When to tell your employer that you suffer from a degenerative condition is a difficult one. You don’t want to be treated like a disabled person before you have to, but you don’t want to harm your future application for long-term disability benefits by waiting too long to do so.
In this post, I discuss what you should consider in deciding when to tell your employer about your condition so you can protect your career so long as you are able to work, and put yourself in the best shape possible for a future application for long-term disability benefits.
- If you are in a solid position in your job, and you are an executive or high-level partner, you may not have a lot to worry about. You will likely be given necessary job accommodations and leaves of absence (both of which will be discussed in later posts). One problem, though, is you can lose control over how your condition is affecting your career:
- Your employer may want you to apply for disability sooner than you would like. It could be that the employer notices that your condition has affected your performance more than you realize, or it could be that your supervisor is uncomfortable being around someone with a chronic illness.. Or, it could be that your employer genuinely thinks it would be better for you not to work so you can deal with your condition. Whether it comes from a good place or not, you might be pressed to leave work and apply for long-term disability benefits sooner than you would like.
- If your condition becomes known in the office, others may begin to treat you differently because of your condition. You might not be offered a promotion or additional training because of the assumptions others may make about the anticipated course of your condition. Or, even if people have the best of intentions, they may start treating you like a sick person rather than a colleague, and you might not be ready for that yet. While employers do have obligations not to disclose your health information to those who don’t need to know it, you can expect that the information will leak out to co-workers.
- You may have rights under certain incentive compensation or other employment agreements that might be lost of your job terminates for some reason prior to the employer learning of your disability. This is why it can be important to have an attorney review any employment or incentive compensation agreements such as deferred compensation, option or phantom stock plans prior to informing your employer of your disability.
- If things are bad on the job, it is a more difficult decision. You may think that your employer will just use the existence of the condition as another excuse to make your life more difficult. You can, however, get greater legal protection in your job if you disclose your condition, under certain circumstances:
- If your condition is starting to affect your ability to do your job, you may be able to get accommodations under the Americans with Disability Act that will make it easier for you to do your job, or get medical leave, including intermittent medical leave. You also have potential protections under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. I’ll discuss accommodations and medical leaves in future posts. But, don’t wait until you are terminated or placed on a performance improvement plan to ask for these.
- Asking for accommodation or medical leave, even if the employer doesn’t grant them, gives you protected status under these statutes. Retaliation for requesting benefits under these statutes is illegal. You will at least force the employer to think twice about terminating you or disciplining you if you have requested relief under either of these statutes.
Telling your employer is one of the key tactical decisions in the process of moving from diagnosis to application. Discuss it with a trusted adviser and make the decision deliberately. Consulting with an ERISA long-term disability lawyer who is familiar with Connecticut and federal employment laws can be a big help in navigating the transition from work to disability, and in pursuing any appeals of a long-term disability denial, and is crucial if you want to sue for a denial of long-term disability benefits.