How To Disclose Your Illness Or Disability To Your Employer

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By Hannah Olson

Hannah Olson

Hannah Olson

Founder & CEO of Chronically Capable

After graduating from college, Lyme disease nearly derailed my early career in Washington, DC. I was hooked up to an IV for 8 hours a day and struggled to manage the ins and outs of working a full-time job. I worried that there was no place for people like me – people with illness and disability – in the workforce. 

Realizing the scale of this issue, we founded Chronically Capable to make sure that nobody ever has to decide between their health and their career ever again.

When you live with chronic illness or disability, you constantly have to navigate barriers set by a society that was not built for us. Chronically Capable was built to remove some of those barriers and create a society that values and makes space for our differences. 

One of the top questions we get from our community is: “Do I have to disclose my illness to a current or future employer?”

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 in diversity and inclusion over the past few years, 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.

Let’s start by getting this straight: you do not have to disclose anything about your health to an employer. This applies for all roles, including internships. If you do wish to disclose, you’re allowed to disclose your illness/ disability 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 or internship, because you don’t have to worry about having the conversation further down the line. 

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 remove the fear and stigma from the hiring process.

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. Be patient and find comfort in the fact that there are many people out there working to change the workplace for good.

About the author: 

Hannah Olson is the co-founder and CEO of Chronically Capable, a platform that connects people with chronic illness or disability to flexible work opportunities. Hannah’s own experience navigating her career while undergoing intensive treatment for Lyme disease sparked the idea for her company, which was founded last year in Washington DC. Hannah is known globally for her advocacy and was recently named Top 100 Powerful Women of 2020 by Entrepreneur Magazine.

By Hannah Olson

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