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You are here:>>Home>>Press>>Revealing chronic illnesses to prospective employers
        
        
Revealing chronic illnesses to prospective employers
        
The Irish Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2012
by RONAN McGREEVY
        
        
To tell or not to tell? That is the question facing many people who have a chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), arthritis, epilepsy or dozens of other debilitating conditions.

Unlike disability, chronic illness is not always visible and for a long time a sufferer may be perfectly well. At other times they may have to take weeks off which can have implications for their careers and their employers. There is also a spectrum with many of these illnesses from mild to severe and sometimes employers do not make that distinction.

This provides an unenviable dilemma at a time in the job market where there is such competition for every post. In an ideal world applicants would only ever be judged on their ability to do the job and their job record, but in reality an employer might decide to give the job to somebody less qualified but who does not have health issues.
        
Unemployment rate
        
The issue is a serious one. Rates of unemployment among people with chronic illnesses are invariably higher than those who do not have such illnesses.

Though epilepsy is a very manageable condition, a recent survey carried out by Epilepsy Ireland, found that nearly 20 per cent of Irish people would not employ somebody with the illness.

A study carried out at St Vincent’s hospital among sufferers of the two IBDs – Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis – showed rates of unemployment of 36 per cent and 26 per cent respectively, much higher than the general population.

Rachel Ashe said she had told people she had epilepsy and still got employed as a digital marketing executive with Hayes recruitment. She set up a Facebook page for people with epilepsy. It now has 823 members and employment is an issue that arises quite a lot.

“Personally, I’d be hesitant to make a big deal of it. If you are going into an interview and talking about it in a negative way, that is not the best way to go forward and that negative connotation is then put on to the employer,” she said.

Others have better experiences. “We had one member who was out of work for six months and he feared the company would let him go.

“Instead, they reacted fantastically to it. He felt accepted. Employers are changing their point of view. We are hearing more positive stories than negative stories. My own employers have been beyond good to me.”

Susan Mitchell, who also has epilepsy, said she now works for a company that is very supportive. “That’s not always the case. I was effectively constructively dismissed because of the diagnosis when I was first diagnosed five years ago. I had no choice but to leave.

“I was being asked if I could work with the public, use the computer and all that sort of stuff. That was completely off the wall.My advice is to disclose because it takes the fear out of it for you and for your employer. If an employer takes you on with epilepsy, they will be more flexible with you.”
        
‘A real struggle’
        
Emma Rogan, who was diagnosed with MS in 2007, has won a Vodafone Foundation World of Difference award for her work in ensuring that fellow sufferers get the best from life. She said having a chronic illness was a “real struggle. Employers are quite ruthless in who they employ. We have equality legislation, but that does not necessarily mean they will look beyond the condition.”
        
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Seamus Whelan
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Elaine Callan
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