Can I Still Continue Working?

Can I Still Continue Working with Parkinson's?

If I am diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), can I continue working? The short answer is, absolutely! Although PD is a chronic, progressive neurological illness that can be debilitating, with some accommodations and changes, you can continue to work. In fact, it is usually more cost effective than going through the process of replacing you and getting your replacement up to your speed and skill level. However, this advice does not apply to every occupation equally. Each situation and job specialty is different. For example, if safety is a concern and is contingent on certain physical or possibly mental sharpness, say in the case of first responders such as law enforcement or firefighting. Every job requires a set of responsibilities which the employee is expected to meet. With that being said, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), provides for employers to reasonably accommodate the special needs required by disabled employees to perform their job.

Employer responsibilities

  • Providing the employee a chair or stool if he or she cannot stand for long periods of time.
  • It may also include providing an assistant or assistive device to help the employee to continue to meet the responsibilities of that specific job.
  • Another accommodation may mean that an employer reassign you to a different task, job or department.
  • Extended time off for medical appointments.
  • Frequent breaks for special circumstances relating to your disability.

The point I am trying to make here is although the ADA is specific on the rights of disabled Americans, it leaves, in my opinion, a lot of wiggle room for employers to reasonably accommodate someone diagnosed with a disability such as PD. This is because the burden of responsibility falls on the employer to do the right thing. It saddens me to say but most employers are concerned with maintaining productivity and strengthening their bottom line and in my opinion, view PD and any chronic illness for that matter as a threat. This isn’t a smear on corporate America. I feel most companies and small businesses try to comply with ADA when tragedy strikes any of their employees but profits are hard to ignore when you are no longer a productive member to that team. This can lead to an employee’s deception and hiding a condition like PD. It is probably just human nature that desires to continue working especially at something you love and are very talented.

When should I tell my employer that I’ve been diagnosed with PD?

Disclosing important health information about PD is difficult to say because there are so many different types of jobs and responsibilities. Questions about your safety and that of your fellow coworkers and the public must be answered:

  • Can I continue to perform at a level of expectation consistent with my job?
  • How much time off do I take for medical reasons?
  • What kind of relationship do you have with your employer?
  • What type of business are you engaged in will determine the fate of the business (Sole Proprietorship/Partnership/Corporation).

The right time to inform your employer has so many variables it is impossible to cover in one article but when the time is right, I will say this, you will know. There is also the fear factor of getting terminated by such disclosure. Another natural human response is to stress and as we all know, stress can exacerbate PD symptoms as science has shown. As an example, I used to shake violently whenever stress would build to the point that I couldn’t control it any longer. It was like a pot boiling over on the stove. For me, that was an epiphany. A moment of clarity when I could declare and provide an explanation of why I moved uncontrollably against my wishes as my workload and stress of meeting deadlines and achieving quotas increased. I remember sitting down with my boss and having the discussion about being diagnosed with PD. He was very understanding and said, “I will do as much as possible to accommodate you as long as your productivity does not suffer." For me, that meant longer lunches, more days off for neurology appointments. Extended breaks for some quiet time and in the sales industry, where quotas are an industry norm. That worked for a while but as my PD progressed downward, my productivity eventually followed.

I can’t tell you when it is the right time to disclose to your boss that you have Parkinson’s. You must look at a lot of different factors including your present financial situation. Help and assistance can be provided by discussing the matter with a licensed social worker or an attorney that specializes in social security. To answer the original question: Can I still continue working even with PD? Absolutely you can!

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