

posted by fiercecupcake at 2:55 PM on February 11, 2020


What are my legal rights around this?

AskMe and MeTa can't give you legal advice for your specific situation, and especially your state laws that may provide additional protections.

However, you can get a lawyer (MeFi Wiki) for a consultation (e.g. The National Employment Lawyers Association has an online directory) so you can have tailored advice for questions about reasonable accommodations, FMLA, ADA, etc (MeFi Wiki - Additional Resources).
posted by katra at 6:20 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]


What I have done is track down decently-paid part-time jobs that offer full benefits. On the east coast, universities are my best bet for that.
posted by metasarah at 5:09 AM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


I would add - it's going to be easier to get the accommodation if you have a doctor who will write you a letter laying out what accommodations you will need for your disability. A lot of the time what draws the line between "is that a disability or not" is your doctor's support.

Please feel free to memail me if you have other questions.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:42 AM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


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