How to Find Work While Dealing With a Long Term Medical Condition

While dealing with a long-term medical illness is difficult enough, for most there is still the need to provide for oneself and/or one's family, as well as being able to still enjoy a modicum of lifestyle. Although the type and severity of the illness play a major role in determining how this can be achieved, there are a variety of ways to gain employment despite long-term illness.


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    Know your illness. If you're still coming to terms with or learning about your malady, consult with a relevant practitioner about what they feel would be appropriate to undertake. In the vast majority of instances an MD, therapist, or spiritual consul would be wholly supportive of your decision to find employment, as holding down a job, despite the rigors and routine involved, typically has a strong positive influence on the outlook of someone suffering from illness and often assists in the path to recovery, or at the very least the effective management of illness. Family, friends and trusted peers can also be of immense value in offering advice about what's out there or as an outside perspective to what they believe you can achieve. Like anyone, the opinions of those we listen to play a major role in our decisions and ideally will also be a source of encouragement and support.
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    Find the right kind of work for your condition. A chronic asthmatic should most likely not be a football coach, however there is nothing to prevent them from being a regular teacher, office worker, or computer technician. It's important to understand the nature of your illness and what it may restrict you from doing; this is often easier defined for people with a physical illness or disability than someone experiencing prolonged mental illness. A person with a recurring spinal injury would know not to work in menial labor or other physically demanding roles; however, it is not as obvious for someone suffering from bipolar disorder as to what they should or should not do; in these cases it's important to understand more about the limitations your condition impose.
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    Fill any gaps in your work history with activities you can handle. Part-time employment and volunteer work are both good ways to avoid having to answer a question about your work history with the answer "I was sick."[1]
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    Focus on what you can do. There's no point day dreaming about being a jet pilot if you are blind in one eye. As blunt as that is, the sooner you remove unrealistic ambitions and nonproductive attitudes about what you want to do and can't, the sooner you can start doing what you can. If a side effect of your illness or the treatment thereof gives you fatigue, consider part-time or home-based employment. If high pressure roles have a negative impact on your mental state, pursue a low stress occupation. With the right amount of consideration and perseverance, work exists for almost any illness you may have.
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    In the US, look for employment with companies to which protective laws apply. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more workers, for instance, to grant you up to a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for your own serious health condition without losing your job or your health insurance. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations (e.g. modified work schedule, wheelchair ramp) around your disability (e.g. epilepsy, paralysis, HIV infection, AIDS, cancer) as long as you can carry out the essential tasks of the job. Note that smaller companies may still be able to accommodate your condition without being required by law; check the employee manual.[2]
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    Find out whether your employer has a short- or long-term disability plan. Such a plan may guarantee that you get all or a portion of your pay for a certain period. These insurers are notorious for delaying and not paying claims, so be sure to plan for a year or two to collect any benefits and engage a good lawyer early. You may also want to find out how much sick time or unused vacation time you have that can be applied in case your condition requires you to take time off.[2]
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    Be careful about what you divulge. The employment laws of the country you live in will play a significant role in what you have to disclose about your illness, and also regarding your rights against potential discrimination. The decision as to how much you want to reveal is yours; information withheld about an illness may affect your employment at some point if it has an unwanted impact on your ability to do your job (a chain of sick days for example, or unexplained erratic behavior). In the US, a potential employer is not permitted to ask questions like the following before extending a job offer:
    • Do you have a heart condition? Do you have asthma or any other difficulties breathing?
    • Do you have a disability which would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
    • How many days were you sick last year?
    • Have you ever filed for workers' compensation? Have you ever been injured on the job?
    • Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
    • What prescription drugs are you currently taking?

    An employer can require a medical examination after offering you a job, but can withdraw the offer only if they can show that you are unable to perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodation), or that you pose a significant risk of causing substantial harm to yourself or others.
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  • Non-profit and community organizations, especially those that may be directly related to your condition, are excellent places to either get leads or find work.


  • Be careful about how you discuss your condition on the Internet through blogs, social media profiles, and anything associated with your name. If an Internet search of your name reveals details that you don't want a potential employer to discover, see How to Ungoogle Yourself.
  • None of this is to be construed as any sort of legal advice. If you need such advice, contact a competent legal professional.
  • You may wish to touch base with your references about how much they will reveal about your condition.

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