What Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes the lining of your digestive tract to become inflamed. It can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition, and fatigue. It can also impact your ability to participate in daily activities, including work.

Crohn’s Impact in the Workplace

If you have Crohn’s and you work for a living, your productivity may fluctuate with your condition. You may have periods of time when you have no symptoms at all. Or you may experience prolonged periods where the symptoms of Crohn’s disease make it very difficult to work effectively.

According to a survey conducted on behalf of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and the Digestive Disease National Coalition, almost half of people with Crohn’s disease miss an average 25.8 days of work per year. The disease is estimated to cost employers as much as $1.3 billion per year in lost productivity.

Individuals with Crohn’s understand the fluctuating and unpredictable course of this disease. These statistics highlight why many who suffer with Crohn’s feel anxious about their job security. Furthermore, the anxiety that they feel often provokes additional flare-ups. These flare-ups can weaken their personal health and their performance in the work place.

Many people with Crohn’s feel driven to secrecy. They may hide their disease from their employers for fear of losing their job. Some people also sabotage their own advancement in their respective careers. For example, they may turn down promotions or job offers because they’re not sure they can meet the demands of a new position. They may fear that they cannot perform these duties because of their disease. Or they may think the added stress will lead to worse or more frequent flare-ups.

If you have Crohn’s, you don’t need to suffer from discrimination in the workplace. The first step you need to take is to know the law. Understanding the law will not only provide you with a sense of your legal rights in the workplace. It could also decrease the amount of stress from your health and your job.

How to Protect Yourself on the Job

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled employees from job discrimination. It applies to businesses with at least 15 workers on the payroll. Protected employees must meet the ADA’s definition of mental or physical disability. It defines disability as a mental or physical impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Crohn’s disease is a physical impairment that affects your digestive system. It can negatively impact your ability to consume food and dispose of bodily waste. Symptoms can range from mild abdominal cramping to severe, life-threatening infections. As a result, it meets the ADA’s definition of a disability. 

Under the ADA, someone with a disability may request “reasonable accommodation” from their employer. The ADA defines “reasonable accommodation” as an adjustment that wouldn’t create any “undue hardship” for the employer. For example, an employee with Crohn’s disease might ask to sit near the restroom. They might also request to work from home, using telecommuting technology.

If you start telecommuting, tasks that you previously performed in the office might be reassigned to your coworkers. In a workplace with a large staff, that might be manageable. In a business with a small overburdened staff, extra tasks could be interpreted as causing “undue hardship.” This is why each situation must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Telecommuting may be reasonable in one workplace, but not another.

Employers who fail to comply with the ADA’s guidelines run the risk of being sued by the U.S. Justice Department in federal court. According to the Association of Corporate Counsel, first-time offenders face civil penalties of up to $55,000. They can face $110,000 for subsequent violations.

Consult http://www.ada.gov/ to find more information about your rights in the workplace.

Should You Take a Leave of Absence?

If you face a serious Crohn’s flare-up that inhibits your ability to work, you might consider taking time off. You might also request a leave of absence if someone you care for has a serious Crohn’s flare-up.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of excused unpaid absence from your job if you or a family member suffers from a “serious health condition” such as Crohn’s. Only companies with 50 or more employees are required to comply with the FMLA. Your employer can decide whether or not they will provide benefits and pay while you’re on leave.

Advocate for Your Rights

Crohn’s disease can take a toll on your health and workplace productivity. In some cases, it can limit your ability to get work done. Don’t deny yourself of your workplace rights and protection.

Although it may feel scary, speaking to your employer about your condition may help you manage it. Have a candid conversation about your workplace concerns. Talk about adaptations or accommodations that might help you get your work done while managing your condition. For example, consider asking for a leave of absence if you’re experiencing a flare-up.

If needed, your doctor can write a letter of appeal to your employer. It should address their need to make reasonable accommodations to suit you.