Legal Issues: Return to Work
Contemplating a return to work when you have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can be frightening. Whether you are faced with this decision because of an improvement in health or
because of financial necessity, there are many issues to consider.
Fortunately, there are resources to help CFS patients who are considering a transition back into the workplace.
Because of the relapsing-remitting nature of CFS, many patients fear a return to work will result in worsening health, in spite of steady improvement they were making while unemployed or on medical leave. Discuss the situation with your health care provider and ask for his or her help in making this decision.
Consider starting slowly with part-time, flex-time or home-based employment. Many companies have found telecommuting an acceptable solution to labor shortages or facility overcrowding and technology
has made this option possible.
If you are receiving Social Security benefits, consider utilizing the Social Security Administration's (SSA) work incentives programs to test the waters before taking on a full-time job.
Change expectations of yourself. It is only natural to want your old life back. While it may be tempting to "dive in" to once-familiar work patterns, adjustments will likely be necessary. Although you
may have worked long hours before you got sick, this may not be possible now. It may be necessary to return to a different kind of position than you left. Having less demanding responsibilities may make it possible to work, while maintaining a reasonable level of health. And remember that stress exacerbates any illness, including CFS. Coping strategies that teach you to live within your limits and avoid undue stress may ease the transition and help you avoid relapse.
Disclosing your Disability
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you are not required to mention your
medical history in a job interview and potential employers are not permitted to ask about your disability unless you voluntarily disclose information.
Deciding whether to disclose your CFS early in the interview process is a personal decision that you should make prior to beginning the job-seeking process. Once a job offer is made, however, you are
required to inform the employer about your medical history.
During the interview process you should carefully evaluate the job's requirements and determine whether you would be able to satisfy them. While the ADA protects against discrimination in employment, it does not protect those who can't fulfill the basic requirements of the position. It would be unwise to accept a job knowing that you can't fulfill its duties.
SSA offers programs and information to help people return to work, while helping maintain a safety net in case their work attempt fails. Contact SSAís Office of Disability or your local SSA office for further details.
The Associationís Workplace Issues page provides more information about job accommodations and legal considerations.