Modern Rules for Dealing with a Chronic Illness at Work

Chronic illness can be a double whammy for working adults. You need to protect your health and your job, and sometimes those objectives conflict.

Having an understanding boss and supportive coworkers makes the struggle easier, and your actions can increase your chances of developing such valuable alliances. After all, you're not alone.

About 40% of US workers have at least one chronic condition. If you're one of those 90 million, try these suggestions for dealing with your health needs at the office.

Protecting Your Health:

1. Keep calm.

You need to be able to count on your colleagues in an emergency. Regardless of your individual condition, one thing holds true.

Encouraging others to be prepared and avoid panicking will help them to respond promptly and appropriately.

2. Bring supplies.

Stock your cubicle with glucose tablets or epinephrine injections. Ensure your coworkers know where they are and how to use them.

3. Print out instructions.

Create a backup. Post written instructions explaining your condition and emergency procedures.

4. Ask your doctors.

Your doctors can advise you about how your line of work could affect your health. They could be a valuable resource to help explain and manage your condition.

5. Participate in advocacy groups.

Organizations like the American Diabetes Association or Epilepsy Foundation also provide information and support for living with chronic illnesses. Browse their websites and look for ways to take action.

6. Change careers.

Even if your current job becomes too demanding, you may be able to continue working in another field. Look for opportunities with less stress or more flexible hours.

Protecting Your Job:

1. Talk with your boss.

Because many conditions are invisible or manageable with medication, your boss may not realize your situation. Sharing relevant information prevents false assumptions.

2. Check with HR.

Your HR representative can help you understand company policies about disability and time off. There may even be a health department with additional expertise.

3. Research applicable laws.

You may be eligible for relief under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you have questions, consult a disabilities lawyer or the Job Accommodation Network at the federal Department of Labor.

4. Reassure your coworkers.

Your colleagues may have valid concerns about how they'll be affected. Let them know that you're committed to working up to your full capacity.

Express your appreciation for their assistance and show an interest in their lives too.

5. Adjust hours.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires reasonable accommodations to be made, and that often includes scheduling. Maybe you can work at home on days when you feel fatigued.

Maybe you can juggle your tasks so that you interact with clients or analyze complex data during your peak hours.

6. Modify your workspace and tasks.

There are many ways to adjust workspaces, restructure responsibilities, and introduce new equipment that can enable you to keep working.

Research suggestions you can give your boss and be open to trying new approaches.

7. Arrange transportation.

Your commute matters too. Talk with your employer about accessible parking spaces and other issues.

8. Write things down.

Your mental sharpness may fluctuate from day to day. Develop a habit of putting important information down in writing so you'll have something to refresh your memory.

Documentation can also be important as you and your employer try to make suitable arrangements.

Managing a chronic illness can be like working a second full-time job. Understand your rights and reach out for the help you need to take care of your health and career.

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