Chronic illness can shake your world. One moment you’re perfectly healthy, enjoying life. Then, the next moment, you’re seriously ill and struggling to do the simplest tasks. Activities that used to come easily now require careful thought and planning. Life activities you once took for granted, such as breathing, eating, or walking, are now difficult.
You once worried about work-life balance, but now your primary concern is making it from one day to the next without experiencing a serious health crisis. Laws like the ADA and FMLA are designed to protect employees from being fired due to disability or medical reasons, but the reality is that it can still be a challenge to maintain employment and still take good care of yourself. Yet many chronically ill workers who are facing serious health issues need to keep working due to the financial burden that comes along with their massive medical bills and the need for health insurance.
Check out these 7 tips on how not to get fired when you have a chronic illness.
- Be honest with your boss
You don’t have to tell your supervisor about your illness if you don’t want to. However, if your illness is beginning to affect your work, you’ll need to speak up at some point. If your work quality or production level starts to slide, the last thing you want is for your boss to think you’re being lazy or you don’t care about your work.
- Ask for accommodations
Is your work schedule wearing you down? If the way you’re working right now seems to be negatively impacting your health, it’s time to make a change. Ask your supervisor if he or she could make adjustments that would help keep you healthy and get your work done. If you work in an office, perhaps you could request to work from home a few days a week. If doctor’s appointments have become difficult to schedule because of strict office hours, ask whether you could change your work schedule, so you can get all your appointments in.
- Know your rights
Although many employers would do their best to accommodate a chronically ill employee, you could run into resistance. Some bosses will not be eager to assist you, especially if you don’t look visibly ill. If you’ve been denied an accommodation that is necessary to do your job, speak with your human resources manager. Tell him or her about your situation and why you need the accommodation. Some illnesses are considered disabilities, so it might be your legal right to receive the adjustment. If you’re unsure, consult with an employment lawyer.
- Beware office bullies
Just about every office has at least one bully. When you have a chronic illness and receive accommodations, you could become a target. Some co-workers might get jealous and feel like you’re unfairly receiving special treatment. If they are not aware of your health status, their jealousy and resentment could put you at risk for bullying. This type of situation can occur when a chronically ill worker doesn’t look visibly ill or disabled. Receiving a modified work arrangement for an “invisible” disability or illness, such as asthma, could make others in the workplace become resentful or think you’re exaggerating your illness.
Consequently, others might complain about you to your boss and pick on you for minor work issues. Be on guard for this behavior, and document everything that goes on.
- Take care of yourself
You won’t perform at your best level if you don’t take good care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and follow your doctor’s orders. Also keep track of how you’re feeling from day to day, and make sure to keep in regular contact with your health team. Don’t ignore any nagging symptoms in favor of getting a work assignment done. As soon as you start to feel sick, address the issue, and get the treatment you need. Delaying care could cause complications at work. Waiting to see a doctor could mean more days out of work and a longer recovery time.
- Check in regularly
Don’t assume everything is OK because your boss has been quiet. He or she could be waiting to talk until review time. Instead of waiting, your best bet is to have a regular check-in meeting to make sure you’re still performing well. Ask your boss whether your work is satisfactory and whether there is anything you need to do to improve. This way, you won’t run into surprises that could have been avoided had you checked in earlier.
- Get support
Managing — or more accurately, battling — a chronic illness is physically and mentally taxing. It will be very important that you have someone to talk to regularly. A mental health professional can help you work through all of the ups and downs that come along with balancing sickness and a demanding work load. Also, keep close friends and family in the loop. You’ll need as much support as you can get. Having a trusted support circle will reduce the chances of you having a meltdown at work when things get tough. It’s OK to be sad or angry about what is happening to you, but dealing with those emotions in healthy ways is key.
Without a doubt, it can be a monumental task to find the energy to sustain a full-time job while you deal with a chronic illness. One of the greatest is to pay attention to the signals our bodies give us to slow down and rest. With some trial and error, hopefully these tips can provide some new tools to support you in your health and work life.