When you have an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (or IBD) such as Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (UC), life is already challenging enough. But when you have to work away from the home for long periods of time, the challenge is double. In addition to the possibly long commute to work (which is hopefully not by bus or train), you will also undoubtedly have to deal with coworkers and employers wondering why you have to take so many bathroom breaks or have to call out sick a lot.
Why Should You Tell Your Boss About Your IBD?
Ultimately, the choice to tell your boss is completely up to you. Laws protect you from having to tell your boss about a medical illness. However, many states have extra laws in place that will protect your rights even further if you do tell your boss that you have a medical issue and need reasonable accommodations.
Know the Law Where You Live
Do your homework and look up the Americans With Disabilities Act along with your state's laws and regulations concerning which accommodations are deemed reasonable and therefore would be granted to you by law. In most cases, if you present your employer with a letter from your doctor confirming that you have a medical condition (which does not have to be specified) and which accommodations your doctor feels you should have, your employer will not want to fight the law and will probably do what he or she can to meet your request.
What is the Equalities Act?
The Equalities Act 2010 defines disability and protect all employees from discrimination under employment activities such as interviewing, recruiting, training, promotions, rewards, punishments, accommodations, and termination. The Act may protect you against any retaliatory activities from you boss over your IBD. If your IBD is defined as a disability, then the Act will also require your employer to meet your requests for reasonable accommodations.
Is IBD a Disability?
A disability is defined as any ongoing illness or medical condition that has an adverse effect on a person's ability to overcome daily activities, such as employment. The symptoms associated with IBD that interfere with a person's ability to live their everyday life and carry out normal activities include vomiting, pain, and bowel disorders. Most people with IBD would qualify as having a disability, although the 2011 Crohn's and Colitis Survey reported that 51% of their participants stated that they do not consider their IBD a disability.
Defining Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA
Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees who have disabilities except for when providing an accommodation would present undue hardship on an employer. For this case analysis, we must first explore the definitions of both "reasonable accommodation" and "undue hardship" ("Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA," 2002).
According to the ADA, the generic definition of an accommodation is any change, whatsoever, to disabled employee's work environment or work process that enables the employee to work their position, and receive the same compensation and employment opportunities as non disabled employees ("Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA," 2002).
The three different categories of reasonable accommodations recognized by the ADA include the following:
- Modification to the application or interviewing process that allows qualified, disabled applicants to complete the process
- Modifications to the work environment, processes, or routine that allow a qualified, disabled employee to work
- Modifications to benefits and compensation plans that enable a qualified, disabled employee to receive the same employment opportunities as their non disabled co-workers ("Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA," 2002)
An employer is required by ADA to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities only if the accommodations will not present undue hardship on the employer. Undue hardship is defined as any accommodation that would present a significant burden to the employer, such as financial expense, loss of production, extensive disruption to business operations, or adding unfair workloads to other employees ("Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA," 2002).
If you want to research your rights and find out what to do if your employer refuses your reasonable accommodation request, then visit the Americans With Disability Act Website at: https://www.ada.gov/.
Before You Proceed
- Determine exactly who you need to tell, and if you want to tell several bosses at the same time. The con to telling a team of leaders at the same times is that it may feel intimidating, but the pros is that it may eliminate any unnecessary games of “elephant” (or spreading incorrect rumors)
- Determine, along with your doctor, exactly what your needs will be (for example, will you need seating near a bathroom, extra bathroom breaks, food from home kept nearby or in your desk or extra snack breaks, medicine breaks, extra sick days, etc.)
- Determine what you are willing to or able to compromise on and be prepared for a negotiation-like conversation (know what you are willing to do to make up for lost time or extra burdens placed on your boss or coworkers, such as switching shifts to cover lost project time or staying late cover extra breaks)
- Have your letter from your doctor, printout of your legal rights, and your speaking notes with you
When to Talk to Your Boss About Your IBD
- Determine if you and your boss would be more energetic, patient, and able to have a comfortable conversation about an uncomfortable topic either in the morning, afternoon, or evening
- Let your boss know ahead of time that the conversation is serious and may take a while so that he or she can schedule you into an appointment if necessary
- Try to choose a time when you are feeling healthy and alert so that you don’t have to have this conversation while sick and in pain, from home, or from the hospital
How to Talk to Your Boss About Your IBD
Common requests from employees with IBD include frequent restroom breaks, dietary needs (and breaks), and the possibility of needing occasional time off (in which case it is generally the employee's responsibility to work out how to get the work done). Keep your requests reasonable per your job detail and position. Your employer is generally only required to meet health accommodation requests that do not provide "undue hardship" on the employer by costing him or her extra money or interfering greatly with your job duties or causing coworkers to have to do unfair labor to cover your accommodations.
Americans With Disabilities Act (n.d.). Retrieved on May 18, 2017 from: https://www.ada.gov/
ADA: A Primer for Small Business (n.d.). [Web]. U.S. EEOC. Retrieved on 10/1/2016 from: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/adahandbook.cfm
"Employment and IBD" (n.d.). Retrieved on May 18, 2017 from: http://www.myibdportal.org/employment-and-ibd
Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA (2002). [Web]. U.S. EEOC. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html
Questions & Answers about Cancer in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (n.d.). [Web]. U.S. EEOC. Retrieved on 10/1/2016 from: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/cancer.cfm