Hello everyone! This is my first entry on our blog, and I figured it was a great week to begin my blogging adventure, as we are promoting awareness of invisible chronic illnesses. I wanted to start by saying that I hope this blog serves as a place for people to come and find encouragement and wisdom as they travel the journey with chronic illness. It is not an easy road, nor one that many talk about, as so many patients suffer silently. We hope that our practice can provide a safe place for people to be able to talk freely about their experience- the hope, the grief, the ups, the downs...all of it.
To add to what Tiffany was saying about disclosure, I have noticed that it is helpful for patients to have a specific plan when talking to their employers about their illness. In a work setting, there may sometimes be no choice but to disclose something about your illness, as there are often continued, numerous absences that need explanation. There are various ways of explaining your illness, but I often suggest pursuing FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) protection before doing so. FMLA is a law that applies to businesses with over 50 employees in Illinois, and gives you a right to a medical leave if you are an eligible employee with a serious health condition that makes you unable to perform the functions of your job. A medical leave is also granted to an eligible employee who must care for a parent, spouse, or child with a serious health condition. Employees are given rights to return to work after the leave period. This can be for a set amount of time, or also on an intermittent basis, which is what I have found most helpful for patients with chronic illness. Often there are periods of flares and remissions which are unpredictable, and require days off here and there. If you think that FMLA would be helpful to you, check with your company's Human Resources department and see what the protocol is for filing for FMLA. Most likely it will require a signature from your medical physician which treats your chronic illness, as well as a signature from your boss at work, confirming that this was approved. When asking for your boss' signature, feel free to share as little or as much as you feel comfortable doing. As it says on the Illinois Legal Aid website, "As more people find out about your health condition, the chance for job discrimination increases." As a clinician, I recommend not sharing excessively with your boss, but instead telling more details (as you feel appropriate) with your coworkers who may be affected by your absences, and letting them know how much you appreciate their understanding and support. Please feel free to add any other tips to this column, as we want to help people with chronic illnesses keep their job secure in this tough economy.