Multiple sclerosis (MS) may impact your daily life, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up your career. Many people live with MS and have active, engaging jobs.
Depending on your symptoms, the way you perform some of your work duties may change. But simple adjustments may mean you can continue to contribute to your workplace in meaningful ways.
If you have questions about how to manage your career and your health, these six considerations may provide a helpful starting point.
1. Should I tell my employer I have MS?
The way your symptoms affect your work day will help you decide when, if ever, to tell your employer about your condition. If your symptoms are mild, you might choose to wait before you let people know.
Some people find it challenging to disclose an MS diagnosis, often out of concern that they might face misunderstanding or discrimination. You’re in the best position to anticipate how your workplace might respond. If you decide to share your diagnosis, you may be pleasantly surprised at the amount of support you receive.
Like many chronic conditions, people who are not directly affected may not have much information about multiple sclerosis. Consider whether you’re open to talking about your experience with MS and educating others.
If you’re not comfortable with that, consider thinking about how you might respond to questions. You can simply decline to share details or you can direct people to other educational resources, such as the MS Society.
2. How does MS affect my job?
The way MS might affect your job depends partially on the type of job duties you perform, as well as the type of MS that you have.
With MS, you may encounter challenges with balance, coordination, speech, vision, memory, weakness, and fatigue. Since flares can come and go, there may be plenty of time when you can continue your work unaffected, without any noticeable impact. But sometimes, if you’re experiencing symptoms, you may need your employer to make accommodations for your condition.
Accommodations are adjustments to your work routine or tasks that help make it easier for you to continue at your job. The types of accommodations available depend on the type of work you do.
Don’t give up on your job too soon. If you’re finding it challenging to fulfil your work duties, consider taking a short-term disability leave for your flares rather than resigning.
Make sure you understand the impact on your medical insurance and disability coverage before you resign from employment. It may be a better option to go on medical leave rather than to quit altogether.
3. What accommodations are there for me to continue working?
The adjustments needed for you to continue as a successful team member at your workplace don’t have to be expensive or complicated. Simple changes, like relocating your desk close to the bathroom and away from a heat source, can help.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects your right to reasonable accommodations at work in areas such as equipment, devices, job restructure, adjusted work schedule, additional time off, assistance via readers or interpreters, and accessibility in the workplace.
For example, your employer can offer you accommodations such as:
- adjusting your schedule to be more flexible or providing extra time off work
- providing a quiet area where you can rest when needed
- allowing you to swap duties with someone if your symptoms interfere with the duties you currently have
- arranging work-from-home options for you
- moving your parking space closest to the building entrance
- providing technology such as voice-to-text software or a larger computer screen
- installing ramps and handrails
4. What are my rights?
To be protected by the ADA, you must have a recognized disability and be otherwise qualified to do the job you are applying for or were hired to do.
The ADA doesn’t allow potential employers to ask job candidates about disabilities and medical information until after an offer of employment is made. The exception is when a fitness test is required before being offered a job, such as for a police officer. In this case the employer can ask for a doctor’s note saying the applicant can safely take the test.
If you have any concerns that your employment rights are not being protected, the ADA has the information you need to advocate for yourself. Other helpful resources include:
Share this information with your friends and family so they can support your advocacy efforts.
5. How can I manage workplace fatigue?
Be proactive about managing fatigue so that it doesn’t get ahead of you. A few simple strategies for time-management and comfort may help. Consider these tips:
- Identify what time of day your energy is highest and do your hardest work then.
- Keep your work area cool, if you can. Heat can exacerbate MS symptoms.
- Choose your wardrobe for comfort and optimal temperature control.
- Avoid afternoon caffeine so that you can sleep better at night.
- Stay hydrated.
- Plan tasks so that you only have to get up once rather than multiple times.
- Stretch periodically to loosen stiff muscles and restore circulation.
- Listen to your body and take breaks as needed.
6. How do I deal with cognitive challenges at work?
MS can cause cognitive impairment. You may experience symptoms related to memory, concentration, processing speed, or your ability to multitask.
These issues can make it challenging to feel like you’re doing your best work, but there are ways to compensate for cognition problems. Try these tips to make your workday easier to manage:
- Write things down and make lists.
- Use recording devices.
- Try smart phone apps for tracking and scheduling.
- Use timers and alarms.
- Keep a journal for notes and helpful details.
If you have concerns, your neurologist can evaluate your cognition to determine if there’s any impairment. They can also make recommendations for treatment and managing your symptoms.
Many people with MS continue to have active and satisfying careers. If you experience difficulties at work, remember that the ADA protects you from discrimination. If your flares make work difficult at times, you may be better off taking a short-term disability leave rather than resigning.
The symptoms of MS can come and go. Even if you experience a period with more challenging symptoms, and need more job accommodations, you may be able to return to your work routine in the future.