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When you’re off sick for a while you typically just have to fill in a ‘fit to work’ form or have a return to work interview with your line manager to check everything’s ok. However, when it comes to our careers how much does our place of employment need to know about our health? Many of us believe that beyond a cough, stomach bug, or a migraine our medical records should remain completely private and that any health issues you admit to having may be interpreted by employers as a sign of weakness.
We’re not saying that you need to announce to the entire office that you’re expecting, congratulations by the way, but at some point, you will need to let HR and your boss in on your secret. Most companies value their staff’s well-being, and while pregnancy isn’t an illness, you will need time off to go to antenatal classes, attend scans or have a meeting with your obstetrician to decide on your birth plan. By law, you are entitled to maternity leave although the length differs in each country. In America, expectant mothers and fathers have twelve weeks unpaid leave available to them which means your firm will need plenty of notice in order to hire a replacement. You may also need to cut back on your hours, move around client meetings or go home early in the later stages as pregnancy makes your body feel like it’s being taken over by aliens on a daily basis.
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Depending on how serious your allergy is it’s good to give the office a heads up when you first join the company. Some allergies like peanut, seafood or soy can be severe leading to an immediate physical reaction. Symptoms differ, but common ones include wheezing, puffy eyes, vomiting, small raised papules or a red itchy rash and being unable to breathe properly which can then require hospitalization. While some people are only affected if they touch, or swallow a product they’re allergic to, others have more serious conditions whereby if particles are in the air they’ll suffer. Don’t rely on people being considerate as sometimes it’s easy to forget, food may have been mislabelled, or if they’re feeling mean, they just won’t care. Have your manager make a blanket announcement on your first day and always have a spare epi-pen in your desk.
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Mental Health Issues
Despite changing attitudes to mental health and public campaigns fronted by HRH’s Princes William, Harry and the Duchess Of Cambridge people are still wary of sharing personal problems. However, lots of places have a strict discrimination policy in place that protects you from unfair dismissal and aggressive treatment, comments, and remarks by staff. You may find it easier to confide in a close colleague before going to your boss as well as giving you time to figure out exactly what you’re going to tell them. We suggest being as honest as possible and if you’re struggling then say so. If you’ve been signed off work due to issues like anxiety or depression don’t be a stranger to the office, call up regularly even if it’s just to say hi and remind them that your leave of absence is only temporary.
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It’s up to you what you class as a serious illness, and it could be anything from a flare up of coeliac disease, heart problems, kidney issues or even cancer. If it’s bad enough to have you leaving work early to attend hospital appointments, or taking days off because you don’t have the energy to get out of bed, let alone leave the house then your work probably need to know. If you’re under the care of a particular hospital or receiving specialist treatment, it may be worth having your primary physician draft a letter to your employer briefly outlining your condition and what steps should be taken to ensure you’re looked after properly.
The last thing you need when you’re severely worried about your health, your future or how your family is managing are work colleagues wondering why you’re not pulling your weight. Or worse, your boss feeling like you’ve suddenly stopped caring about your role. Statistics show that long term illnesses like cancer affects at least one in four of us, so you may find that your workplace already has a plan in place on how best to support you. They may be able to offer you flexi hours or to hold your role open for you, getting a temp in, until you feel ready to return to work however long that may be.