Should I Tell My Boss I Have Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Boss and employee
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I was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and I'm really struggling with work. I miss a lot of days and have trouble keeping up even when I'm there. My boss has started to take notice of a drop in the quality of my work, which has me under a lot of pressure and just makes me feel worse. Am I better off telling my boss about my chronic illness or keeping it to myself?

This is a common dilemma for those of us living with chronic illnesses. It's a difficult situation to be in, and in the end we each need to make that decision for ourselves. However, there are a few elements it can be wise to consider before you make such an important decision.

Let's look at some pros and cons of keeping quiet.

Pros: Keeping Your Illness to Yourself

Sure, laws are in place to protect the sick and disabled, but we all know that discrimination happens and can often be subtle. It's not always easy to prove that, say, it was illness that kept you from being considered for a promotion. Your boss can always say someone else was just more qualified.

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are often misunderstood and stigmatized. That might have you worried that your boss and coworkers will view and treat you differently if they know you have one or both of them.

Many of us feel that we have an image to live up to at work.

We don't want to be viewed as weak or incompetent, and those are images that some people relate to illness. If you're in a position of authority, you may be concerned that subordinates will lose respect for you.

Keeping news of your condition to yourself means you don't have to worry about the possible personal, social, political, and financial repercussions that can come with being sick.

That's understandably comforting; however, staying mum may lead to as many—or more—problems than informing your employer.

Cons: Keeping Your Illness to Yourself

We have laws protecting you from being discriminated against due to chronic illness. However, these laws will do you no good if your employer doesn't know about your condition(s). Once you disclose your illness, you have the opportunity to:

  • Qualify for intermittent sick leave (sporadic sick days) under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA,) which can protect you from being fired for calling in frequently;
  • Request reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) which could enable you to do your job better and/or with less of an impact on your well-being;
  • Have some protection (although not total immunity) from being fired due to illness-related drops in job performance;
  • Become eligible for a move to a comparable job that's better suited to your abilities, if your employer should decide you're no longer able to perform the basic functions of your current job.

In order to get many of these benefits, keep in mind that you will have disclose your specific diagnosis or diagnoses. This loss of privacy concerning their health is a big problem for some people.

It might help you to know, however, that just because you tell your employer about your illness doesn't mean your co-workers will know. It's illegal for your boss, human resources manager, or any other higher-ups at the company to disclose your health status to other employees, or anyone else, for that matter.

A Word from Verywell

Unfortunately, there's no cut-and-dried answer to this common question. Everyone's situation is different.

In the end, you know the specifics of your situation better than anyone else. It's up to you to weigh the options and decide what you're more willing to live with.

Just remember that laws are in place to protect you from discrimination, and you have every right to that protection.