How to Have a Job & Endometriosis

May 7, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. ET
Image: Sheila Patel/Getty Images

Dealing with chronic pain is hard enough, but throw a full-time job into the mix and it's a surefire recipe for stress. Women who suffer from endometriosis report that the pain associated with the condition makes it harder to function at work (or even get there each day). So, how do women with endometriosis stay in (and deal with) the workforce? Below are tips from people who have been there.

Communication is key

Although it's illegal for an employer to fire someone due to a medical condition, many women with endometriosis are reluctant to disclose their condition out of fear that it will affect their job status (or their privacy). “I think it's very important that you feel out your workplace before you disclose anything,” says Meghan Cleary, an endometriosis patient, advocate and founder of Bad Periods. “You don't want to be discriminated against or set up a situation where they might start making a case to terminate you.”

To combat this, Cleary suggests “over-communicating” to your employer, but not about your illness. “I did a status update every week and told my boss everything I was able to accomplish. Just because I have a chronic illness or need accommodations doesn't mean my output is any less than my colleagues'.”

Talk to HR

Juggling a chronic illness and full-time employment can be a whole other job. But chances are that your HR department can connect you with outside programs or in-office policies to help you cope. Make an appointment with HR to see whether your office has a shared sick-leave program (where other employees can “donate” sick days to those in need), paid sick leave or short-term disability. These programs may look different depending on your state.

Work from home when possible

Even if you're working a typical 9-to-5, your employer may be able to tweak your schedule to better accommodate you and your condition. Some employees with chronic conditions ask to work from home (even one or two days per week) or schedule their working hours around doctor appointments. “I told my boss I was having chronic back pain,” said Jackie McGuire, who at one point worked 80-hour weeks as a stockbroker. “I occasionally would have to leave work early because of it. My boss was an amazing manager and always supported me.”

Confide in trusted coworkers

If there's someone at work you can trust, it may be beneficial to keep that person in the loop about medical issues in the event of an illness or emergency. “I had a 'workplace buddy' and she really helped me,” says Cleary. “Depending on what your disease is, it's probably a smart idea to have someone at work you can trust to drive you to the hospital or call someone if something happens.”

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