Telling your boss or a potential employer about your chronic pain condition can be slippery slope.
If you disclose it, you may wind up dealing with judgments and misguided attitudes from supervisors and coworkers about the extent of your chronic pain. On the other hand, if you don’t disclose it, you may miss out on accommodations you need and are entitled to.
There is always going to be risk when you disclose. And it is hard to know whether an employer will be accommodating or treat you unfairly.
You do have rights as an employee and a person living with chronic pain. You should know what they are before you decide whether to disclose.
You Do Not Have to Be Visibly Disabled
Many people who live with chronic pain don’t consider themselves “disabled.” Even so, they may still qualify for accommodations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA defines a person with disability as someone who has “a physical or mental impairment” that significantly alters one or more major life activities. You may have trouble sitting, standing or walking, for example. The key is whether the limitation is substantial
It is important to note the ADA’s definition is a legal one, not medical. And because it is a legal definition, the meaning of disability is different than it would be under other laws. The ADA doesn’t list all the covered conditions, which gives some flexibility to people living with non-specific chronic pain; which is pain that lasts longer than three months, but has no specific medical cause.
For example, you could have joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis, while someone else’s back pain may not be related to a specific event or health condition. It doesn’t make the other person’s pain any less valid than yours or diminish their need for job accommodations. Back pain would still be considered an impairment.
You Do Not Have to Disclose When Job Hunting
The ADA does not require you to disclose your medical conditions when interviewing and applying for jobs. However, the employer is allowed to ask questions about whether there is anything that could prevent you from doing the job required.
They may inquire about medical conditions and request a medical exam, but only if they are doing this with all their new hires and being in good physical health is a requirement to perform the job.
You Do Not Have Disclose When You Start a New Job
If you didn’t disclose your condition while interviewing or when you started the job, you can still ask for accommodations later. You have the right to ask when the need arises.
If you request an accommodation, an employer is allowed to ask for a reasonable corroboration of your need for one, such as a doctor’s letter. You can disclose what you…