What do you tell your boss?
Deciding when to tell your employer and colleagues (known as disclosure) is a very personal decision and one that only you should make. You may need some time to adjust to your diagnosis before you tell anyone at work, or you may feel more comfortable telling them sooner rather than later. There is no right or wrong time; it is up to you to decide what is right for you, but what is important, is to plan what you want to say.
You may want to think about the following factors if you are considering when to tell your employer:
the relationship you have with them – if it’s a good relationship you may feel comfortable telling them early on
the nature, extent and progression of your symptoms. For example fatigue, poor handwriting, tremor, or difficulty with gait or balance may make it hard to perform some of your roles
the nature of your job and your ability to continue it safely. If your Parkinson’s is a risk to the health and safety of you or another employee you should tell your employer
the stage of your career and your financial commitments and family responsibilities
the importance to you psychologically of working. If work brings self-esteem and fulfilment you may be more reluctant to stop.
If your symptoms are not really noticeable you may choose to postpone telling anyone at work, but if you have to cover them up you may find this stressful and stress can make some Parkinson’s symptoms worse. However well you think you are hiding symptoms, they may still be noticed and others may draw the wrong conclusions if you do not explain.
You may understandably feel apprehensive about telling people for fear of a negative response or perhaps loss of entitlements, promotion opportunities, or your job. But it can be helpful to tell your employer and colleagues early on as their support can make continuing to work much easier. They may also be able to make adjustments for you.
If you decide to say something, then plan in advance what information you want to share – you need give only as much detail as you want to. By planning ahead, you will stay in control of what you share or withhold for now. It is also a good idea to think about what the likely reaction from colleagues will be and how to answer the obvious questions they might ask. If you tell your manager but you prefer not to tell colleagues personally, ask your manager if they would share information on your behalf.
When you tell your employer you have Parkinsons, you may be referred to a doctor or an occupational therapist who specialises in working with organisations to assist those employees who have long term health issues. They will assess how your condition impacts on your ability to carry out your job and will recommend adaptations to the organisation to make your role easier.
You may also find that your colleagues ask you questions about your condition - if you can give them information, or a website, such as this one, they will be able to understand your condition further and be able to support you at work.
The Equality Act 2010 (which incorporates the previous Disability Discrimination Act 1995) works to protect people who have a disability against discrimination - this includes discrimination in the workplace.
The definition of a disability in the UK is 'a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities'
In Northern Ireland, the Equality Act 2010 doesn't apply, but the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is still in force.
If you fall within the definition of a person with a disability, then you are protected from receiving unfair treatment on the grounds of your disability - the law is there to ensure that you can continue at work and organisations will be obliged by law to make reasonable adjustments for you. It is important that you speak freely with any doctor or occupational therapist so they can fully understand your job and your condition so that they may make recommendations.
If you feel that you are being discriminated against, then you should seek advice from an employment lawyer, or Citizens Advice.