Disclosing Your Illness and Requesting Accommodations At Work

Disclosing your illness and work accommodations
Hannah Olson
Written by
Hannah Olson Founder & CEO of Chronically Capable

Hannah Olson is a good friend of Mayv’s. She is the founder and CEO & Founder of Chronically Capable. We love seeing her company, her passion and her advocacy grow. We thought that this article about disclosing your illness at work was especially important to share with our collective community. This article was originally posted on wearecapable.org

I get it: disclosure is awkward and might feel unnecessary. Why does my employer need to know about my illness anyways?

I’ve been there, many times, and I know the level of discomfort involved in finding the right way to tell your boss about your situation without making things weird, or even sacrificing your chances of landing / keeping a job. 

Through my work over the past few years at Chronically Capable, I’ve learned the benefits and power of disclosing an illness, and I’d like to share some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way. We have a blog post titled ‘The Power of the Secret Backpack’ that discusses the ways in which your experiences and struggles can actually benefit your ability to participate in the workforce. I highly recommend reading this article if you haven’t already! 

Let’s start by getting this straight: you do not have to disclose anything about your health to an employer. If you wish to disclose, you’re allowed to disclose at any point in time, whether that be during the interview, during the negotiation process, once you’ve started, or even three years into your job. This all depends on YOUR comfort level, and you should never feel pressure to disclose the specifics of your personal health situation.

However, disclosing your illness can be beneficial as you enter a new job position, because you don’t have to worry about having the conversation further down the line. Personally, I feel it’s best to slay the elephant in the room from the get-go. 

Ready to tell your current or future employer about your chronic illness or disability? Here are some tips on how to disclose:
  1. Focus on the accommodations: Rather than starting with “I have xyz”, try to focus on the accommodations you need to best perform the job. Maybe that’s the ability to leave for an hour once a week to get a blood draw, or maybe you need an ergonomic desk station. Tell your employer what you need and how this will help to increase your productivity and overall well being. 
  2. Be direct and specific: You don’t need to say too much or try to overcompensate. Be specific about what you need without giving away too much information. 
  3. Explain how your condition may be an asset: We all know that it’s incredibly challenging to live with a chronic illness or disability. These experiences can help build resilience and skills that can be transferred to your company. In my case, through my past medication schedules, I learned to be responsible with time management. This is a great skill to be shared with employers. I also have the ability to adapt to change, which again is something that businesses could use more of in their employees. 
  4. Seek out resources and job boards made for you: Of course, it goes without saying that I hope you’ll utilize Chronically Capable to find an employer who is understanding and accepting of your needs. We built this platform to slay the elephant in the room and remove the fear and stigma from the hiring process. I encourage you to utilize our job board – it’s free for members to sign up!

Accessibility is an ongoing process for businesses. Many businesses are still learning what’s right to ask their employees, and how they can be more supportive. As always, feel free to reach out to us at hello@wearecapable.org with any questions you may have regarding disclosure and accessibility at work!

Are you looking for more ways to connect? Check out our event page!

Hannah Olson
Written by
Hannah Olson Founder & CEO of Chronically Capable

Hannah is a Lyme survivor with deep roots in the chronic illness community, serving as a global ambassador for InvisiYouth Charity, a National Lyme Ambassador, and a frequent panelist at diversity and inclusion conferences. ‍ The idea for Chronically Capable arose after she had to leave her dream job due to the aggressive treatment schedule for Lyme disease that required her to be on an IV for up to 6 hours per day. Although her ambition and intellect were intact, the physical demands of a traditional workplace environment could not co-exist with her life-saving treatment. In Washington D.C., she met an innovative tech team that was in the process of developing products to support remote organizations, and together they decided to form Chronically Capable to make sure no one ever has to decide between their health and work ambitions again. For more information on flexible jobs for chronically ill and disabled job seekers refer to their website www.wearecapable.org  Follow them on instagram at @chronicallycapable   

This article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.