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Working With Chronic Illness: How To Request Accommodations

Learn how to request workplace accommodations when working with chronic illness.
Working With Chronic Illness: How To Request Accommodations

Hannah Olson

Founder and CEO, Chronically Capable

Medically Reviewed by:
Medically Reviewed by:

Over 60 percent of the United States population lives with at least one chronic illness, like Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Seventy percent of chronic diseases are invisible, which means your employer wouldn't know unless you disclosed this information. Would you disclose your illness to your manager or future boss?


If you're reluctant to tell your employer, you're in good company. Most people don't self-identify or disclose having a disability to their employers. In fact, according to the Center for Talent Innovation: Disabilities and Inclusion US Findings, only 3.2 percent of employees self-disclose having an illness or disability to their employer.


I am one of these people.


Five years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and had a PICC line placed in my arm. It was challenging for me to look for a job and know how to disclose my illness. As with most people, I was reluctant to self-identify. I struggled to find an employer who would accommodate my needs. My thought process was that I couldn't be the only person going through this experience. Later, to find out, I wasn't.


Today, businesses are in an interesting spot because they want their current and future employees to disclose their disabilities! There is a good case to be made that sharing this information helps companies economically. According to the Disability Inclusion Advantage Report by Accenture and Disability:IN, companies that foster disability inclusion are proven to have core financial and cultural benefits, including higher revenue, higher retention, and increased productivity. Even if employers don't see the cultural and economic benefits, there are federal incentives to include people with chronic illnesses and disabilities in the workplace, outlined in Section 503 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Employees who disclose disabilities are twice likely to feel regularly content at work as those who have not disclosed to anyone. That said, I want to clarify that you are not required to disclose your illness or disability to an employer. When applying for a job, you are entitled under the ADA to request reasonable accommodations for the application or interview process. You do not have to reveal your disability as a candidate. Even if you need accommodations once hired, it is unnecessary to tell the employer in advance. 


Once hired, you have a right to reasonable accommodations and equal pay. An employer cannot pay you less based on reasonable accommodation or your disability. Your disability or illness should not affect the employers hiring or firing decisions as long as you are qualified to "perform the essential functions and duties of the job," according to the EEOC

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What is reasonable accommodation?


Reasonable accommodation removes workplace barriers to help the job seeker or employee perform the job's essential functions, participate equally in the application process, and enjoy the benefits of employment, equally.


There are several possible reasonable accommodations that an employer can provide, including: 

  • Making existing facilities accessible
  • Job restructuring
  • Modified work schedules
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Changing tests, training materials, or policies
  • Reassignment to a vacant position


Still, some modifications or adjustments do not meet the terms of reasonable accommodation. An employer does not have to eliminate a fundamental duty of the position, nor are they required to lower production standards—though, of course, they can if they wish!


How to request reasonable accommodation 


When preparing to ask for accommodations, here are some tips to guide you in this process:

Keep your requests simple

There is no need to mention the ADA or use the language "reasonable accommodation." You can simply say to your employer something to the effect of, "I need to talk to you about the difficulty I have getting to work on time due to the medication I take."

Put your requests in writing

Although there are no requirements to submit requests in writing per the ADA, some employers have custom paperwork. Ask your employer about any specific paperwork and start there. You can also submit a letter from your healthcare provider or write a letter and attach your medical documentation. 

Talk to Human Resources directly

Many people do not feel comfortable with their workplace supervisors knowing about their medical condition or diagnosis. In this case, we advise disclosing this information to the human resources department instead.


Most importantly, always remember that you are not alone. Over 157 million Americans are living with chronic illnesses. Suppose you're looking for a community of career support. In that case, I encourage you to join us at Chronically Capable, a platform that connects job seekers with chronic illness or disabilities to flexible job opportunities. 

Hannah Olson

Founder and CEO, Chronically Capable

Hannah Olson is the founder and CEO of Chronically Capable, a digital talent marketplace that connects jobseekers with chronic illness and disabilities to flexible job opportunities. Hannah’s own experience navigating her career while undergoing intensive treatment for Lyme disease sparked the idea for her company, which was founded in the spring of 2020 in Washington DC. Hannah is known globally for her invisible disability advocacy and was recently named Top 100 Powerful Women of 2020 by Entrepreneur Magazine.

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