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Lets say you need a root canal next week, and you’ve scheduled an appointment to have the procedure Tuesday afternoon. You’re probably comfortable letting your co-workers know you have a dental appointment that will have you out of touch for a few hours but back online once the anesthesia wears off.
But what happens when youre diagnosed with a more complicated, longer-term health issue?
Last spring, 29-year-old Katie Kimball started waking up nauseous every morning. At that point, she was working a demanding job managing operations for a growth company in the legal sector, so she just attributed her symptoms to stress.
But as the months passed, Kimballs condition persisted. One day while working from home, she found herself on a conference call letting co-workers know shed be right back, only to realize that she was bleeding from her large intestine. In the hospital days later, she learned that she was suffering from a condition called ulcerative colitis.
Whether its a chronic illness, a cancer diagnosis, or any other condition that will have you out of the office for multiple doctors appointments and potentially in need of special accommodations, a health issue raises complications far more difficult than trying to make sure youve completed all the items on your to-do list.
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And while theres no script for how to handle your job when your health is compromised, here are some tips on navigating what can be a very tricky work situation.
Understanding Your Condition and Your Rights
First and foremost, try to put work aside and make sure you have a doctor who you can trust to advise you on how this new health situation will affect your life.
I think the first step [in dealing with a new diagnosis] is to get as informed as possible, says Laurie Edwards, author of In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness in America. Try to get a realistic idea of what your limitations will be. Of course this will vary [by person], but the more information you have, the better equipped you are to make the right choices.
You may find droves of information about your illness online, but do your best to focus on what your specific needs are right now. How often will you be out of the office for appointments? What special accommodations will you need (if any)? Once you have clarified upcoming challenges for yourself, you will be able to communicate to your boss and co-workers more clearly.
If you are dealing with an illness that will have you out of the office long-term, dont make the common mistake of using up your sick days or fearing you could lose your jobyou may have protections afforded to you by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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The main thing to know about these two provisions is that the FMLA protects employees with a serious health conditionincluding pregnancy, chronic conditions like epilepsy, and cancerand provides up to 12 weeks of leave to employees who meet certain criteria. The ADA is much less detailed and very fact specific. It protects individuals with a disability, which is defined as an impairment that substantially limits a life activity and entitles them to reasonable accommodation. And there are thousands of cases for what that includes, says Megan P. Norris, chair of the Labor and Employment Group at law firm Miller Canfield.
According to Patrick Hicks, founding shareholder of the Las Vegas office of Littler Mendelsona law firm exclusively focused on labor and employment lawtheres no need to try and wrap your head around these employment laws on your own. He suggests that the best thing to do when you become seriously ill is to check your employee handbook for information and contact your HR department to ask about what protections may apply.
Manage the Conversation
After a new diagnosis or a health scare, your gut instinct may fall to one of two extremes depending on your work environment and position: to tell everyone at work what youre dealing with or to hide it completely.
But theres another option: clear communication about your health needs, which does not necessarily mean disclosing your condition.
- ^ attributed her symptoms to stress (www.thedailymuse.com)
- ^ ulcerative colitis (www.mayoclinic.com)
- ^ a cancer diagnosis (www.thedailymuse.com)
- ^ youve completed all the items on your to-do list (www.thedailymuse.com)
- ^ My Cancer Story: My Moms Cancer Helped Me Battle My Own Disease (www.thedailymuse.com)
- ^ In the Kingdom of the Sick: (www.amazon.com)
- ^ A Social History of Chronic Illness in America (www.amazon.com)
- ^ Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (www.dol.gov)
- ^ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA (www.ada.gov)
- ^ Im Pregnant: How to Tell Your Boss (www.thedailymuse.com)
- ^ serious health condition (www.nolo.com)
- ^ certain criteria (www.dol.gov)
- ^ reasonable accommodation (askjan.org)
- ^ Megan P. Norris (www.millercanfield.com)
- ^ Patrick Hicks (www.littler.com)
Healthy Living (Fit to 100: Secrets to Health and Longevity) (Kindle Edition) tagged “health tips” 8 times
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