Working With IBD: I Am Reliable, but My Health Is Not
Last updated: November 2022
It's hard enough living day to day with my Crohn's, worrying about things millions of people don't have to, let alone worrying about my job. Medications, pain, stress, fatigue, dehydration, food, weight, etc. And then add to the pile the fact I have to somehow hold down a job to help pay for everything like food, mortgage, car, utilities, and my family.
I learned early on that many employers do not care about my predicament at all. I can see their point of view as well, they need their employees to show up for work and, well, work. They have a business to run and many do not want to make the necessary accommodations to help me get through the workday. Many but not all. I've had 20 jobs in the 35 years I started to have IBD symptoms.
Getting fired because of my illness
I was working as a retail management trainee with K-mart when I started to have symptoms (which was a diagnosis of Crohn's disease many months later). I went to work each day in my shirt and tie and did what I had to do and was kind of enjoying what I was doing. Anyone in retail understands that some customers are not the politest.
It was here that I was having to change my belt size on a regular basis because I was dropping weight fast. I soon was having to call in sick on a regular basis as well as having to spend time in the bathroom more than anyone and was transferred out of one location into another quite far away, forcing me to quit. I tried to explain my position, but they needed their employees to be at work. And it was at this job I learned how employers treat their employees.
Physical jobs and exposure to Crohn's triggers
I took the odd job after that, working in fast food joints and a catering company. But my health always got in the way. I even worked as a "Learn to Skate" coach. It was here where I started a career in the security business, starting out as a night guard which was great because I worked on my own and could go to the bathroom anytime I wanted without affecting anyone else.
I've worked as security at an international airport but had to quit soon after because of the sheer physicality of the job (standing around) and the fact I had to have major surgery and was off work for months. My shortest security job was with an armored car company. I had extensive training, including gun training, but lasted one day on the job because of the diesel fumes made my Crohn's severe.
I had a great career after as a "floor walker" in many different stores. I basically walked around watching and listening for shoplifters. It was tiring and sometimes physical when making arrests. But here too, the employer didn't like me calling in sick all the time and I was fired.
I tell all of my employers about my IBD
All of my employers knew about my illness prior to hiring me so it was not news to them that I would call in sick. I even took an employer to a Human Rights Commission once and had a case, but it had to be dismissed because the company went out of business before it got to court.
To try and improve my line of work I even went to school and learned how to install home security systems and worked for awhile doing this. But once again, I was let go because I was deemed "unreliable" to the employer. I explained that I AM reliable, it's my health that is not. It didn’t matter to them.
Sit-down office work helps – but stress doesn't
I tried to get a sit-down type of job and went to school for computer programming and was grateful to get employment with a friend who has his own company. It was great work and easy on my body, and my friend understood my illness. I had to leave this work only because he couldn't afford to keep me. But now I got a taste of office work, its ease on my body, and the access to washrooms.
The best work I have ever done up to this point was in the complex I lived. I worked there for 18 years before my health once again got in the way and was let go. This employer knew about my illness and made many accommodations which I will be forever so grateful for. But near the end, I could tell that with newer bosses my health was not to their liking. There was too much stress at this job, which I think was contributing to my health woes. It was while working her that I had my ostomy surgery.
Finding a job that works with your Crohn's or colitis
I now work from home for the past 6 months as a medical transcriptionist. I make my own hours and there is zero stress. I needed to go to school (online) for a year, but it was worthwhile in the end. I only answer to me.
The takeaway from this, there are some employers out there that will accommodate your illness but far too many that will not. It's hard to hold down a full-time job with a chronic illness, no matter what the illness is. There were many times I was unemployed in between all these jobs and was lucky to have family to help. Many do not.
My advice? Tell your employer or future employer about your health. Remember, YOU are reliable, your health is not.
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