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To Tell or Not To Tell: Strategies for Interviewing and Working with an Autoimmune Condition

What am I required to disclose about my health to an employer, either during a job interview or at the start of a job?

The ADA says that you do not have to reveal your disability to a potential employer during the interview process. You need only disclose information about a health condition if you wish your employer to make special accommodation for you in regard to that condition.  Once you’re offered a job, the company can require you to take a medical exam, provided it is related to the job and is requested of all individuals performing the same job.

Other circumstances that may necessitate revealing your condition to an employer:

  •  Your employee benefit plan requires you to submit claims through your employer rather than directly to the company
  • Your employer has an absenteeism policy that requires you to provide a medical certificate if you miss more than a particular number of days of work

Most experts counsel that unless your health is likely to affect your job in any abnormal way (outside of the usual sick days most employees take for routine illness), there is no reason to disclose an autoimmune disease.

What about when an autoimmune condition is diagnosed after I’ve been in a job for a while?

If you expect to be able to continue to perform your job normally, with little or no interruption, there is no reason to tell your employer.  You will, however, want to review your health insurance coverage, company policy on medical leave and your legal rights as defined in the ADA and the FMLA, just to be sure you are familiar with these policies.

If you do anticipate needing extra time off work in order to seek treatment or otherwise deal with your illness, you should talk to your manager.  Make an appointment with your boss and then present a plan for how you’ll keep up with your projects. For example, perhaps you can work from home a couple days a week. Or maybe you can work weekends to make up for missed weekdays when you were receiving treatment or feeling unwell. Offer ideas for how the company can accommodate any time off you’ll need to take. Usually your manager and coworkers will want to help, and will do everything possible to help you through a tough time.

You need only answer questions you are comfortable addressing, and you can politely decline any questions you feel are too personal.

What are laws protect again negative repercussions if my autoimmune conditions prevent me from completing 100% of my tasks during times of a flare?

Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are designed to protect qualified employees from dismissal based on certain medical conditions. The law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions, such as hearing, seeing, walking, speaking, breathing, thinking, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks. Since the ADA includes no list of covered illnesses or diseases, an employee’s medical condition must be judged, case by case, strictly according to the above criteria. All employers with 15 or more employees must uphold ADA.

The FMLA permits 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious health condition that prevents an employee from performing his or her job. An employee can’t be terminated for using this leave. The law defines a serious health condition as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves a period of incapacity (absence of more than three workdays) due to:

  • Inpatient care in a hospital or other medical-care facility
  • A chronic health condition
  • A long-term condition for which treatment may not be effective
  • Multiple treatments by a health-care provider and recovery from those treatments

Government offices, public and private schools, and private employers with 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks of a year must uphold FMLA.

Further reading and resources

University of Washington: Can an Employer Legally Ask an Applicant About Current Illnesses?

Principal Financial Group: Discussing the Disability with Prospective Employers

Consumer Reports: Health Reform: Your Next Steps

United States Department of Labor:  Your Health Plan and HIPAA…Making the Law Work for You

AutoimmuneMom

About the Author
Gretchen Heber is an autoimmune mom and entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in online media. She has also worked with several daily newspapers across the United States, serving as a graphic designer, writer and editor.

This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Gretchen Heber, and first published on Sep 12, 2013.

This post contains the opinions of the author. Autoimmune Association is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances. Autoimmune Association does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website. Your use of the website is subject to our Privacy Policy.

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