The decision to tell your employer about your MS diagnosis is a personal one, and it may depend on many factors. Once you’ve decided you want (or need) to disclose your condition, it’s important to prepare for the conversation. Here are some things to consider.
As I explained in my other article, there are a number of good reasons to disclose your condition—and just as many not to. Weigh your options before talking to your employer. It’s your decision. Feel confident about your choice before having this conversation.
This will typically be related to the reasons why you are telling them. It may happen during the interview phase, once you are hired, or during your employment. You may also choose to have this conversation after experiencing a hardship, or disability, or if you anticipate performance concerns. Carefully consider the pros and cons of disclosing during each of these phases of employment.
You should speak to your employer only after you have determined your desired outcome. For example, are you seeking an accommodation? Perhaps you’re experiencing new symptoms. Maybe you want to proactively manage expectations. Knowing what you want will guide the conversation and help your employer understand why you are sharing this information. It may be less awkward if you appear comfortable and in control of your personal situation.
This decision is truly based on your relationship with the people you work with. If you have a manager, you most likely spend the most time with this person. It may be helpful to make him or her aware of any medical issues. If you and your manager are very close and you trust him or her, I recommend starting there. Not every company has a Human Resources (HR) department. But if your company has one and you have reservations about telling your manager, HR may be a good place to start. Regardless of whom you tell first, a follow-up conversation with HR, or documenting your conversation, may be a good idea.
This is something I do for all of my important conversations, both personal and professional. I always feel more comfortable having an outline of what I’m going to talk about. Sometimes I memorize it. Other times, I write it on a piece of paper and carry it with me. Writing out my bullet points ahead of time always gives me an opportunity to anticipate questions and identify any missing points.
Let’s use the example I used in my other article about requesting an adjustment to your schedule. Here are my thoughts on what a conversation might look like if you have been working with your current manager for a couple of years:
You: Do you have a minute? I’d like to talk to you about something.
Manager: Absolutely. Let’s talk.
You: I need to share something personal with you. I have MS. It’s something I’ve been living with for a while now.
Manager: Well, I’m sorry to hear this news, but I’m glad you feel comfortable coming to talk with me. Have you told anyone else about this?
You: No, and it’s important to me that you don’t share this information with anyone else besides HR. I don’t believe this condition has affected my job, and I don’t think it’s necessary for anyone else to know about it.
Manager: I agree. Unless necessary, I wouldn’t share this without your knowledge and approval.
You: Thank you. Now, I need to discuss my schedule. Something has come up in my treatment plan, and I need to begin attending weekly physical therapy sessions. I know my shift starts at 9 AM, but I’d like to request that I start work at 10:30 AM every Tuesday, beginning next week. I can make up the hours later in the day or put in a couple of extra hours during the rest of the week depending on what you think is best. I have a doctor’s note.
Manager: OK. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I’ll need to talk with HR and make them aware of the situation. I’m sure they will want to talk with you as well. Let’s plan to talk tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to connect with them.
Now, if every conversation went as smoothly as this one, it would be a miracle! It is likely that your personal experience will be different and will vary based on many factors.
You should decide what information is shared and with whom. Once information is shared, it is hard to control. That said, it’s a very personal decision. Only you know what you feel most comfortable with.
Remember, all of these decisions are up to you. Each person’s situation is different. Talking about your MS may be difficult. Take the time to think it through. Write out your desired outcome, plan for the conversation, and practice with someone or in a mirror. The preparation will be worth your time.