Your Health At Work – Thoughts on Disclosure

You can’t talk about Working and Health Activism (or working and living with a chronic condition) without discussing the topic of disclosure. Way back in March we talked all about health disclosure and the “do you tell?” question. Health Activists had a lot to say on this topic. Today Tayla shares a bit more into the decision-making process behind disclosure because, at the end of the day, it’s a personal, individual decision that you’ve got to make for yourself. –Amanda

Should You Disclose Health Information to Employers?

by Tayla Holman


One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make when you go back to work is whether to tell your boss about your health condition(s) or not. Ultimately it is your choice, and no one can tell you whether you should or should not. But before you do anything, you should weigh the benefits and consequences of disclosing your health information to your employer.


Why You Should:


If something should happen to you health-wise and you are unable to do your job, you don’t want your boss to think that you are simply underperforming. Of course, you want to tell them beforehand so it doesn’t look like you are trying to weasel your way out of disciplinary action.


Another reason to disclose your health information is that if your employer knows that you have a condition that may hinder your ability to do your job, he or she may decide to rework your responsibilities to accommodate any time off you may need. You might even be allowed to work from home, if possible.


Why You Shouldn’t:


If you feel that your condition is under control and will not have an effect on your ability to fulfill your work obligations, keeping it to yourself may be your best bet to avoid unnecessary discussion and commotion.


However, if you want to have your illness on record in the event that something does happen, you can go to human resources if you don’t want to speak to your boss directly. They can intervene on your behalf if you do end up needing to take time off.


If you’re still on the fence, remember that you have legal rights in case your employer isn’t understanding or respectful of your medical condition. The Family Medical Leave Act “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.” According to the Department of Labor’s website, the FMLA allows eligible employees to take twelve workweeks of leave within a 12-month period for:


  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
    • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or
    • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin to the employee (military caregiver  leave).


Employees are also protected under the Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act, which “provides federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information.” There is also the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA prevents employers from discriminating against disabled individuals throughout the job process, as well as with regards to hiring, firing, advancement, etc. Between these three acts, employees have several rights that protect them in case of a medical emergency.


What are some of the reasons you have or have not disclosed your health information to your employer? Have you had experience with FMLA, ADA, or HIPAA?


2 thoughts on “Your Health At Work – Thoughts on Disclosure

  1. Anonymous says:

    I struggled with this. Shortly after I was diagnosed with infertility, I had to tell my boss, only b/c I was having trouble doing my job b/c of crippling post-Dx depression. Outside of that, though, I haven’t brought it up since and this was over 2 years ago. I imagine that once I begin treatment, I’ll need to bring up the issue again, but I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to do this.

    Great post – thank you for raising an important question.

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