Employment and MS

For many of us, our careers define a large part of our identities. Conversely, an MS diagnosis can put a wrench in how we view and think of ourselves in the workforce.

As an unpredictable disease, MS can have varying effects on a person’s ability to work—whether an individual can continue to do the same kind of work, or even work at all. Most people are diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50—their prime career years. At this age, many people have already completed their advanced training and education, and they’ve been working and moving up the career ladder.

Just like the symptoms of MS are unique to each person, the effects of MS on employment are varied. Some individuals continue to work with little to no adjustments, some work with accommodations/adaptations, and some choose to leave the workforce. It’s important to think ahead and to utilize resources to make the best possible decision when it comes to MS and employment.

Proactively think about relationship between MS and employment
It’s never too soon to think about the impact MS can have on employment, and vice versa. Often, people with MS don’t reach out for information and support until they face an employment crisis. Plan ahead as much as possible and learn about key employment issues including:
  • Legal protections in the workplace, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Issues surrounding disclosure, such as when is it necessary, to whom, what to say, and potential advantages and disadvantages of that decision
  • Understanding accommodations: Many symptoms can be managed, but the responsibility to ask for what is needed is up to the employee
  • Tap into available resources, whether it is to gain or to maintain employment
Maintaining employment is possible
Many people living with MS want to work and continue to work despite their symptoms, which can often be managed on the job with accommodations. This includes computer and other forms of assistive technology, proper ergonomic workstation set-up, arrangement of workspace by task frequency and priority, flexible work schedule such as telecommuting or altered hours, elimination of distractions and clutter that might impair attention, and other cognitive functioning. The type of accommodations may change over time as symptoms change, when a person experiences an exacerbation or when the job situation changes. Variability of symptoms may require accommodations to change. There are many resources available—use them and share them: You can also connect with National MS Society resources to help you plan how best to manage the potential impact MS may have on employment: Living with MS does not mean an end to your career. With due diligence, you can continue to have a fulfilling career and adjust to your needs.

Tell us: has MS had an impact on your employment? How?
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Steve Nissen

Steve Nissen is currently the Director of MS Navigator Services Delivery at the National MS Society and has been with the organization since 1998. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University, a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University – Medical College of Virginia and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. Steve co-authored “Employment Issues and Multiple Sclerosis,” 2nd edition.

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  • Anthony Musetti   Jan 11, 2018 3:15 PM
    Cause my suffers from Ms I have stay home take care of her from my job
  • M   Jan 11, 2018 5:51 PM
    Companies are asking people if they have M.S. on electronic applications. If you answer the question in the affirmative your application ends.
    Are those companies being sued?
  • Anina Steyn   Jan 12, 2018 3:35 AM
    Good day
    I live in South Africa and were diagnosed in 2014 with sms. I worked as a buyer at a mine but due to income difficulties they experienced I was part of the employees retrenched.
    I am currently seeking employment but my dilemma is that I am not sure if I should divulge my medical condition to the prospective employer.
    I also feel so guilty and afraid that I will not be able to handle the stress related with being a buyer as I started to struggle with my previous job before I were retrenched.
    I guess I require advice on how to handle this
  • Stephen   Jan 12, 2018 3:28 PM
    I work at a place through a temp agency. Last year I had to take off two months at my job but I was able to return once my relapse ended. They work with me but now every time I don’t feel well and miss only 1 day they technically fire me until I provide a return to work form from my doctor. Because I’ve missed work due to my illness I’m ineligible from being hired on full time which gives better benefits, including better insurance that covers MRIs that my insurance through the temp agency does not.
  • Amy   Jan 12, 2018 6:43 PM
    I was fired retro while on fmla and unable to collect my disability benefits through company i paid into for a year due to an optic neuritis flare up. I think ms has definately impacted my employment and my family.
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  • J   Jan 19, 2018 10:22 AM
    I have never seen a company ask about an illness on an application ever! And quite honestly keeping your illness secret can lead to being fired because the owner may not understand what is going on. At my work there is sclero, RA, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, there was grave's disease, is a cancer survivor who is struggling... There is nothing but understanding and a sense of a family, a team. We all pitch in and help extra when someone is down. All companies should foster that amazing family atmosphere. Those that dont should be publically called out so that they have to change.