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How To Determine If An Employer Is Friendly To People With A Serious Health Condition


As a general matter, there are two types of employers. The first type will be bothered by your health condition, will only do what is required within the law, and will look for reasons to fire you. The second type will not be bothered by your health situation as such and will keep an open mind as long as you can perform your job duties.

Whether you are looking for new employment or are considering disclosing your diagnosis to your current employer, it would be comforting to know in advance how the employer will respond to such a disclosure. Unfortunately, this is rarely possible.

What may be possible, however, is to find out if the employer has given any thought to people with a serious health condition in the workplace and if there are any policies or procedures in place that possibly identify the employer as being "friendly".

You may find the information you need:

By speaking with an advisor or mentor if you are working.

An advisor who will keep your discussion in confidence, who has been with the employer long enough to know how the company operates, is an excellent source to learn about an employer's friendliness to people with a serious health condition.  For information about how to choose and with with an advisor, click here.

By examining the company's workplace policies.

Following are some hints about what to look for in a company's workplace policies, procedures and programs. It's logical to believe that the more of the following policies, procedures and programs an employer has in place, the more likely it will be friendly. Of course an employer could be friendly to people with a health condition with none of these policies in place so keep in mind they are only helpful - not definitive.

Policies to look for are:

  • Zero tolerance for discrimination in the workplace.
  • Stated compliance with the Americans with Disabilities ActFamily And Medical Leave Act, and state/local laws.
  • A written policy for accommodating employees with "disabilities."
  • Domestic partnership benefits. The existence of domestic partnership benefits may be an indication that an employer is "benefits savvy."
  • Sensitivity or diversity training programs for supervisors and managers.
  • Education programs for employees, such as lunch-time workshops that deal with education about life changing conditions.
  • Programs which encourage screening for cancer and/or HIV.
  • Charitable donations. Many employers have programs in place for donating funds and or services to various charities and organizations. Try to find out what charity or charities your company supports.

Most of this information can be obtained by looking at a company's employee handbook or the company web site. You are entitled to obtain information about a company's stated policies and procedures if you are a current employee. You may also request a copy of an employee handbook as a prospective employee, particularly once a job offer has been made.

You may also try to find out any of this information from the Human Resources department. In a large company, your request for information can usually be made anonymously. Simply call the Human Resources department from a phone other than your own and ask for the information without revealing your identity.

Any request to review benefits, policies or procedures should be generalized, so as not to raise a red flag with the company. For example, if you have not yet disclosed your diagnosis, you probably do not want to ask your employer what their policy is regarding any health conditions in the workplace, unless you can make your request anonymously. A request for an employee handbook may be sufficient.

By looking for employee groups within the company.

The existence of employee groups or organizations such as support groups for company employees dealing with a specific illness, or bereavement support groups for caregivers in the workplace.  For information about support groups, click here.

By looking at an employer's memberships.

There are two organizations worth checking to find out if an employer is a member. While membership doesn't guarantee friendliness, it is likely because the companies are friendly to people with disabilities.

  • The Association For Persons In Supported Employment (APSE) is an association of companies committed to treating people with disabilities fairly. If an employer is a member, the odds are the company will not be unfriendly to people with a serious health condition. To check membership of an employer, call APSE in Richmond, VA, Tel.: 804.278.9187 or offsite link
  • JobAccess is a free service for anyone with a disability. Companies post job openings. To check is an employer participates. Send an e mail to:jobinquiries at jobaccess dot org or see: offsite link

By speaking with a local disease specific organization to find out what it knows about previous experiences with a particular employer.

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