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Management Should I ask my employer to accommodate my illness?

THE QUESTION

I am a vice-president with the same organization for 10 years and consistently good performance reviews. This year, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. I can perform my role, but have trouble typing and writing. I want to request assistive devices such as dictation software, but am concerned that disclosing my health status may be perceived as a sign of weakness by my employer. Six executives have been terminated during my tenure and I don't want to join the list.

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Kyle Couch

President and chief executive officer, Spectrum Organizational Development Inc., Toronto

First things first: Having a disability is not a sign of weakness. Also, the Canadian Human Rights Act protects employees with disabilities, so having Parkinson's will not be a reason for dismissal. Based on your past job performance, if you have to "worry" about anything, it may be your employer's lack of preparedness to support employees with disabilities.

Be extremely pro-active about your situation with your employer. Considering your tenure, and performance, you are a valued employee, and they should be motivated to do everything in their power to ensure that you are able to perform your job effectively. Technological aids are a small price to pay.

Also understand that Parkinson's is not a reason to modify your business objectives; rather, you can develop alternative means of achieving them. Work with your employer to ensure that they understand your new requirements. Accessible work spaces, flexible work hours, mobility aids and other productivity software can help you perform at a high level for years to come. As your Parkinson's progresses, be sure to keep an open line of communication about your emerging needs as your career continues to grow.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Lisa Cabel

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Partner, labour and employment group, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Toronto

If you believe your illness is impacting your work performance, you should be communicating this to your employer and exploring accommodation options. While there is no requirement for you to communicate your diagnosis to your employer, it will be necessary for you to provide them with sufficient medical information to support your requests for the devices and software.

You should be mindful that while there is a duty to accommodate – and your employer must make every effort to provide reasonable accommodation – this duty is not unlimited. As a result, the solutions and devices that you have identified may not be feasible from a cost or logistical perspective for your employer. Accordingly, I would suggest that if there are concerns from your employer about the devices you have identified, you should keep an open mind about any other suggestions that they may have.

Finally, it is also necessary to involve your treating physician in a meaningful way. If your employer has questions about the nature of your illness and the limits regarding your abilities, consider having your physician provide more detail about your limitations or even suggest that your physician speak directly with your organization's HR staff. It can be frustrating for an employer to try to implement accommodation requests based on vague medical information.

Your employer has an obligation to accommodate your illness, so making the request should not be seen as a sign of weakness. From the employer's perspective, it is better to know how to assist you so that you are operating at your capacity. No one wins if you hide your illness and your work performance is suffering.

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