Should I Tell My Boss I Have Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Weigh the Pros and Cons

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It can be hard to decide whether to tell your boss about your illness. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Question:

I'm really struggling at work since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and my boss has started to take notice of a drop in the quality of my work. I haven't told anyone at work about my illnesses and I'm not sure whether I should. I don't want to be seen as weak or a whiner, but it would be nice to have someone understand why I have bad days and have to call in sick more than most people.

Am I better off telling my boss or keeping it to myself?

Answer:

I understand your dilemma – it's a difficult situation to be in, and in the end we each need to make that decision for ourselves. However, there are a few elements it can be wise to consider.

Let's look at some pros and cons of keeping quiet.

Pros: Keeping Your Illness to Yourself

Sure, laws are in place to protect the sick and disabled, but we all know that discrimination happens and can often be subtle. It's not always easy to prove that, say, it was illness that kept you from being considered for a promotion. Your boss can always say someone else was just more qualified.

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are often misunderstood and stigmatized. That might have you worried that your boss and coworkers will view and treat you differently if they know you have a chronic illness.

Many of us feel that we have an image to live up to at work.

We don't want to be viewed as weak or incompetent, and those are images that some people relate to illness. If you're in a position of authority, you may be concerned that subordinates will lose respect for you.

Keeping news of your condition to yourself means you don't have to worry about the possible personal, social, political, and financial repercussions that can come with being sick.

That's understandably comforting; however, staying mum may lead to as many – or more – problems than informing your employer.

Cons: Keeping Your Illness to Yourself

The laws regarding disability will do you no good if your employer doesn't know you're chronically ill. Once you disclose your condition, you can:

  • Qualify for intermittent sick leave (sporadic sick days) under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA,) which can protect you from being fired for calling in frequently;
  • Request reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) which could enable you to do your job better and/or with less of an impact on your well-being;
  • Have some protection (although not immunity) from being fired due to dips in job performance;
  • Become eligible for a move to a comparable job that's better suited to your abilities, if your employer should decide you're no longer able to perform the basic functions of your current job.

Just because you tell your employer about your illness doesn't mean your co-workers will know.

It's illegal for your boss, human resources manager, or any other higher-ups at the company to disclose your health status to other employees.

What's Right for You?

In the end, you know the specifics of your situation better than anyone else. It's up to you to weigh the options and decide what you're more willing to live with.

Know the laws better could help you make this important decision. Here are some resources for you:

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