Living with a chronic illness can be a challenge, but it can be especially difficult when trying to navigate self-advocacy in the workplace. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with chronic illnesses from discrimination in the workplace, but it can still be a daunting task to speak up and advocate for yourself. In fact, it’s something I’m still trying to figure out in my own life! Here are some tips for navigating chronic illness self-advocacy in the workplace:
Remember, I’m not a legal or medical professional—just a patient like you who’s passionate about sharing what I’ve learnt in my own chronic illness journey!
*This post may include affiliate or referral links. At no extra cost to you (and with a special reader discount, in some cases!), I’ll receive a small commission or other reward to help support An Ideal Life.*
Understanding Self-Advocacy in the Workplace
Self-advocacy in the workplace for those of us with chronic illness involves speaking up and advocating for our own needs related to chronic illness. It can include communicating with supervisors or HR representatives about necessary accommodations or modifications to job duties, educating others in the workplace about the specific challenges related to the individual’s chronic illness, and requesting any support or resources needed to perform job duties.
Self-advocacy can also involve understanding one’s legal rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and communicating with an employer about any discrimination or failure to provide reasonable accommodations. It is important for individuals with chronic illnesses to be proactive in advocating for their needs in the workplace, as this can help to ensure that they are able to work effectively and manage their chronic illness successfully.
Understanding the ADA and one’s legal rights under the law is an important aspect of workplac self-advocacy for individuals with chronic illnesses. It can help individuals to communicate their needs effectively to their employer and ensure that they have access to necessary accommodations and support.
Know your rights.
It’s important to understand your rights under the ADA. This includes the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace, as well as protection from discrimination based on your chronic illness. You can find more information about your rights on the ADA website.
What are the most important things to know about the ADA when navigating chronic illness self-advocacy in the workplace?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including chronic illnesses, in employment, among other areas. Keep in mind that I am not a laywer or other medical or legal professional—be sure to consult a qualified authority with any questions or concerns.
In the context of workplace self-advocacy for chronic illness, there are several key things to know about the ADA:
- The ADA defines a disability broadly: Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This can include chronic illnesses such as diabetes, lupus, or Crohn’s disease. It is important to note that the ADA applies to individuals with both visible and invisible disabilities.
- Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations: The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer. This can include accommodations such as flexible scheduling, modified workspaces or duties, or assistive technology.
- Employees must request accommodations: In order to receive accommodations, an employee must disclose their disability to their employer and request any necessary accommodations. While employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations, they are not required to provide accommodations if they are not aware of the employee’s disability and the need for accommodations.
- Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of disability: The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including chronic illnesses. This includes discrimination in hiring, promotion, termination, and other employment decisions.
- Employers may ask for medical documentation: In some cases, an employer may request medical documentation to support a request for accommodations. However, they may only request documentation that is directly related to the employee’s need for accommodations.
Educate your employer.
Your employer may not be familiar with your specific chronic illness, so it’s important to educate them about your condition and how it may impact your work. This can help your employer understand what accommodations you may need and how they can support you.
What kinds of workplace accommodations are available?
There are many different types of workplace accommodations that can be made for those with chronic illnesses, depending on the specific needs of the individual. Here are a few examples:
This can include options such as flexible start and end times, compressed work weeks, or the ability to work from home. This can be especially helpful for individuals who need to manage their symptoms or attend medical appointments.
Accommodations for Physical Limitations
This can include things like ergonomic equipment (such as a specialized chair or keyboard), a designated parking spot, or a modified work space to accommodate mobility issues.
Adjustments to Work Duties
In some cases, it may be possible to make adjustments to an individual’s job duties to better accommodate their condition. This could include modifying a job task, reducing workload or hours, or providing additional support or training.
Accommodations for Cognitive or motional Limitations:
For individuals with chronic illnesses that affect cognitive or emotional functioning, accommodations such as modified assignments, additional breaks or time off, or access to counseling or support services may be helpful.
It’s important to note that accommodations will vary depending on the specific needs of the individual and the nature of their chronic illness. It’s always best to work directly with an employer or HR representative to identify and implement the most appropriate accommodations for each individual.
When speaking with your employer about your chronic illness, it’s important to communicate clearly and directly. Let them know what accommodations you need and how they can support you in your work. Be specific and provide as much information as possible.
What is disability disclosure?
Disability disclosure is the act of voluntarily sharing information about a disability or chronic illness with an employer or colleagues. In the context of self-advocacy in the workplace, disability disclosure can be an important tool for individuals with chronic illnesses to ensure that they receive necessary accommodations and support.
When an employee discloses their chronic illness to their employer, it allows the employer to work with the employee to determine what accommodations may be necessary to help the employee perform their job duties effectively. For example, an employee with a chronic illness may need a flexible schedule, access to a quiet workspace, or additional rest breaks during the day. If the employer is not aware of the employee’s condition, they may not be able to provide these accommodations.
However, disclosure of a chronic illness can be a difficult decision for individuals, as they may be concerned about potential discrimination or negative attitudes from colleagues. It is important for individuals to consider their personal comfort level and the potential risks and benefits of disclosure before making a decision.
If an employee chooses to disclose their chronic illness, it is important for them to clearly communicate their needs and any necessary accommodations to their employer. They should also be aware of their legal rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and be prepared to work with their employer to determine what accommodations are reasonable and necessary.
Can you be fired because you disclosed your disability?
No, an employer cannot fire an employee simply because they have a chronic illness. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including chronic illnesses. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer.
However, if an employee’s chronic illness prevents them from performing the essential functions of their job, even with reasonable accommodations, they may be subject to termination. Additionally, if an employee is unable to work for an extended period of time due to their chronic illness, they may be eligible for job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or state-specific leave laws. Once the leave period has ended, the employee is generally entitled to return to their job or an equivalent position, as long as they are able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.
It’s important for individuals with chronic illnesses to understand their rights under the ADA and to communicate with their employer about their condition and any necessary accommodations. If an employee believes they have been terminated or otherwise discriminated against due to their chronic illness, they may be able to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state agency.
Build a support system.
Having a support system at work can be helpful when navigating chronic illness self-advocacy. This can include coworkers, supervisors, or even an HR representative. Having people in your corner who understand your condition and can support you can make a big difference.
Take care of yourself.
Living with a chronic illness can be stressful, especially when navigating self-advocacy in the workplace. Make sure to prioritize self-care and take time for yourself when you need it. This can include taking breaks throughout the day, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or seeking support from a therapist or support group.
Navigating chronic illness self-advocacy in the workplace can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you have rights and support available to you. By educating yourself and communicating clearly with your employer, you can work to create a supportive and accommodating work environment. Remember to prioritize self-care and lean on your support system when you need it.
Self-advocacy can be a challenge, particularly for those who may be concerned about disclosing their chronic illness in the workplace or who may not be familiar with their legal rights. However, it is an important skill to develop in order to ensure that individuals with chronic illnesses have access to the support and accommodations they need to work effectively and succeed in their careers.