Should you disclose medical issues to your boss?

by Emily Jasper on November 9, 2009

When I was home visiting with my parents I heard about two pretty sad updates with family friends. One is a gentleman from their church, who I’ve met and really like, who has the same terminal brain cancer that killed Ted Kennedy. In fact, this friend went into the hospital for surgery and was in the ICU while I was visiting. The other story was of another family friend who had to suddenly retire from his job as an executive at a global Fortune 500 because his cancer was forcing him to be put on a feeding tube.

I’ve worked at a company where we had to deal with HIPPA regulations, so I understand how people are afraid of discrimination when they reveal an illness or condition. But the two men above both have incredibly aggressive forms of cancer. They’re kind of hard to hide.

So what do you do?

I wrestle with this myself because I go through cycles with doctors. On August 13, 2006 I was hit on the back corner of my Civic by a Dodge Caravan. The other driver had tried to merge into a lane with a motorcycle in his blind spot and overcorrected. The air was dry, the sky was clear, and it was a Sunday. There was very little traffic on the freeway. Yet I was hit by a vehicle probably going at least 65mph.

I spun out three times and stopped with the driver’s side facing the oncoming traffic. A second car barely stopped a couple feet from me. I was told I’m lucky to be alive.

Since then I’ve been visiting doctors pretty regularly for my back. The spin out wrenched my upper back to the point that it will probably always need to be seen. I’m also susceptible to psychosomatic pain, especially during stressful driving, such as in heavy rain or snow.

For the most part, I can manage things. However, there will be times when I have to see my doctor two or three times a week to get straightened out, to have the pain worked out. I don’t want to take medications because I can’t function.

I have been lucky, because I have bosses who understand. I had actually been working with the team in DC when I had the accident, so they already knew. In MN, I share upfront that there may be times when I have visits on my calendar or may have to work from home to be more comfortable. Everyone is understanding.

Some aren’t as comfortable sharing as I am. Some have more severe conditions to deal with. But what happens to our body and mind affects our work. So I know I have to work on the balance.

Should you disclose medical issues to your boss? How will that affect your work? How will that affect your team? Are there other alternatives?

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Photo from Clipart.