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When & How Should I Talk to My Employer and My Coworkers?

Article written by Jackie Hunt Christensen.

Deciding when to inform your employer and coworkers about your condition is a decision only you can make. But understand that telling your boss sooner rather than later has its advantages, especially if your symptoms start to get worse and begin to affect your performance. By making your boss aware of your condition, he or she can then work with you to accommodate your special needs. In this article, Jackie Hunt Christensen offers some tips on how to tell your employer.

How to share your condition at work

Many newly diagnosed people with Parkinson’s disease avoid telling their employers and coworkers about their condition because they fear they will be unfairly treated. But the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created, in part, to keep employers from discriminating against people with disabilities or certain health conditions when they are hired, on the job or being fired.

Realize that there are rules that may protect your right to keep your job and require your employer to make “reasonable accommodations” to help keep you working. Under the ADA, reasonable accommodations are defined as “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.”

However, there are exceptions, particularly for small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) and other situations. Thus, if you are nervous about being fired because of your Parkinson’s disease, consider consulting an attorney or a legal aid agency before you share your condition with your employer. 

Ultimately, sharing your condition with your employer is a personal choice.  You will have to decide when you feel the time is right. But it is important to recognize that it can be in your best interest to tell your employer about your Parkinson’s disease because their ability to fire you is restricted if they have been informed. Also, your boss or other employees may have noticed some of your symptoms and may falsely conclude that you have been drinking or using drugs. In addition, telling your employer shows him or her that you trust and respect them. Here are some suggestions on how you might want to proceed:

Check into your company’s personnel policies. Find out about sick leave and continuation of health benefits.

Contact the Job Accommodation Network (1-800-526-7234). This resource center, provided by the federal Department of Labor, has developed a number of suggestions for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Know what you need.  Before you approach your boss, decide if you are only going to inform him or her of your condition, or if you are going to request specific accommodations. 

Prepare in advance. Jot down the most important points you want to be sure to cover.  It may be helpful to do some role-playing with a friend or loved one. Talk to your doctor about writing a letter of support. He or she may be able to provide specific recommendations about how to get the most out of your work time.

Be upfront and positive. When you meet with your supervisor, highlight your strong points and the things you do well. Then indicate your willingness to work together to identify potential accommodations to help you continue to do your job. If you tell your employer and then demand specific accommodations without a dialogue, your supervisor is likely to be less enthusiastic about keeping you around.

Get it in writing. Ask for a written summary of your conversation and any decisions about accommodations that were discussed or agreed upon. This will give everyone a reference point.

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