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Adrienne Dellwo

Job Seeking With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By December 11, 2010

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Looking for a new job is especially tough right now -- I know plenty of healthy people who are struggling with it -- and when you have a chronic illness like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, you face some additional complications.

Not only do we need to consider what jobs are a good fit for our skills and our symptoms, we need to think about when we're going to bring up our health problems with a new or prospective employer. I recently came across a really good article on this topic on CNNMoney.com that offers expert guidance for what to do during the interview process.

Have you faced getting a new job since you've had fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome? When did you bring up your illness? What factors influenced your decision, and how did things work out? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Photo Ryan McVay/Getty Images

December 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm
(1) M. says:

I did not disclose at my interview. I checked the box “disabled” on the confidential form filed at HR in case accommodations would need to be made. Several years later, I have never specifically disclosed.

Some symptoms have been impossible to hide, but it has been better for me to minimize them and make do rather than to disclose and ask for accommodations, even though it would have make things easier.

Other colleagues who had illnesses that were not as misunderstood “came out” and were not treated fairly or legally. There are also more subtle forms of discrimination. Unfortunately, perception of your abilities is everything.

I wish I could be campaigner on this issue, or raise awareness at the workplace. I respect people who do, or are able to do so. Right now, I’m in an environment where it is not possible, and my continued employment is more important.

December 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm
(2) Jen says:

Job searching with CFS has been extremely difficult for me. Because of the bad economy and length of my unemployment, I have been interviewing for jobs that pay nearly half of what I was making when I got laid off.

Each time I feel I get very close to landing the job, I never get it. The feedback I often get from the recruiter or employer is I was not enthusiastic enough. I have excellent experience and skills, so its depressing, maybe my fatigue symptoms are showing through.

December 11, 2010 at 7:36 pm
(3) Nancy says:

In my last two jobs, I eventually revealed that I had Fibromyalgia. It was a mistake. They began to look for problems, it seems, and I ended up losing my job at both places. I cannot prove anything, though one did put in writing that my performance was down due to health issues. I now have a new job in the same industry and I do not plan on revealing ANYTHING.

December 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm
(4) Sherry says:

I have lost jobs due to my fibromyalgia. I didnt disclose them to my employer, however it was quiet noticeable on my bad days that it effected my job performance. rigt now, Im on sick leave cause of a bad flare up and Im worried about my future with my employer, I cant continue with my current job position and i hope my employer will be understanding. I dont want to loose another job cause of this illness.

December 13, 2010 at 5:03 pm
(5) Rosalind Joffe says:

I live with chronic illnesses and have disclosed – even back in the “dark days” even, 30 years ago. I also work with clients frequently on this issue. I’ve come to believe firmly that you should only disclose if your performance is being impacted by illness. No matter what people’s misperceptions about fibromyalgia or cfs, it’s better than that they think you’re a slacker. You can manage their responses, also, if you’re strategic in what you say. And it doesn’t end with “disclosure” – it’s the on-going conversations that can keep people from looking for your problems. It’s a lot to take on. But it’s better than losing your job because they think you’re a bad worker.

December 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm
(6) Emmy says:

I’m unable to work anymore, as I became too ill in the end, but in general I’d advise people against telling an employer or prospective employer about their chronic illness(es). On the two occasions where I did, it led to my being stigmatised and (seconding what Nancy said) people started actively looking for things that might be wrong with me. There was gossip and general unpleasantness, too. In my experience, perhaps honesty isn’t the best policy here.

December 17, 2010 at 8:11 pm
(7) Lee says:

If I had to start over, I would NEVER disclose. I required accommodations in university for the profession I seek and because it’s a “small world” type profession, I was blocked before I barely started.
I needed accommodations in the form of extra time for assignments/exams for example.
It’s the type of career where the profession ties in closely with the academic world and hence knows every single “business” of the student entering that specific profession. I got comments such as, “well, how can you help others when you are in need yourself?” and, “why not just stay on disability and leave this profession for those in good health to actually do it..” etc…

I would have been better off without the academic accommodations, gotten lower marks…and just let them believe that I wasn’t as intelligent in the grades….unfortunately, I am intelligent and highly academic and have paid the price of having a brain.

If only I had the body to match.

December 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm
(8) Maria says:

I felt the need to disclose to my employer recently due to the Fibro Fog I experience. She didn’t seem bothered by it. However, it is a low paying part-time job. I am currently attending University in hopes of a real career someday. I make good grades without disclosing, but it is a struggle. Also, have some issues due to the amount of walking and carrying heavy books around campus–but I’m hesitant to request disability parking privileges.

December 20, 2010 at 4:03 am
(9) dollar - South Afirca says:

I fully agree with you and i suggest people to keep quit until you cannot do anything at all. When i discolse i was tried badly to an extent that i wanted to resign.I was put on differnt dept with mangers who pretended to understand and blacmailing me. No manager seem to take me under their supervision. What i did was i went to the OT of the company and it was there one who said i must get a alternative position.It took me two years to be place, what suprise me was some guy’s who got sick after me were placed within few months. I was discriminated badly at some stage did psycho test just to have a thing that shows i’m no capable and they fail.They sabotage me but i did not fight back i just kept quit and i keep evidence.They don’t know what to do cause i don’t involve Union i just keep quit.I want them to act and then i will defend myself.Presently it’s been months i don’t speak to my manager and he doesn’t give me anthing to do. i know he is up to something but only God knows, i ask God to intervine and fight for me. i wish not to come to work but i don’t have choice i have bills to pay and medication to take that cost a lot

December 22, 2010 at 6:20 am
(10) Margo says:

I recently had a rather horrendous experience with an employer that has adjusted my thinking on this issue. If your employer doesn’t know about chronic health problems and make adverse (to you) h.r. decisions they may claim, if challenged, that they didn’t know about your disability so couldn’t have been discriminating on that basis (vis a vis that U.S. EEOC/ADA laws).

In my case I explicitly told my boss AND her boss on my first day of the job about my potential upcoming spinal surgery (I hadn’t seen the neuro-surgeon yet) AND my fibromyalgia. But, contrary to my assumption, that information did not go in my file and it was NOT trickled up to H.R., so when H.R. made the rather sudden decision to let me go, they made that claim of ignorance of my fibromyalgia and only knew about the more short-term back problem.

My take-away from this is that if you are going to communicate any health-related limitations, you may want to put it in writing and submit it to you h.r. office so that yo know that they know.

There may, of course, be consequences of this as well, but in cases like mine where I thought that my oral disclosure to my boss and her boss would be enough, I was wrong, so as long as I was going to disclose my health conditions, I might as well have gone the whole way any make sure they knew about it higher up the ladder.

January 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm
(11) kristina says:

I have never disclosed health issues. I remember working at a bank as a teller and being in excruiciating pain. I remember one teller mocking me say “oh im so tired, Im so tired, Oh i have a headache” Well i did have a headache ever single day and i was exhausted.
I wish a doc would give me anti-virals bc I know that is how it all started for me, but they say its not viral – i just want to try.

March 26, 2011 at 6:10 am
(12) CatherineEx says:

I told my new boss during my interview for a hospital discharge co-ordinator post about my CFS, but didn’t formally disclose as a disability as such with HR etc. Had been working from home prior to this but thought I was stable enough health wise to take this next career leap. Boss has been great trying to be flexible where possible but the nature of the job is full on, pressurised, intense and unpredicatable and I am always in demand from someone wanting something immediately done. Plus stress from angry relatives etc etc when discharge not straightforward (which it never is these days due to cuts). Sadly, 2.5 months in, I have given my notice in cos fatigue and pains are on the increase and I am terrified of full relapse. Even worried now cos 3 weeks of this pressure left before I can get some rest. Boss knows reason for leaving health related but I don’t want to take sick leave cos don’t want that on record in case of future discrimination. I think perhaps I was foolish to think I could sustain my health in this job, but I suppose you live and learn. Need to work cos of mortgage, bills, but not sure what to do next :(

March 15, 2012 at 11:02 am
(13) Emily says:

I have always made people aware of my CFS, I am currently in my last year at uni and have received so much support from my university and placements, all because i have made them aware of my condition, uni would not have been possible without the support. I am currently applying for jobs and have wondered about whether to disclose or not but I have made people aware on applications because I feel if I am not up to the job than there is no point hiring me, also how can i get the support I need in the work place if i do not make them aware. I would just end up struggling on and making myself ill from the stress.

January 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm
(14) Katie says:

A family member has fibromyalgia and also struggling to make a living. Whether he discloses his illness to prospective employers or not, the outcome has been the same which is not lasting more that a few months due to being unable to be at work everyday. Even when he discloses his illness, they still do not understand and most do not care to try to accommodate him. But mostly, because fibromyalgia is an invisible illness, they really do not believe anything is wrong – that he CAN be at work – that he is lazy, playing hookie or something along those lines.

I understand that businesses need to have you there everyday, however, a little understanding goes a long way, that there are all kinds of people that we are all different so we all need to understand that people who are chronically ill have to work and live too just like anybody else.

I just want to say to the so-called normals, that it is a must for you to step out of your world into other people’s world to get enlightenment, understanding, compassion and to help others.

September 6, 2013 at 3:57 am
(15) Sarah says:

I have applied for about 50 jobs & WINZ had even applied for a job for me and I got turned down. One place said my CV was glowing but because of fibromyalgia I couldnt get the job. There are even courses that won’t let me attend because of the disease, but one said they werent sure that I would cope, and they were right, sad to say. I have done alot of research of work & buisness and come down to the realisation I need to work out something I can do from home whether it be something like Amway or Avon or something different, its the only way I can wee myself being able to get ahead when I can figure out what I can do with the disease.

March 20, 2014 at 7:38 am
(16) Anonymous says:

It’s sad that employers for the most part are not understanding. I revealed that I was having a flareup before a conference and my boss clearly didn’t believe me. She was nasty to me during the whole conference and it made me rather uncomfortable. I put on a smile, wrapped my back with Lidocane patches and pulled it off while I was in pain. Because of other issues and the chaos of the organization, I resigned.

I have heard, from HR people, that larger organizations are more able to accommodate. Meanwhile, small non-profits in my state (with under 15 people) do not have to provide reasonable accommodation. I have my own height-adjustable desk and did what I could to make myself comfortable without burdening my employer. However, they were probably worried that I couldn’t work the job and started to come up with unreasonable requests after the conference was done. So they used me for their purposes and decided they wanted to cut me loose.

I weigh on the side of not disclosing because you just don’t know how people are going to react. When an employer has so many candidates to choose from, especially in this market, they will choose someone without health issues.

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