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Should I Work?
Information for Employees

Productive work is part of a satisfying life—and MS does not spell the end of being productive. So the answer is yes. You should work.

The real question involves how, where, and at what level you will work. Your chapter of the National MS Society has information, referrals, and programs to help you find good answers.

My symptoms are overwhelming! How can I work at all?
Many people drop out of the work force when they are first diagnosed or experience a major exacerbation. They make decisions while they are in the middle of a crisis.

People with MS have a lifetime to live with a disease that may fluctuate unpredictably, produces different symptoms at different times, and is not inevitably disabling.

It takes time to discover how symptoms can be managed, and whether they will affect a current job or a planned career. If you are employed and need time to recover from a crisis, investigate sick leave policy, short-term disability insurance coverage, or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is leave without pay. When the crisis resolves, you can begin exploring your options. It is almost always easier to return to work than to find a new job.

Do other people with MS hold real jobs?
The Society’s latest survey indicates that 35% of people with MS are employed after 20 years with the disease. The National MS Society believes this figure will improve.

Today, disease-modifying drugs, new technology, better symptom management, and new public attitudes are changing life with MS.

I’ve recovered from my attack but I can’t do things I used to be able to do.
This is a highly individual problem, but not one a person with MS has to face alone. Before talking to your employer about your limitations or special needs, get professional advice.

Call your National MS Society chapter. Ask for referrals to an occupational therapist, a career counselor, or your state vocational rehabilitation office. Your chapter also has information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, and on accommodation strategies.

The ADA is a civil rights law for people with disabilities. It has several key provisions that may help with employment issues:

  • An employee must be able to perform the essential functions of a job, but unessential functions can and should be assigned to others.
  • An employee may request reasonable accommodations to perform duties of the job; the employee researches and proposes the accommodations.
  • An employee may not have to disclose a medical diagnosis in order to obtain ADA protections initially. However, you must disclose you have a disability in order to ask for accommodations. You will need to explain that accommodations will help you be productive in spite of a medical condition. Your employer may require additional documentation and/or a medical diagnosis.

What are some examples of reasonable accommodations?
Common ones include:

  • Flex time
  • Parking privileges
  • Equipment or software that enhances work performance
  • Combining short breaks into a longer rest period

But isn’t working too stressful?

People with MS often hear that they should stop working to control stress. Unemployment does not cure stress.

Having a chronic potentially disabling disease like MS causes stress, but a direct cause and effect relationship between stress and the onset or worsening of MS has not been established despite many research studies.
The National MS Society suggests controlling stress by using mental-health counseling, support groups, exercise, time management instruction, improved diet, and wellness clinics. Techniques such as yoga, visualization, meditation, and biofeedback can also be effective.

Resources you may need

JAN (Job Accommodation Network)
800-232-9675, 800-526-7234

ADA&IT Technical Assistance Centers

These Society publications may help:

Ask your chapter for these publications, referrals to counselors and therapists, your nearest vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency, and other resources. Also, ask if your chapter sponsors the “Career Crossroads” program. Call 1-800-FIGHT-MS (1-800-344-4867) to be connected to the nearest National MS Society office.


For additional information
MS and Employment
Rehabilitation in MS
  Copyright © National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2005