Navigating the Workforce with IBD
Having an inflammatory bowel disease can bring up some challenges when working. There are several things that you have to take into account, such as needing to make frequent and often urgent trips to the bathroom, running out of energy or having a difficult day, having to make doctor’s appointments during work hours, and addressing periods of time when you may have been out of work due to illness or surgery.
So how do you address these things?
As with most things, it is going to depend both on your particular situation and with your own comfort in discussing your health with others.
The first step, however, is to make sure you understand your company’s sick leave policies. Know how many days you have available and find out what happens if you exceed those days. I had times where I’d exceed both my vacation and sick days and those extra days were considered unpaid leave. Also, be aware of what your insurance benefits are and whether or not you might qualify for short-term disability or the Family Medical Leave Act, if it comes to that. If you can’t find the answers to these things, talk to your human resources department.
In my experience, I have not personally talked to my bosses specifically about the fact that I have Crohn’s disease, however, I’m sure they were aware of something going on when I would sometimes run out of meetings to the bathroom or have to take more sick days than others. Thankfully, I have never been in a situation where there was a major issue with my boss being upset with my work or questioning me about what was going on; however, this does happen.
Be prepared with how you might handle a situation like this. In some scenarios, it may make sense to let your boss know what you’re dealing with, so they can understand why you may need to leave meetings or may need a day or two off more often than others. If they do not know you are dealing with a health challenge, they may assume worse things about your work ethic that aren’t true. But again, this really depends on your comfort level with talking about it, as well as your relationship with your boss and having an idea of how he or she might react to this knowledge.
If you need to miss work because of doctor’s appointments, or long infusion visits, you should consider talking to your boss or your HR department. You don’t have to go into detail about what you are dealing with, but you can let them know that you have regular appointments needed and try to figure out the best way to handle the situation. Depending on your position, you could ask about making up the hours at another time, working from home for a few hours, or see if there is some other way that would work where you aren’t having to use all of your sick time on appointments.
Another complication I have run into is accounting for gaps in employment. I left my job when I had my initial surgery and was out of work for a total of about four months. Once I was ready to find a job again, I was asked several times about these times where I was out of work. I found it simplest to be (mostly) honest, but vague. I would usually say something along the lines of, “I had a health complication at the time and took some time off to deal with it, but I’m doing great now and ready to get back to work / have been working consistently since that time.” Never did I have any further questions asked beyond that.
And the end of the day
I think the most important thing you can do is to simply think about how to handle these situations. You may not ever have an issue come up, but it’s best to be prepared and know how you want to respond. Again, it’s worked best for me to be up front about what I’m dealing with, but to not offer too much information. And the majority of the time, the people I work with have been very understanding. But if you ever run into any difficulties, speak to your HR department to see if you can come to a good resolution.