The Dirty Truth About Workplace Discrimination

Even when you love your job, there are occasional days when nothing sounds better than a long vacation. But when you’re living with multiple sclerosis, workplace complications can take on a more serious tone. Multiple sclerosis most often strikes young adults in the prime of their careers, and though some sufferers decide to leave the workforce, financial need or personal satisfaction keeps many other MS patients working long past their initial diagnosis.

Unfortunately, the ugly head of discrimination can rear its head when disability enters the workplace. Although the United Nations ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008—an international human rights treaty that protects people with physical or emotional disabilities from discrimination in any aspect of daily life—and the Convention has been ratified by 158 nations around the globe, MS sufferers still frequently encounter ignorance, anger or impatience when it comes to their rights in the workplace.

Just ask Randall Hurst, hired to work at a car dealership in Texas, with the promise of partnership ahead. But once Hurst was diagnosed with MS, and informed his managers of the condition, instead of partnership, Hurst was subjected to harassment and insults until he finally resigned. He won his lawsuit, but some MS patients are too discouraged to pursue legal action even after blatant discrimination.

What Does Discrimination Look Like?

In some instances, such as the Hurst case where supervisors were open with insults and harassment, discrimination is obvious. In other cases, however, it might be more difficult to tell if you are facing unfair discrimination, or simply weathering the same workplace tribulations everyone experiences. With most members of the United Nations adopting the U.N. disability convention, or passing similar protective laws of their own, it’s easier to discern between true discrimination and a workplace that is merely unpleasant. Generally, a workplace may not:

• Refuse to hire you simply because of your multiple sclerosis
• Refuse to make reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job successfully
• Allow coworkers or management to create a hostile environment
• Pass you over for promotions or opportunities merely because of your multiple sclerosis
• Terminate your employment just because you are disabled

What About Workplace Accommodations?

If your MS symptoms are mild, you might not need much in the way of workplace accommodations. But on days when symptoms flare up, or if your MS has progressed to where you feel affected most of the time, there are simple solutions to help you remain productive. Most countries require employers to take reasonable steps in making the workplace disability-friendly. In one lawsuit, Joan Briel won against her employer when they refused to move her desk to a lower floor, along with other harassment. Don’t be afraid to sit down with your boss or the human resources department to work out accommodations that benefit both you and your employers.

What If You Experience Workplace Discrimination?

It is an unfortunate reality that people living with MS sometimes experience workplace discrimination. If you feel that your condition has made you a target, first speak to your boss privately. If discrimination continues, you may need to speak with human resources or upper management at your workplace. You may choose to work with an attorney or legal professional familiar with the workplace and disability laws in your state or country if you feel your boss is unwilling to assist you, your health is being affected by the situation or you are unfairly fired. Local multiple sclerosis groups are a good source of information on your various options in battling workplace discrimination.

Living with multiple sclerosis can be a challenge. Your job shouldn’t add to that challenge. Work with your boss and coworkers to create an accommodating atmosphere, but remember that ultimately, most countries have laws to protect you from discrimination due to illness or disability.

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