Looking for Work

And now, the moment all o f us have been waiting for. With immeasurable relief, I am switching subjects: what to tell potential employers about our health when we are out there on the mean streets, looking for work. When Calvin Coolidge was riding the economic boom of the 1920, he uttered what probably was his only memorable line, “The business of America is business.” The citizenry did not call him Silent Cal for nothing, but he was right, and many of us want in.
Is silence how the sick and disabled should make that happen as we meet with potential employers? I was in graduate school at C Columbia when I lost vision in my second eye. I was advised o tell the truth. I headed downtown to meet with an NBC executive who had promised a job after graduation. I told the hard truth and watch the light in his eyes flicker and die.
When I was then a candidate for a producer job with Walter Cronkite, I told myself, screw the truth. I lied, left health questions unanswered and faked my way through the company physical. I got the job with the most trusted man in America, but I was not proud of how I got hired,
The irony is that Cal accidently hit a raw nerve with boomers, who often over-identify with what we do for a living. We are what we do. I stepped into that trap years ago.. But it is not just ego and pride at stake here. It is making a life work and supporting a family. Most of us do not work to feed our egos but because we have to.
We are damaged goods in the eyes of many bosses. They stupidly assume we will be unproductive, unreliable workers. Anyone in the workforce who carries around a chronic illness knows we feel the need to constantly prove ourselves and do good work. In hard economic times, employers are less likely to take chances. We may know hiring us is not taking a chance, but we cannot save individuals from their own ignorance. And there is no appeal.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. Case closed. Well, not exactly. When you are not hired, you will never know why. If you are obviously disabled, in a wheelchair, on a walker or standing with a seeing eye dog, there is no hiding the truth. Going to court to prove your qualifications is expensive and probably a long shot, anyway.
If you are not wearing your disability on your sleeve, say nothing. I learned that the hard way. You owe The Man nothing but your best work. Years after I left CBS News, Cronkite’s executive producer, long retired, told me I had done the right thing. “If I knew you had MS, I would not have hired you.”

47 Responses to Looking for Work

  1. Wendygilmo August 1, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I was fired from my employer after working for them for 11 years. The reason they fired me? I was working too slowly. They fired me with no advanced warning. Needless to say, this ended in a huge lawsuit. I think employers can be very ignorant. I think the fear of the unknown is just overwhelming to them. We live with the fear of the unknown every day, and were still here!

    • Steve August 3, 2014 at 2:02 am #

      Richard — Why are all posts in bold text? I’m a writer, webmaster and web content manager and find it distracting. Regards.

  2. Bill Garcia August 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    I LIKE YOU WAS CAUGHT UP IN A CORPORATE CUTBACK OF ONE. TO THIS DAY I THINK IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE FEAR I MAY BE DIAGNOSED WITH MS. AT THE TIME I WAS UNDERGOING ALL THE TESTS FOR DIAGNOSES. I HAD BEEN WITH THIS COMPANY FOR 10 YEARS. I FOUND WORK THE SAME DAY AND I AM STILL THERE MS AND ALL. I AM VERY FORTUNATE THEY ARE VERY UNDERSTANDING ABOUT ME NEEDING TIME TO RECOVER FROM AN ESPECIALLY HARD DAY OR IF I NEED TO GO HOME AND JUST TAKE A SHORT NAP. THE DRAWBACK IS I HAVE SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN THE HEAT.
    MY WIFE TELLS ME TO FIND A DIFFERENT JOB, YEAH RIGHT! I’M 58, HAVE MS AND WALK WITH A CANE. I ALSO SPEAK LIKE I FIVE FINGER IN BOTTLE OF KETTLE ONE AT TIMES. EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
    WHAT’S A MS’ER TO DO? GRIT YOUR TEETH, BEAR IT AND FIRGE AHEAD!!! THAT’S WHAT I DO. ENOUGH RAMBLING ALREADY!!! UNTIL NEXT TIME, KEEP YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND, EYES STRAIGHT AND FIGHT LIKE HELL!!!!!

    • Richard M. Cohen August 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      Amen.

      R.

  3. Grandma August 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    I advised my granddaughter to not tell anyone at work until it could no longer be hidden.She lives on her own and she has to support herself. As long as she is doing her job well no one else needs to know.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 1, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      Agreed. She needs to protect herself.

      R.

  4. Elizabeth August 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Richard sometimes I feel like you’re reading my mind. I was thinking this morning of reading back through old posts to see if you addressed working and MS. I disclosed and was gone within months. Only 60 days out of work, I’m trying to figure out what to do. I’m bored. Now I feel like damaged goods. I doubt my abilities. I thought I knew what I could do but now that I’m not working I’m more fatigued, can’t see as well, and walking is not a noticeable struggle yet, but it’s an internal struggle. Like Bill I have a hard time expressing myself verbally, especially if I am pushed into a corner. I know I’m good at what I do, I just have to do it differently now. I’ve lost my pride and I disappoint myself because I can’t just push through the pain and weakness anymore. I don’t like not having direction. I’m type A. I agree, if you can hide it, do it. I almost wonder if the information that MS is not always debilitating has hurt the cause for some of us.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      E-

      Why are you out of work? Volunteerily or pushed out? Don’t give up. Be willung to settle for less than you wanted. Is money ab issue? All questions you need to answer for yourself. Be p p ractcal and agressuvw ND GO FOR, AND NOT TIMFLY.

      BEST,
      R.

      • Elizabeth August 2, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

        Terminated (reduction in force of 1). Long story. I feel like crap but I want to work. I know that my worst work is better than most people’s best attempts. I’m in regional sales so travel is necessary. My industry is based in CA so I have always worked remotely from my home office and travel to wherever I need to go. I can’t travel as much now. This last boss’s outright abuse has made me timid. My husband fears me traveling by myself. I don’t know what to do. I have always done the same work. Yes money is an issue, my SSD is not enough to live on but I don’t know what direction to go. I don’t know what I am capable of anymore. I am suing my former employer because they promised to accommodate me and they let me go instead. I didn’t disclose until I absolutely had to. JAN told me to do it, and this is what I got. I’m not being critical of them, but everyone needs to do what’s right for them. The law does not protect you from people without a conscience. It only gives you the right to sue them which takes years if you don’t settle. This system is broken like most others that help those who have medical needs. My employer ran me into a severe exacerbation that I can’t pull out of. I look at the job ads and then ask myself if I can realistically do it now. I don’t know.

    • Louise August 3, 2014 at 12:44 am #

      What do you mean the I information that MS is not always debilitating has hurt us? Anyway, young woman asked me at infusion ” do people know about you?”
      I said “yes and my advise is don’t tell anyone you do not have to tell.”
      Your job is not the only thing that may be lost.

      • Elizabeth August 4, 2014 at 10:36 am #

        Louise, in my case I believe that because I looked good, they thought I was using my diagnosis to get out of working to my full capacity. (All I was asking for was reduced travel). Because so much of the literature says that new treatments have changed the face of MS, and the pharma companies show people biking and running, that it’s almost a mind over matter disease. Positive thinking is beneficial but it is not a cure.

  5. Amy Corcoran-Hunt August 1, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    I have a terrific job with a terrific employer that accommodates my now profound physical disability. I do great work. It’s a damn fair trade.

    I’m a writer. Thank goodness I’m not, like, a gymnast, that would end my career. My job can be done brilliantly from my wheelchair.

    When I was hired, I used a cane to help with a Pilates injury.

    • MB August 1, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Same here, Amy. They pay me for my thinking skills which haven’t been compromised by any attacks. I can no longer walk either and have lost function in my dominant hand, but my employer has been very accommodating.

      I was hired as a healthy person, though. I don’t know if I would have gotten the job in my present physical state. It would have been their loss when you consider my contributions to the organization even with a disability.

      I think the advice Richard has given regarding disclosing is 100% correct “You owe The Man nothing but your best work.” Don’t disclose.

    • Bill Garcia August 1, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      Pilates injury I like that!

      • Amy Corcoran-Hunt August 2, 2014 at 7:56 am #

        No one questions athletic injuries, and hip flexor injuries are particularly troublesome and long lasting.

        As MB said above, I agree, no one would hire me in my present state. I read a news story a week or so ago about employment and disability. Our employment numbers are terrible. The story was about one company that offers up phone-based customer service jobs. Pay was peanuts but it was the first time in a long time that this one gentleman was able to recover his role as breadwinner. He was so proud.

        There are 100 things I can no longer do. But I can still bring home bacon. It is unimaginable to me, the idea of losing that.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 9:44 am #

      Amy-

      Sounds as if you are a lucy person. Everything is relative.

      R.

    • Karen August 2, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      Amy…I told people that I had an injury from Mont Ventoux in France. It brought a smile to my face, as it was my own entertainment. If they only knew that it is one of the most grueling climbs in the Tour de France!
      My job had a lot of travel so I sadly had to “retire”.
      Bravo to you Amy!

      • Amy Corcoran-Hunt August 3, 2014 at 9:49 am #

        Bravo to you!

  6. Linda Lazarus August 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Richard,
    You are right. You are right. You are right.
    I worked for eight years after diagnosis. I only asked for a slight schedule accommodation and ended up needing a lawyer! The ADA saved me.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 9:46 am #

      Not surprised;

      R.

  7. Aaron Fischman August 1, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    I’ve worked for 18 years after my diagnosis. I told my immediate co-workers about the diagnosis which was a mistake, they didn’t think I could work any more. Any subsequent jobs I said nothing and once hired I told HR and Occupational Med everything since they could tell anyone because of HIPPA. When I came back from temporary disability I told my boss and supervisors but did not go any further.

    I know I can work, and thankfully the issue has not arose.

    Just need to find a job, the environment is still not conducive to Hospital IT. I need to self limit how far away the job is so I don’t wipe myself out with the commute.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Best of luck,
      R.

  8. David August 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    I’m so glad to hear that several of you were successful in “puttin’ it to the man”; but my story is similar with no happy ending. Diagnosed in 2006, I accepted an in-house “support position” when I was no longer able to travel (construction/ design related Sales in a significant regional market). My employer regarded this change in job-description and other structural modifications to our office (ramp, handicap bathroom) constituted “reasonable accommodation” for my condition.

    Although my ego was bruised by having my very stimulating former responsibilities reassigned to others, I was successful in my new role as evidenced by yearly, positive performance reviews. Our company was “forced” to make a very minor Reduction In Force 10 months ago that coincidentally included myself (with 35 years of employment in our organization) and another middle-aged Salesman, whose wife also has MS. I spoke with a law firm in DC, who agreed my situation had merit as a potential suit; but advised me the suit could take months (years) and still might not be ruled in my favor. That said, I accepted my 35 years of severance pay, cleaned out my office and joined the unemployed.

    Beyond the opportunity to vent, I offer my story to discourage the impulse of job seekers (and particularly the newly diagnosed) to be an open book regarding your health. It’s tragic that the economy, coupled with a decline in business standards, would allow such an occurrence; but it has and it did! There is merit in the saying, “Forewarned is forearmed”. Thanks so much for your blog.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      Case in point. Protect yourself and know your boss is your friend when convenient,

      My best,
      R.

  9. Kate Aquilino August 1, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    Would you say the stem cell therapy was a success?

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 9:58 am #

      Not so far, but more to come.

      R.

  10. Mark August 2, 2014 at 7:10 am #

    It may be unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. But if an employee does not meet or exceed the performance metrics established for the position, the employer has to take action. Corporations are about making money. They employ hundreds of thousands of people and provide benefits, dividends to shareholders, etc. That is not all bad. Just perform and all is well. The employee is under no obligation to disclose. After having said that, I kept silent as long as I could and when symptoms became visible, I stretched the truth. I’m with this team…say nothing until you have to. Then say very little.

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      100% correct.

      R.

  11. henriette August 2, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Amen.

  12. MB August 2, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    This is a great topic. The country talks the talk via the ADA, but do companies walk the walk? Doesn’t look like it unless employee was employed prior to disclosing the disability. Even in that case, one false move and out they go.

    One other point to consider– do employers of people with disabilities use the disability of the employee as a bargaining chip? “We don’t have to give her a raise because where will she go? Who will hire her?”

    The sad part is that they are right. Will I complain that I got a 2% raise when I know others got a 5% raise? Probably not since no raise is better than no salary.

    • David August 2, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

      Its unfortunate, but true. We find out (sometimes too late) the “true colors” of folks when our backs are against the wall. Most employees are not in a position to wage a legal battle with their employers. Normally, the folks with the deeper pockets wins. IT SUCKS TO BE SICK>

    • Richard M. Cohen August 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

      human nature trum ps legslation. Like rats, they will find the l oopholes.

      R.

    • Richard August 3, 2014 at 9:22 am #

      You are right. I think companis grudgingly do as little as possibele, with no good will toward those in need. So much for the family of man

      R..

  13. Amy Corcoran-Hunt August 3, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    We’re all on our own. Lots of people get the shaft; I’ve seen new moms get passed by again and again, companies start to question their priorities. Love your baby more?

    The ADA is little help. I think of it this way: they have to provide us a nice, high potty with grab bars, but the door going into the rest room can weigh 275 lbs and be impossible to open. Have a nice day. I think most things work that way. “Here’s a nice accommodation if you can get to it.”

    We live in a profit-seeking system with a tiny safety net. Big pharma doesn’t want to invest in PPMS, the market is small, generally older, the disease trickier, and can’t possibly give them the same billions annually if they find something. So see ya later, Amy.

    Also, I think most interesting research, the “cure” research, is happening in a academia, in hospitals, in places like Richard’s stem cell trial.

    Tough world to roll or hobble through. I tip my hat to all of us.

    • MB August 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      I HATE those bathroom doors, Amy. Try it with one hand that doesn’t work. I roll, wedge my good leg between the door jamb and door to try to hold it open. Then I try to open it the rest of the way with my good hand. Then guess what? I can’t move my scooter because the hand that operates it is being used to open the door the rest of the way!

      This is complete insanity. Maybe if we got scantily clad supermodels to play us in a made-for-TV movie someone would take notice. Until then, we’re whiny disabled people who just want more and more and more.

    • Richard August 3, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      Big pharma wants academia to take the riisks in drug devellopment. Then they step in an clean up. Terrible system.

      R.

      • Sandy August 4, 2014 at 10:25 am #

        It was my understanding that drugs were FIRST tried on RRMS patients so they could be evaluated for effectiveness based on FDA protocol. So each drug has to show that the severity of MS attacks is reduced and that time between attacks is lengthened. BUT it was also my understanding that once a drug was proven effective based on the protocol that its use could be expanded to other forms of MS. I am RR but I have family with PP.

        I wonder what ever happened to that. We know for example that Tysabri is effective for RRMS. So why not open up the Rx to include PP?

        Geez now if we only knew someone with an investigative journalism background who has personal experience with MS…..Hmmmm…
        AND maybe we could get one of the MS orgs to fund a NEWS program that would bring this and other news forward and NOT just reprint the press releases and marketing info handed to them by the drug companies. Get them to give you some interns while you are at it..

        Sandy

  14. Yvonne August 3, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    I volunteer at an organization that helps those folks who for whatever reason lost their way and are now ready to get back to work. Some have advanced degrees some barely have HS degrees. The biggest question is always how to account for their employment gap. Should they disclose a disability,mental or physical. My answer has always been if it does not interfere with your work do not disclose. After your probationary period get all new doctors and “get diagnosed”. That way it’s not a preexisting condition. Honesty is not always the best policy when trying to get employed or remployed with a disability. I hid my MS for years as I had no outward signs for 10 years. My rebirth of my diagnosis happened after a business trip to Colorado. I had worked for the company 5 yrs before being promoted to a position with 70% travel. I did great for 2 yrs but needless to say my body couldn’t handle the change so I got a new neurologist and “got diagnosed”. Long story short, layed off within 2 yrs under “reorganization” because they were afraid of ADA. So they have no loyalty so they don’t deserve honesty. Do what you need to do because the world isn’t always fair.

    • Richard August 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      I have said before. Do not ever think your boss is you r friend.

      Best,
      R.

      • Elizabeth August 4, 2014 at 10:49 am #

        Or that because your boss has a disability that he tells everyone in the world about- that he will care about your disability. Ironic in a nightmarish kind of way. When he said, “You know I’m sick too, but I don’t need A, B, or C.” I knew I was in trouble.

  15. GW August 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    I am recently diagnosed, live in CA, filled out all my forms for FMLA in the event I need it. Oh yeah, I also work in healthcare – 35 years. I have told no one except my boss ( I had to when he wanted me to fly to Wisconsin in the next 24 hours), and worry every single day what will be. I almost just want to be over the job worry but can’t bring myself to give up. Thanks for the post and agree, tell no one, as a country we are neither willing or prepared to do the right thing.

    • Richard August 3, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

      Amen.

      R.

  16. Geof August 4, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    I have been lucky enough to work the past 15 years for the Fed. I have never hid my MS, and I usually point to my leave record for any questioning its impact on my work. I have missed far more work to take care of my sick kids than for me, thus far. HR has tried to push me to apply for promotions so they can show our agency hires schedule A applicants at all levels. I apply sparsely though because I would actually have to do any job I was hired to do, and I like my current job.

    I do note not getting any of the promotions they convince me to apply as a schedule A applicant, but I will never know if I would have gotten through normal channels either.

    Still, at least in the Fed, I doubt they fire/remove me for having MS.

  17. Nik August 4, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Sobering post for someone newly diagnosed and wondering if I will be able to work. I have a small little job to make ends meet in our family. Unfortunately that small little job requires a tremendous about of energy and a strong immune system! I work with Kindergarteners! I missed the end of last year due to a CIS which impaired my vision for four weeks. I was wondering who to tell. I immediately thought of telling the Principal. After reading this, I am not is sure.

    • Nik August 4, 2014 at 10:29 am #

      I meant…not so sure!

  18. JoanBee August 9, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    I respect and appreciate everyone’s views on this topic, but I have very mixed feelings about it. Having been an “out” lesbian at work for many decades when it wasn’t OK and still isn’t legally protected, I have a hard time with being in the closet now with MS or anything else. And now that people seem to be getting much more comfortable about the same-sex thing, I sort of needed something else to make my coworkers nervous. This will do for now.

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