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 symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
It can also affect your ability to participate in daily activities, including work.
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 your symptoms make it very difficult to work effectively.
Individuals with Crohn’s understand the fluctuating and unpredictable course of the disease.
Furthermore, the anxiety that they may feel can often trigger additional flare-ups. These flare-ups can weaken their personal health and have a negative effect on their performance in the workplace.
Some people with Crohn’s may feel driven to secrecy. They may choose not to disclose their disease to their employer for fear of losing their job.
Some people may turn down opportunities for advancement in their respective careers. For example, they may:
- refuse promotions or job offers because they’re not sure they can meet the demands of a new position
- fear that they can’t perform these new duties because of their disease
- think the added stress of a new job will lead to worse or more frequent flare-ups
If you have Crohn’s, it doesn’t have to hinder your career, and you don’t have to experience discrimination in the workplace.
The first step you need to take is to learn the law.
Understanding the law will not only provide you with a sense of your employee rights, but it can also decrease the amount of stress you feel as a result of your health and your 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 physical or mental disability. It defines disability as “a physical or mental 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 affect 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 co-workers.
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 in another.
Employers who fail to comply with the ADA’s guidelines run the risk of the United States Department of Justice suing them in federal court.
First-time offenders face civil penalties of up to $75,000. They can face $110,000 for subsequent violations.
Consult ada.gov to find more information about your workplace rights.
According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Medical Economics, people with Crohn’s disease miss around 9.36 workdays a year due to “medical-related absenteeism.”
Medical-related absenteeism days were defined as days where a person:
- sought inpatient care
- visited an emergency room
- sought outpatient care or other types of care
- was eligible for disability benefits but hadn’t begun receiving them yet
Each day spent in inpatient care was considered the equivalent of 1 missed workday. Each emergency room visit counted as 1 missed workday.
Each visit to an outpatient facility or other type of facility counted as .50 missed workdays.
People with Crohn’s also received disability benefits on 8.83 days each year.
In comparison, people without IBD missed 5.09 workdays a year due to medical-related absenteeism. They also had 5.31 disability days a year.
In addition, a 2016 survey found that people with Crohn’s lose $1,249 worth of earnings each year due to illness. People without Crohn’s lose $644 each year.
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 (FMLA) of 1993, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of excused unpaid absence each year if you have or a family member has 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 they’ll provide benefits and pay while you’re on leave.
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.
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.
Don’t deny yourself of your workplace rights and protection.
If needed, your doctor can write a letter of appeal to your employer. It should address your employer’s need to make reasonable accommodations to suit you.