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Should You Tell Bosses or Co-Workers if you have Chronic Illness?

By February 21, 2008 - 3:13pm
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Should you share news of a recent diagnosis of a chronic illness with your co-workers and bosses? What are the pros and cons of telling vs. not telling, short-term and long-term?

We'd love to hear your experience if you had to make this decision.

Here's a recent article in the New York Times about this subject:

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I feel tied on this subject. On the one hand, employers have the right to know - if, that is, the illness could limit your performance or the company in general.

On the other hand, there is still a huge stigma against being HIV+, as well as having a mental illness, and an employee may find herself being the target of unfair attitudes by her boss or co-workers.

Many people can live very well with certain chronic conditions as long as they take their medications and live healthy lives.

So I would say that if their condition will affect their work in any way - yes, the employer should know. But otherwise, it's the employee's personal business and should stay private, if the employee wishes is that way.

February 22, 2008 - 2:55pm

As a manager, I've always appreciated people sharing this type of information with me because it puts performance into context, but I certainly understand an employee's hesitation in disclosing information.

In addition to disclosing chronic illnesses to employers, some universities, such as Arizona State University -- are weighing whether students should disclose personal information regarding mental illnesses.


Administrators are saying it may help prevent events like mass shootings on campus.

February 22, 2008 - 11:05am

Unfortunately, in spite of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), I think that most employers would probably find a way to release you of your job rather than find ways to accommodate you. It's strictly business.

I took a chance on someone who told me up front that she had a chronic illness, assuring me that it never affected her job performance. Her references were good; but, there are also restrictions and limitations upon what information you can ask about a prospective employee. I had to terminate her within the first two weeks because she either called in sick or left early too many times.

One of my sisters in law has a chronic illness that her employer was very understanding about for several years. She has reached the point at which she had to quit or be terminated, however, as she has been in hospital too often the past year.

I've kept my chronic illness to myself on the job. It already cost me a good career in a field I loved when I was diagnosed in 1990. Fortunately, since changing careers, I've been able to telecommute or, as a consultant, choose which contracts I want to work on. Only my closest colleagues who have known me for years know about my illness and that I've not allowed it to affect my job performance.

It's such a tough call whether to tell or not. Personally, I wouldn't until, or unless, I needed to.

February 21, 2008 - 6:11pm
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