Balancing Work And Health

One of the challenges of living with myasthenia gravis (MG) is finding and keeping a job. People with MG may miss work because of sudden muscle weakness or doctor’s appointments. Fatigue and the unpredictable symptoms of MG may interfere with work.1

When employers do not understand the impact myasthenia gravis has on daily life, they may make incorrect and unfair assumptions. However, laws protect job applicants and employees with MG.

Laws to protect employees with MG

A few different laws give you rights when mental or physical disabilities affect your daily activities. By law, myasthenia gravis is not automatically a disability. However, most people with MG satisfy the legal requirements for disability rights because normal activities may be too hard or cause fatigue.2

Even if your symptoms are controlled by drugs and other treatments, these laws apply. Very small companies (less than 15 employees) may not have to follow the same rules as larger companies. Two laws that protect employees with MG are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas of life, including employment. It protects employees during application, hiring, promotion, compensation, and training. The ADA requires companies to provide “reasonable accommodations” for applicants and employees with disabilities. Accommodations fall into 3 categories:3-5

  • Changes to the application process
  • Modification of the work environment or how a job is performed
  • Enabling equal access to benefits of employment (cafeterias, lounges, etc.)

The ADA also makes it illegal for employers to ask applicants about the existence or severity of a disability. Companies also must keep any medical information confidential, including requests for reasonable accommodations.3-5

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off per year for family or medical reasons. One qualifying reason to use this is for a serious health condition that makes you unable to work. The time can be taken off:6-9

  • All at once, like for maternity leave or after a major surgery
  • In separate blocks of time for a single reason
  • In a way that reduces your weekly or daily schedule

Serious health conditions most often require time off through FMLA when:6-9

  • You need an overnight stay in a hospital
  • You are unable to work for more than 3 days
  • You have periods of disability and treatment

Staying healthy at work

It can be hard to know when to tell your boss and coworkers of your diagnosis. Your doctor or others you know through an MG support group may be able to offer suggestions for how to approach the subject of accommodations. It will probably help to reassure your boss that most accommodations are no- or low-cost.

Some accommodations you may want to discuss with your company include:1

  • A guaranteed parking space near the building
  • Building breaks into your work day
  • Reassigning or reducing lifting duties
  • Allowing you to work from home
  • Flexible deadlines to minimize stress
  • Ensuring your workplace is cool enough
  • Assistive devices such as a cart, voice-to-text software, grip handles, and more

It may then help to create a support plan with your boss or human resources. A support plan should cover:1

  • Preventive measures to keep you healthy at work
  • Reasonable accommodations to your work environment and schedule
  • When to get emergency help
  • Key contacts

What if I can no longer work?

If MG keeps you from working, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This program pays monthly benefits if you meet certain requirements. Having MG does not automatically make you eligible.10

During the SSDI application process, you must document your MG diagnosis and how it impacts your life. Your doctor can help you with the paperwork to apply for SSDI. The Social Security Administration will look at your application and medical records to decide if you are eligible.2,11

Finding a job

Many organizations help people with disabilities connect to potential employers. These are often agencies within the U.S. Department of Labor and include:3

  • Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP)
  • Job Accommodation Network
  • Office of Disability Employment Policy
  • Campaign for Disability Employment

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: May 2021