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Talking about MS at work - #NationalWorkLifeWeek

This week is National Work Life week, which is all about focusing on wellbeing at work. You might be thinking about talking to your employer about your MS, but just what is the best way to inform them? Rebecca Armstrong, MSer and HR specialist reveals what to consider and what to expect

Rebecca Armstrong smiling and sitting in a chairOne of the hardest questions that I get asked on my Facebook group is ‘should I tell my employer?’ The issue of disclosure is a tricky one, particularly as you won’t know if you have done the right thing until it’s too late. What is true is that once you have done it there is no going back, but remember that can be a good thing. So, if you decide to disclose you then have to decide who to tell and how to do it. In this blog, we focus on these important questions and provide you with some guidance on how to make this important disclosure.

Before you arrange to speak to work, it’s a good idea to prepare what you will say. It is important to remember that multiple sclerosis (MS) can be difficult to understand and so you may need to explain exactly what it is and most importantly how it impacts you. Think about examples of how it impacts your work (if at all) that can help explain.

Be prepared for the response, we have all been frustrated with comments such as ‘you don’t look unwell’ or ‘my Aunty had MS and…’ but often this is someone’s way of trying to make sense of something. When we don’t understand something, we will try and relate it to something we do and often these (insensitive) comments can simply be that. Think about how you can pre-empt such comments by being prepared, for example, ‘MS is different for every person, in fact, no two people are the same, the impact it has on me is…’

Consider taking some resources with you, MS-UK has a range of leaflets available on its website which you can print or provide links to. These are a useful way of providing information in a simple way and of course you could take a copy of the MS-UK magazine, New Pathways!

It is also a good idea to think about what (if anything) you need in terms of reasonable adjustments. Your employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments, by being clear about what you need it will help this process. Of course, for many of us, we may not need adjustments straight away. Consider requesting a regular review (if you don’t have this already), so that if this changes you can discuss what is needed.

Once you have decided what to say, the final consideration is who to tell. Typically this would be your manager as they will be the person who supports you day to day. You can expect that they will need to tell the HR department so that you can make sure you are properly supported. They may ask you who you want to know about your MS at work and of course you can choose that you do not want anyone else to know about it.

Disclosure is a big step and one which is entirely your choice, you are not obliged to tell your employer about your MS. However, if they are not aware then they will not be able to support you.

To continue the conversation and discuss any other MS work related issues join Rebecca’s MS & Work group on Facebook.