First, you will need to assess if you can continue to work as you did prior to your illness. If not, you can…
- Ask your employer for some changes to accommodate your TN
- Take a short-term leave (either through a work leave policy, the Family Medical-Leave Act (FMLA), or both) for treatment, surgery, or until your condition stabilize
- Stop working altogether and apply for disability (either from a work policy or Social Security Disability)
Each of these options will be discussed in turn, with links provided for more detail.
Although you have no legal obligation to disclose your pain and medical condition to an employer, it may be in your best interest to disclose it and seek protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the ADA, a disability is defined as “…a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Major life activities include seeing, hearing, walking, talking, eating, sleeping, etc. In order to be a qualified individual with a disability, you have to; 1) be disabled or 2) be unable to perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation. The essential functions of the job are typically listed on the formal job description and are considered the tasks that you regularly are required to do in your position.
Generally, an employer is covered under the ADA if there are 15 or more employees. The ADA prohibits many types of discrimination by the employer, we will focus on reasonable accommodations for those patients who are able to continue working. According to the Department of Justice, a reasonable accommodation is “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to… perform essential job functions.” Reasonable accommodations also include adjustments to make sure that a disabled worker has the “rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.” Before requesting reasonable accommodations, you should consider some of the following questions.
- What limitations do you experience as a result of your TN?
- How do these limitations affect you and your job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
Using the answers to the questions above, you can brainstorm some accommodations that may help reduce or eliminate these problems. For example, you may ask your employer to modify the temperature at your workplace, allow you to use a fan/air-conditioner or heater at your workstation, allow you to have a flexible schedule or flexible use of leave time, allow you to telecommute on certain days or if certain conditions arise, reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress, schedule periodic rest breaks away from the workstation, allow a self-paced workload, allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for support, allow longer breaks, or provide access to a refrigerator or microwave for cold packs, heat packs, medicine, or food. These are just some examples and you should decide what changes to your job most benefit you, while not creating an unreasonable burden on your employer.
If you decide to seek workplace accommodations, you should submit a written letter to your employer, from your doctor, stating what accommodations are needed and why. Your employer can respond by either granting your accommodation, or by saying they cannot grant the accommodations you requested, but will discuss with you what other comparable accommodations they could provide. Employers are not allowed to flatly deny any type of accommodations.
Short Term Leave
During the course of your employment, you may need to take time off, either for doctor appointments, surgeries and recuperation, or time needed to get your condition stabilized. Typically there are two ways to keep your job while taking time off beyond the basic “sick days” provided by your employer.
- Work Leave: Your employer may have a short-term leave policy that you can utilize. You should contact your HR department directly to discuss this and determine what leave is available to you.
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA requires covered employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. If applicable, FMLA would cover personal or family illness (meaning that your caregiver may be able to take advantage of this Act as well). The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to the serious health condition of the employee, parent, spouse or child. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. Notably, some states have enacted additional state-level benefits for workers, so you should check if your state is in this group. The FMLA covers both public and private sector employees, with some exceptions.
It’s important to know that you don’t have to take FMLA leave all at once or in a continuous manner. People with chronic conditions can take FMLA as they need it: one day at a time, or even a few hours in day. This is called “intermittent leave,” and may be especially helpful to people with TN flares.
You will need to speak with your HR contact and ask for your employer’s FMLA Certification Form, which your doctor will have to complete. You should be eligible to take FMLA leave soon after you turn in the completed Certification Form. Speak with your HR department, which should help you get the proper paperwork filed and coordinate with your immediate supervisor or manager.
- FAQs: http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm
- FMLA Employer Perspective: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.pdf
- Employee Protections: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28a.pdf
- Military Caregivers and Flight Crews: http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/2013rule/militaryFactsheets.html
Applying for Disability
If you determine that your TN prevents you from working, it may be appropriate to apply for long-term disability through your employer or for disability through the Social Security Administration(SSA).
- Work Policy: Some employers provide long-term disability benefits for employees. If you have access to a long-term disability plan, you can work with your HR department to apply for these benefits. It is important to discuss this with your doctor(s) to ensure your application for benefits is as complete as possible.
- Social Security: You may also want to apply for disability benefits through the SSA.
- Social Security – DEFINITION OF DISABILITY: http://www.ssa.gov/dibplan/dqualify4.htm
- How Neurological Disorders Are Evaluated: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/Documents/SSA-2006-0140-24741.pdf
- Benefits for People With Disabilities: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/