How To Handle A Major Health Issue At Work

This article is sponsored by Enjoy!

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[1].

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[2].

Whether its a chronic illness, a cancer diagnosis[3], 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[4].

RELATED: My Cancer Story: My Moms Cancer Helped Me Battle My Own Disease[5]

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:[6] A Social History of Chronic Illness in America[7]. 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)[8] or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA[9]).

RELATED: Im Pregnant: How to Tell Your Boss[10]

The main thing to know about these two provisions is that the FMLA protects employees with a serious health condition[11]including pregnancy, chronic conditions like epilepsy, and cancerand provides up to 12 weeks of leave to employees who meet certain criteria[12]. 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[13]. And there are thousands of cases for what that includes, says Megan P. Norris[14], chair of the Labor and Employment Group at law firm Miller Canfield.

According to Patrick Hicks[15], 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.


  1. ^ attributed her symptoms to stress (
  2. ^ ulcerative colitis (
  3. ^ a cancer diagnosis (
  4. ^ youve completed all the items on your to-do list (
  5. ^ My Cancer Story: My Moms Cancer Helped Me Battle My Own Disease (
  6. ^ In the Kingdom of the Sick: (
  7. ^  A Social History of Chronic Illness in America (
  8. ^ Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (
  9. ^ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA (
  10. ^ Im Pregnant: How to Tell Your Boss (
  11. ^ serious health condition (
  12. ^ certain criteria (
  13. ^ reasonable accommodation (
  14. ^ Megan P. Norris (
  15. ^ Patrick Hicks (

Original Story Here


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  1. Reply

    Health Tips And Vitamins I Should Take Being A Growing Teen? Anyone recommend any daily vitamins i should take? please provide the store i can get em at and the price. what it does and all the details please. also any random health tips would be appreciated. thanks.

      • HealthNut
      • August 15, 2013

      A multi vitamin suh as centrum is good. Flaxseed oil capsules are great as well.

  2. Reply

    How Can I Get Healthy? -Health Tips? This year, I made it a point to become healthy. I have lost some weight and got rid of some acne.

    I really want to be healthy, and make sure that I look healthy.

    Can you give me some all over health tips?
    Im a teen girl by the way.

      • HealthNut
      • August 15, 2013


      The best advice I can give you is exercise daily and eat well. Eat at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day. Try to cut out as much sugar and snacks as you can manage. Drink plenty of water. Exercise for about 30 minutes a day, remember this does not have to be running a million miles and lifting 10 ton weights. Walking is an excellent form of exercise and is great because you can walk briskly around shops whilst looking at really cute outfits!

      I hope this helps!

    • Hg
    • August 15, 2013

    Do These Health Tips Actually Work? 1 apple / day – no doctor
    1 lemon / day – no fat
    1 cup of milk / day – no bone problems
    3 ltrs water / day – no diseases…

    Also what are some losing weight health tips?

      • HealthNut
      • August 15, 2013

      No, these health ‘tips’ are actually myths. It’s all very healthy to do that, but no.

      To lose weight, all you can really do is exercise more and eat healthy and try to keep your calories at around 1600 a day. It’s good to drink homemade lemonade that tastes pretty sour and not sweetened very much- it’s good for your metabolism. Tea is good, fruits and vegetables are good. It’s a great time to get active because it’s summer and you’ll sweat more, which is awesome for your body to flush out toxins and such. I like making fruit smoothies and adding spinach or kale (you can’t taste it and it’s so good for your body- not to mention filling). When you snack during the day, only snack on ‘raw’ foods like fruits and vegetables, or maybe a few almonds.

      Good luck!

  3. Reply

    What Are Your Best Tips To Live A Healthy Life? Health tips in any area would be great. Especially what foods to eat, fitness tips, avoiding colds or being sick, and being happier.

    Sorry it’s so broad, but I just wanted some really good tips or secrets, or anything. Thanks!

      • HealthNut
      • August 15, 2013

      One has to be happy, not worry about everything little thing that goes wrong, think of others who have life a lot worse or the ones who are gone who whould like to swich with you, but most importantly, you must cleanse your body of toxins and take suppliments.

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