HR expert Rebecca Armstrong explains how to navigate work with a new MS diagnosis
On the 23 January 2013 at 2pm came a moment I will never forget. I was told the numbness and pain I’d for 10 months was due to multiple sclerosis (MS). It was also the exact moment in time that according to the Equality Act 2010 I was considered disabled, because MS is one of only three named conditions in the Act which are automatically covered).
In my own experience and from talking to others, diagnosis brings with it a whirlwind of emotions – relief that there is an explanation for the symptoms, disbelief it’s happening, fear of what it means, anger, frustration… the list is endless. We go through a period of processing the news and what it means for us, and part of this is thinking about the impact it might have on our ability to work.
The most frequent question I get asked is ‘do I need to tell my employer I have MS?’ and the answer is no, you are not obliged to tell them in most cases (but if your condition poses a health and safety risk then this may be different). This means that on diagnosis you can take some time to reflect and process before making this decision. You may want to get some extra support to help you as you come to terms with having MS and the MS-UK helpline is a great place to start.
When deciding whether to disclose you have MS to your employer there are a number of things to consider
- Whether you need any additional support to enable you to access work. If you are experiencing fatigue, pain, brain fog or mobility challenges there are adjustments that you could ask your employer to make to help you. If you employer is not aware you have MS, or are having challenges, then they cannot help you. You cannot hold them accountable for not providing the support required by law if they did not know there was a need.
- You may find that you need time off work. Any sickness relating to a disability has to considered differently. It is likely there would be more support and more accommodation of this time off, but again, this can only happen if they know.
- How comfortable do you feel with people knowing? You may want to make a disclosure to your manager and HR but ask them to keep it confidential.
As a final note, we all experience MS differently but life with MS doesn’t have to spell the end or a pause in your career, in fact my own career has become enriched as a result of my diagnosis.
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