Office Etiquette: Should I Disclose My Health Problems at Work?

Dear Classy Career Girl,

I’ve been at my job for a little over a year now. I was in the hospital last year, and I’ve been going through some medical problems ever since. Recently, it’s gotten even worse.

My question is, how do I balance my health with my job? I’m going through a lot of medical tests right now, which include plenty of doctor’s appointments and missed days of work, and I very well may be receiving a chronic prognosis. I am not sure if or how to disclose my health problems to my employer. 

Who do I speak with to let them know of my personal issues, and how much do I tell them? Are there any laws or regulations protecting my job in case I do fall seriously ill? 

Thank you, 

Worried Worker

Should I Disclose My Health Problems to My Job?

Dear Worried Worker,
I am so sorry to hear about your health problems. When I got your email, I immediately wanted to help you, so I reached out to Lisa Rosendahl to provide you with the important information you need right now.
Lisa is an HR Leader with more than 18 years of professional human resources experience.  She was named one of the top 25 digital influencers in 2009 and 2010.  Here is Lisa’s response (Thank you Lisa!):
Being in a new job is challenging in and of itself and adding medical issues to that can be quite stressful. First off, keep two things in mind. You were hired for the job because they wanted you and there’s no balancing health with your job – your health comes first. With that in mind, keeping your employer aware of what’s on the horizon for you will help you both plan for your absences, be it a few hours or a few days, and permit them to support you and reduce the additional stress all around.

[Related Post: How to Get Health Insurance When You’re Self Employed]

Who do I speak with at my work?

The first best place to start is with your immediate supervisor – notifying your supervisor in advance of your planned absences, doing what you can to schedule your absences at less busy or higher coverage times of the day, discussing alternate work arrangements (if available) such as working from home or having the tools to stay connected to the office when you are away. 
The next stop should be Human Resources. Your HR staff can address medical benefits, sick leave, medical absences and your job protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Are there any laws that protect my job?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.
FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:
  • For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
  • For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
  • To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition

How much should I share when I disclose my health problems? 

Your medical conditions are your own so an employer is not entitled to, nor should they ask you for, the details. For FMLA however, you will be required to provide sufficient information for your employer to determine your eligibility for FMLA and that may be certification of a serious health condition by your provider, that you are incapacitated due to pregnancy, have been hospitalized overnight, are unable to perform the functions of the job etc.

You have a lot on your mind right now so look to your friends and family to support you too. You are asking the right questions and I hope that this information was helpful to you. Please let me know you have other questions.”
We hope you are feeling much better soon!
– Classy Career Girl and Lisa Rosendahl

Readers – What do you think?  Should Worried Worker inform her employer about her health problems?


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