Disclosing a diagnosis of MS in the workplace may improve job retention

02 December, 2013

Unemployment rates for people with MS are disproportionately high in comparison to other chronic diseases. Australian researchers have now shown that disclosing a diagnosis of MS in the workplace is, on average, associated with greater employment retention. Results will be published shortly in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

Drs Pieter Van Dijk and Andrea Kirk-Brown from the Department of Management, Monash University, received an MS Research Australia incubator grant in 2012 to examine psychological issues in the workplace. They collaborated with Dr Rex Simmons from Canberra Hospital to use the MS Research Australia funded Australian MS Longitudinal Study (AMSLS) to examine the role of disclosure of diagnosis in employment retention for people with MS.

A self-report questionnaire on current employment status, demographics and disability level was completed by 2,144 AMSLS participants annually over a three-year period commencing in 2010. Participants who were working for an employer were asked if, and when, they had disclosed their diagnosis of MS to their employer. The data was analysed to investigate the factors leading to disclosure. The relationship between disclosure and employment status and duration was also examined.

Contrary to what many people may expect, results showed that disclosure of an MS diagnosis to an employer increased job retention. One factor leading to disclosure of diagnosis was severity of disability. However, employees who disclosed their diagnosis were more likely to be employed, and more likely to be employed for longer periods of time, even after taking level of disability into account.

Results from the study suggest that after disclosure, employees may receive more assistance with workplace accommodations, social support and possibly more effective symptom management than non-disclosing employees. Future research will help determine these aspects. Previous research has shown that symptom management in the workplace is key to maintaining employment for people with MS.

This unique study has uncovered some interesting results. ‘While everyone’s situation is different, these findings provide encouraging information for employees with MS and may lead to people with MS reassessing their workplace situations,’ said Dr Kirk-Brown, ‘it also has important implications for vocational rehabilitation providers working with clients with MS’.

Please note these findings represent a statistical analysis of a large group of people with MS. Individuals should consider their own personal circumstances when considering whether to disclose their diagnosis to an employer. State MS Societies can provide resources to assist with this decision. Please contact your state MS Society for more information.

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