Disclosing Parkinson’s to Employers

When working with Parkinson’s, you will likely face the issue of whether or not to disclose your diagnosis. This personal decision depends on your circumstances. If workplace safety is an issue or if you need your employer to change some aspect of your job to enable you to perform your job tasks, you may decide to disclose immediately. Otherwise, you may wait. In making your decision, consider what impact disclosure will have on your immediate and long-term goals. Whatever you decide, you should be as comfortable as you can with your decision.

Reasons to disclose:

  • for peace of mind
  • as a precaution
  • to ask for job accommodation to meet your special needs
  • to demonstrate that Parkinson’s does not interfere with your ability to do your job

Reasons not to disclose:

  • fear of discrimination or stigma
  • concern that your employer will focus on Parkinson’s rather than your work performance
  • you do not need special accommodation to continue to do your job
  • to maintain your privacy

Your Rights
You are not legally required to mention your diagnosis to your employer as long as you can adequately perform your work.

Accommodation
If you need workplace accommodation (changes that will enable you to do your job), you will have to disclose to your employer that you have a disability and describe your limitations in carrying out your job. The best time for disclosure is before a crisis occurs, preferably when you are not under stress.

Your employer may ask for a letter from your doctor confirming your need for accommodation and requesting information about suitable accommodation. Your doctor should provide only the medical information your employer needs to know to help you get workplace accommodation.

As long as your employer is aware of your disability or diagnosis and understands what you need to be accommodated, your employer is obligated by law to accommodate you.

Who to tell
If you are requesting job accommodation you will have to tell your employer. In that context, you have a right to discuss with your employer how much information about your disability, if any, is to be shared with co-workers.

Otherwise, you decide who you want to tell. You may prefer that few people in your workplace know or that everyone you work with is aware. Keep in mind that others may be noticing your symptoms and drawing the wrong conclusions. Disclosure can be a way of taking back control.

What to tell
Determine how much information you are comfortable with disclosing, whether that is the actual diagnosis or just the symptoms that are visible or affect your work.

Telling your employer:
• Have a plan. Anticipate concerns your employer may have and be prepared to address them.
• Say why you have decided to disclose your disability or diagnosis.
• Stay positive. Focus on your skills and qualifications not your limitations.
• If you request job accommodation, mention only the symptoms that interfere with your work.
• Identify and explain any workplace accommodations you may need.
• Discuss options such as adaptive equipment/technology or flexible work hours.
• If necessary, seek legal advice to understand better your rights and obligations.

Read Employment Issues for more information and strategies for working with Parkinson’s.

* Adapted from information produced by Parkinson Society British Columbia in collaboration with the law firm of Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP (PDF)

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