Hidradenitis Suppurativa gives no consideration to the workplace. And there may come a time when you need to explain your disease to your employer and co-workers.
Deciding who to talk to is tricky. It would help if you chose those people who need to know and those you are comfortable with knowing. If your symptoms affect your work, your employer or manager will need to know. But your co-workers may or may not, depending on how you work with others.
Chronic illness can be challenging to deal with, but you can’t let it rule your life. As I have said many times, social support is one of the main predictors of good health. That means sometimes you will have to count on others.
That’s scary, but luckily, we are here to help. Here are our tips for talking about HS with your boss and co-workers.
Remember, you’re not the odd one out.
First things first, the reason you may feel awkward about talking to your boss about HS is that you are worried about standing out. You may be worried that they will think you’re weak or not up to the job. But the truth is your situation is not unusual.
For example, in Ireland, 1 in 7 people has a disability. And the most common form of disability is called ‘other disability’ which includes chronic illness. According to the last census (2016), 6.5% of people in the workplace have a disability.
This means your boss has probably heard it all before. And with a small amount of openness from you and some documentation, you and your job should be safe. Different countries have different employment laws so make sure to talk to your local citizens information organisation for more tailored information.
Get a Doctor’s Note
It can help educate your boss. You may not feel comfortable explaining HS to your boss. That’s okay. Contact your doctor, and they can write a letter explaining your condition. They are best placed to explain your situation and its impact to your employer.
If you need to make special arrangements for your work like flexible hours, your doctor can also help you. Employers should be accommodating to employees with a chronic illness or disability. But they may require documentation to approve any assistance.
We all know it can be hard to bring this up to your boss. Which is why a good relationship with your doctor is also essential.
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Taking Time Off
Once your boss is aware of your condition, they should be aware that from time to time, you may be too ill to work. This could be a day you are in too much pain to go into the office. Or it could be for post-surgery recovery. Or maybe you might need to work from home for a while.
Clearly explain to them the impact your illness has on you and when you are likely to back to work. If you lose your job as a result of illness, you may be experiencing discrimination. There are plenty of support services you can access if that’s the case.
You are under no obligation to discuss your HS with anyone. However, your boss is a need-to-know person. Keep an open line of communication with your employer so they can help when you need time off.
Sharing information with co-workers
Your co-workers may or may not be need-to-know people. If you work as part of a team, they may need to know if you are working flexibly or taking time off. You may decide to explain all there is to HS. Or just give the basic details. How much information you share is up to you.
Keep in mind that you never know what others are going through. You might find that a co-worker is going through something similar. Peer support is vital in all areas of life. Confiding in co-worker may mean they confide in you. And you can help each other.
Educate them on what HS is
If you decide to explain HS to your colleagues, be prepared for questions. HS is not well known. But there are plenty of myths to go around. One such myth is that HS is contagious. Of course, we know it’s not. We also know it has nothing to do with poor hygiene. But your colleague may not.
If you are having difficulty explaining what HS is and its effects, refer your co-workers, to online information sources. The HidraWear blog is one such source. Allow your co-workers time to read the information and ask any respectful questions they have.
While HS is nothing to be embarrassed about, discussing your health with others can be uncomfortable. That’s normal. But it should never stop you from living your life. Work is an integral part of life.
Remember, you have rights in the workplace. And you can decide who knows what about your condition. Also, letting in your need-to-know people opens new avenues of support. And you are worthy of support.
About the Author
Shannon Sweeney is MA student in Community Research & Journalism from Ireland. She is also living with HS and has a keen interest in lifestyle, wellbeing and hidradenitis suppurativa.