How Do I Keep My Job Secure While Managing a Chronic Illness?

May 11, 2019

Anonymous asks, quote:

I recently got a part time job at an office, but due to my fibromyalgia, I’ve had to miss some days (maybe a day a week, if not leave early) due to flares or illness. I’m concerned about losing my job and, as of now, I don’t qualify for FMLA. How can I keep my job secure?

end quote.

Step one is and will always be get a diagnosis. This won’t 100% protect you from getting fired, but it will document the fact that you have a legitimate medical need that can’t be the sole reason for firing you.

Next, I would reach out to HR and make sure that they are aware of said documentation and how it might affect your duties. I would also touch base with your supervisor to discuss any accommodations or modifications to your duties that would allow you to continue to work but not irritate your symptoms. For example, if your joints are bothering you, maybe you can spend that day making phone calls instead of doing data entry.

Next comes the hard (and less straight‐forward) part: do whatever you possibly can to mitigate, control, and overcome the symptoms of your condition. It isn’t fair, it isn’t just, but it is the one thing you can do to directly help your situation.

The first thing you want to do is make sure that you are taking your medications, getting enough sleep, and keeping a consistent routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Eat a balanced breakfast. Plan what you’re going to wear to work before going to bed. Make a meal plan for your week and cook everything ahead of time.

Next, breakdown the tasks you do at work into categories: time‐sensitive, repetitive, cognitive, and physically demanding.

The time‐sensitive tasks are the ones that you will fail if they are not completed by a specific time (“the end of the day” is not a specific time). These are the tasks that you want to save up your energy for, so it’s important that you manage the other categories well.

Repetitive tasks aren’t necessarily tasks you have to do over and over or each day. Repetitive tasks are the tasks that require the same set of steps or physical motions in order to complete them. This could be typing in a bunch of numbers during data entry or it could be loading box after box of documents into a shredder.

Cognitive tasks are the tasks that require you to do a lot of calculations, use social skills (e.g., phone calls), or otherwise require you to focus for long periods of time.

Physically demanding tasks are the kinds of tasks that require you to move a lot or use a lot of upper or lower body strength. For example, moving heavy boxes of documents to the shredder.

When you get to work each day, break down the tasks you have to do into these categories and then decide which category to tackle first. Don’t try and tackle an entire category at one time: that will just burn you out. Instead, move between categories based on how you are feeling and try and postpone any activities that would make your current condition worse. For example, if you’re having trouble concentrating, spend some time mindlessly dumping shred boxes into the shredder. If your hands are bothering you, take an opportunity to make some phone calls.

Granted, none of these suggestions are a perfect solution. And I can imagine a lot of people reading this and rolling their eyes at the idea of being asked to “overcome” the symptoms of their condition. But the truth is that most states (in America) allow a company to fire you for literally any reason that isn’t protected under law. Your medical condition will fall under those protections (hence the need for documentation), but most places can fire you for any other reason. Sure, there are legal options you can use if they fire you unjustly, but that assumes that you have the energy and resources to find a lawyer, file a suit, etc.,

Your best bet is going to be to not let your condition get in the way of doing your job. Again, I know it’s not fair and it’s not how things should be, but it is how things are. Like I said, there are legal options, but many of those are after‐the‐fact and won’t help you keep your job.