Should I Tell My Employer About My New Medical Diagnosis?

Mar 6 2024

Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, Josh.

Josh Goodbaum: Hi, Amanda. What are we gonna talk about today?

DeMatteis: Well, I had a potential client come in to see me that had a diagnosis of dementia, and they wanted to know what they needed to tell their employer and when. And, you know, it’s funny – we think about these diagnoses of dementia or other memory impairment conditions, and we think, “Well, these are things that affect people later in life, maybe outside of their working years.” But that’s not really the case.

So, I thought we could talk to our Connecticut viewers about what they should do if they receive a rather troubling health diagnosis like dementia or something else. What do they need to tell their employer? When do they need to tell their employer? Can you offer some insight on that?

Goodbaum: Of course. The first question that I think most clients have in this situation is: “Do I have to tell my employer about my new disability?” That’s an easy question – the answer is no. You have no legal obligation to tell your employer about your health status or your newly diagnosed disability. And indeed, with limited exceptions, your employer can’t ask you about whether you have a disability. Your private health information is private.

But a lot of clients have a second question that I think is more difficult and that’s: “Should I tell my employer?” Of course, you’re free to tell your employer if you have a disability. Some people are afraid that their employer might discriminate against them or retaliate against them, and that is certainly something we see. But that’s hopefully by far the minority of the reactions of most employers. I hope most employers want to work with their employees to try to help them figure out how they can do their jobs despite their disability.

So, I think you might ask yourself these two questions. Number one: “Can your disability affect your ability to do your job?” And number two: “Do you need or want anything from your employer related to your disability?” If the answer to both those questions is no – “No, my disability is not going to affect my work,” and “No, I don’t need anything right now,” – then I think you’ve answered your own question. “Should I tell my employer?” Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason to. But if the answer to either of those questions is yes, I think you might want to have a conversation with your employer.

So, whether your new diagnosis of dementia, for example, is going to affect your ability to do your job is going to depend on what your job is, right? If you’re a registered nurse and you’re forgetting what patients asked you for, what their medications are, or are forgetting to check on patients, that’s obviously a very big deal, and I’m sure that you are a responsible person and you want to make sure you’re doing your job effectively.

And if you’re looking for something from your employer – like either a leave to address some medical issues, which may not be as much the case with dementia as it would be with some other more temporary disabilities, or you’re looking for some sort of accommodation from your employer – for example, “You know I’m a registered nurse but I’m hoping now I could work at the front desk or I could answer family calls rather than doing direct patient care” – you can imagine all the permutations of that. It’s really gonna be very employee-specific and employer-specific. Then that’s something you might wanna bring to your employer.

We’ve done other videos about how to ask for a reasonable accommodation if you have a disability, and I encourage folks to look those up. But in general, if you’re gonna ask for an accommodation for a disability, your employer has a right to know what the disability is and the right to work with you to try to find an accommodation that will help you do your job in a way that’s the sort of least restrictive or least costly for the employer.

So, do you have to tell your employer? No. Should you tell your employer? That’s really going to depend on what job you have, what stage of your healthcare journey you’re on, and your own personal feelings about how much you wanna work, how long you wanna work, etc., and those are really personal decisions that an employment lawyer might be a good resource to discuss with.

DeMatteis: Thanks, Josh. I think that’s super helpful for people already dealing with a tough time in their life.

Two things that we’ve talked about in other videos that I wanna highlight here: Number one, if you do need something – you make the decision of “Yes, I’m gonna tell my employer and I’m gonna request something” – think about doing that in writing. You want to make sure this is a serious communication that you’re having at work. This is an important communication that you’re having at work. We would absolutely recommend that maybe you have a verbal conversation first and then put a short summary of that conversation in writing to your boss or HR, whomever you spoke to.

And the second one is: whenever we’re talking about a disability at work, there’s a lot of different laws that are triggered, right? We have the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. We have the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also have FMLA – remember that you might be entitled to protected time off from work. You might have a short-term disability policy that you could tap into.

So, if you find yourself in a position where you’ve just been recently diagnosed with something, there are a lot of protections under both state and federal law. So, it might be in your best interest to reach out, set up a consultation, and understand what all those rights are so to kind of help you through this otherwise difficult process.

Goodbaum: Really good advice, Amanda. Glad you jumped in with some more there. Hope that’s helpful to everybody watching, and we’ll see you next time. Thanks so much.

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amanda dematteis discussing telling your employer about your medical diagnosis

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