You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Maybe you’ve known for a long time or maybe you just found out. No doubt, you have a number of questions, and one of them might be What does my chronic illness mean for my career?
Fortunately, employers have increasingly become more understanding and accommodating of employees with chronic illnesses. It’s not just because they care about their employees- it’s also the law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against employees and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for anyone with qualified disabilities. If you have Crohn’s disease, this might be something as simple as easy access to a bathroom. Educate yourself about your rights and take charge of your career.
Reaching out to an employer about your chronic illness can be difficult, especially if you have a special request, but if you require accommodations then it’s important to be able to talk about it. You might even be surprised what your employer is willing to do for you, but until you ask, you might not know. You might just be more valuable than you even realized!
Four Key Reasons Why Your Employer Should Keep You Post-Diagnosis
1. You Make Them Look Good
“Wow, what a great idea!”
Hopefully, you already feel appreciated at work and can confidently state that you are a valuable asset to the team. If that’s the case, then good for you! Otherwise, you might want to think about getting a different job. If you do feel appreciated, then your boss most likely wants to keep you, and a chronic illness is something that he or she will be willing to accommodate.
It looks good for employers to hire and retain people with disabilities. Respected and admired companies typically make accommodations for such employees. The reputation of a company is very important to maintain the health of an organization. Think otherwise? Do a Google Search for the scandals at Freddie Mac, BP, or a number of other companies who suffered the consequences. News flows freely with easy access to information and scandals are that much more painful in the days of social media.
Another important point- employers like a diverse workforce. Why? It helps generate creativity and innovation. Yes, your chronic illness adds diversity to the team. Your personal experiences shape your opinions, thoughts and ideas and these are all things that add value to a team. Unique ideas are the fuel of an organization and employers are willing to pay a premium for them.
2. Replacing Employees is a Pain in the You Know What
“I won’t be able to find anyone to replace Denise for months!”
It’s costly, time consuming and just plain inconvenient trying to find the right person to hire. If you’ve been working with the same company for a good chunk of time, then there’s a decent chance that hiring and training someone could cost more than covering your disability or sick pay!
Identifying the right person with the necessary skillset, education, background and experience can be extremely difficult, especially as the complexity of a role increases. The need to hire the right labor pool started its own industry in the form of recruiting companies.
Employers consider a number of factors before hiring someone and this isn’t limited to just education, skills and experience. Personality and fit with the organization can be just as important, if not more important than any of these three things. Finding the right fit for a role can be a difficult venture and some of the most successful organizations consider employees to be their most critical assets. Therefore, the next time you think you’re expendable- you might want to think again.
3. Keeping You Promotes Morale
“If they help Denise, then I wonder what they would be willing to do if something happened to me?”
Maybe you haven’t told your co-workers about your chronic illness, but you might want to consider it if you’ve been missing assignments. Maybe your co-workers know the entire story, or just parts of the story, but either way they know something is up.
The culture of an organization can make a business strong or weak. If employees don’t feel respected at work or fear for their jobs, then there’s a good chance that the work culture is suffering. Employees tend to feel appreciated in a supportive work environment, and accommodating employees with disabilities certainly plays into that.
4. Lawsuits and Bad PR
“They fired Denise because of what?”
Good news for you- it’s not always that easy to fire someone. Firing someone with a chronic illness is a lawsuit and PR disaster waiting to happen. Lawsuits cost organizations huge amounts of money every year. Bad PR can be even more costly as this can have long-term consequences, including a bad reputation. Bad reputations can lead to a number of issues, including decreased sales or stock value, both necessary for business continuity and survival.
Your Career and Chronic Illness
Think holding a career with a chronic illness is impossible? Think again. There are many reasons why your employer should be willing to accommodate your chronic illness. Not only is it a legal right, but you might be more of an asset than you realized. Educate yourself about your rights and reach out to your employer if you have a request for reasonable accommodations. You might be surprised about what your company is willing to do for you.
Angela Tipton is the founder of My Chronic Dreams, a website designed to provide tips and advice to champions of chronic illness and those daring to fight for their dreams. A champion of Crohn’s disease herself, she created the website to help others achieve their dreams of career success, health and wellness, financial success and travel.