I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) in April 2016. By that time, I had been working for the same company for almost two years but had had several sicknesses due to my (at the time undiagnosed) UC. I was working in a retail environment as part of a small team of around five or so people so I was in direct contact with the general public and worked closely with my direct manager. She was understanding when I was suffering with symptoms but she didn’t really understand. By now, I had a high level of sickness and my HR had flagged it and had told my manager to put me on a sickness plan for the next six months. She told me she wouldn’t have done so if HR hadn’t flagged it but she had no choice in the matter. This lasted about a month.
After several tests (including blood and stool), I finally had a colonoscopy which showed signs of mild Ulcerative Colitis. I immediately took this diagnosis to my manager who sent it to my HR who decided there wasn’t much point in a sickness plan now that I had a chronic diagnosis.
From there, I endeavoured to learn as much about my disease as possible. In meantime, my manager had been offered a role in a different location (but still within the company) and we were to get a new manager from with the company. I met this new manager when she came to see the store and talk to my previous manager about the team. My manager told the new one about me and my condition and as I walked with her to the train station (we both lived outside the city), she asked me about it. I explained briefly what my symptoms were and what the disease was and she said something along the lines of “that’s like what I’ve got”. I couldn’t help but think “yeah, sure”. As it turned out, she did in fact have undiagnosed UC. Not as severe as mine but it meant she completely understood. She got her diagnosis about a year later, after I had given her loads of information about UC and what reasonable adjustments could be made should I require them (I didn’t, thankfully). Because she understood, it made things a lot easier for me if I was flaring (which I was doing a lot) so I was glad I had told her about it and that we could talk so openly about it.
The question is though, do you have to tell your employer/s of you condition?
Well, no, of course you don’t have to. I only did because it got HR off my back. I didn’t really have a say in my new manager finding out but I’m glad she did because it made it so much easier if I needed a day off or if I was running later or needed to run to the bathroom midsentence (all of which happened a lot). It also meant that when I had emergency surgery, she was 100% supportive of me. She fought my corner and we got on really well. I could talk to her about it and she knew she could come to me if she needed to as well.
If you choose to tell your employer, make sure they have all the information they need to help and support you. If they require more, link them to association websites or get your specialist to write a letter. If you choose to keep your condition to yourself, that’s fine too. Just make sure that if you are sick and need time off because of your condition, that you tell you HR.
As for telling colleagues, only do this if you feel comfortable doing so. And if you have told your supervisor/manager but don’t want your colleagues to know, tell you manager so.
My colleagues all know about my condition; it was a bit hard to hide it when I was spending half my time at work in the bathroom. I also didn’t hide what surgery I had had. When we had two new people start, I wasn’t going to tell them unless it came up in conversation. One of them used to work in health care and so it ultimately did come up so she found out pretty early. The second newbie only found out because I talking to him and another colleague and it came up in conversation. I just briefly explained I had a stoma bag due to IBD and that was all the explanation he got. His reaction was pretty much “oh, ok”.
Now, that’s my old job. I will be starting a new job with a completely different company but within the same industry. Their recruitment if pretty thorough so my condition of course came up. I had several conversations with HR and my new supervisor about reasonable adjustments and so on so the people who need to know, know. As for my new colleagues, I won’t be starting any conversations with “hi, I have UC. What’s your name?” but I won’t hide it if it comes up in conversation. Of course, I won’t go into details (because, honestly, who wants to know about another’s bowel movements?) but I won’t miss the opportunity to educate someone on IBD.
What about you? Have you told your employer? Are you open or more reserved about your chronic illness? Would you want people to know about it or not? Let me know.