Should I Tell My Boss about Hepatitis C
Should you tell your boss about Hepatitis C? I have experienced it both ways. I told one employer and did not tell another, so I can argue for both sides of this question. It is a personal one and took some agonizing on my part. Your decision to tell you employer can affect your finances especially if you are the main source of income for your household. You wonder if you will get fired. That can hurt your job history and your insurance benefits. Your employer and co-workers may discriminate, but you have rights on the job. Be careful, in reality your boss can make you miserable if they want to. Let’s look at it from both sides of the fence.
I told my Boss and Co-Workers - When I was first diagnosed, I had just moved back to my hometown and landed a teaching position. At my 2nd interview I met with 3 principals wearing a loose cotton dress with a swollen stomach. Thinking I was recovering from a bug, I passed the interview. All I had to do was show up the next week and meet the supervisor who would decide which site I would work at. I packed my resources in my car and was ready to move into a classroom. It was late summer and teachers were going to report the following week. The next day I went to the doctor and ended up hospitalized for blood transfusions. The bomb went off: I had Hepatitis C and Stage 4 Cirrhosis. I had to call and tell them that I could not report.
Two weeks after the diagnosis, with my mind still reeling from shock, I went to another interview for a part time position. It was 2 days a week. My feet were swollen and I was loaded up on diuretics. My calendar was filled with testing dates. I had a huge amount of bills that included the quickly rising medical costs. I took the job without disclosing what was wrong, only saying that I had been hospitalized and needed part time. I eventually told them about a possible transplant. They were the nicest people in the world. I started that week and had an awesome year. I could schedule tests, including endos and a liver biopsy and a transplant hospital workup around my days off. They made sure I stayed cool and well fed when I started treatment. It could not have been a better experience. That is rare when you are as sick as I was. I actually hated to leave, but I needed to work full time with benefits.
I Did Not Tell My Boss and only told 1 co-worker – The clock on my liver was ticking and I was in the hole financially. I applied for a full time teaching position while I continued to teach part time in the summer. After starting treatment, I was accepted to 3 different school districts. I actually took the job that I felt would be the least likely to fire me. It was a large school with high standards and they were very fair in their attitudes toward students of any background. I still chose not to tell them that I was on Hepatitis C Treatment.
I teach high school. All I needed was to have a student misbehave and then blame me because I was “sick” with Hepatitis C. You can never give a teenager a weapon like that. The staff and students all knew I was on medications. I mumbled something about having 1 kidney and evaded all questions. They saw my wig and my sagging pants. I actually kind of fit in with high school students if I swaggered like a gansta.
You may have your reasons for not wanting clients, co-workers, or your boss knowing that you have Hepatitis C or are on treatment. For one thing, your decisions may be second guessed. Brain fog creates enough self doubt without having to wonder what others think. It is kind of nice to be able to suffer quietly. That leads us to…
The Right to privacy – You are forcing yourself out of bed anyway. Getting dressed is a huge hurdle. The house is a mess and your medications, including rescue drugs are all in your bag. Your desk is stuffed with high fat grams and healthy protein. You are set to survive. It is a dark place where you brace yourself against every obstacle and prepare to face your day. The last thing I needed was for someone to ask me how I was doing. I felt as though I might crumble into a sobbing mass if anyone showed a gesture of pity. I had enough self pity and did my best to shove it out of my mind. It was a very private hell and a protective armor was my only defense against that wave of feelings that threatened to emerge when side effects hit.
What About Your Legal Rights? A whole blog can be devoted to this, and probably will! HaHa. The bottom line is that you cannot be discriminated against. Proving discrimination might mean entering into a whole new battlefield. I did not have the energy, so I did not take that risk. I knew where and when it was safe and acted accordingly. It was a life or death situation and I could not be without health benefits or a source of income.
Job Performance – We are paid to perform a task. When the side effects of nausea, skin rash, and fatigue hit those tasks take on monumental proportion. We focus on what has to be done and then we do it with everything we have got. This ties in with privacy in that a boss, co-worker, or client may notice that we are distracted. As long as we hit the mark with what has to be accomplished – no one can tell what we are feeling. Call it faking, but this is one of those times where we fake it till we make it. Let your boss think whatever they want. You know that it will soon be over and you will get back to a new normal. Again, I personally did not want to be scrutinized while I was working. I was able to measure my job performance with unit tests, writing samples, and End of Instruction Tests. The students learned. That means that the side effects did not keep me from performing. You have your own way of looking at your work area and measuring if you were able to finish your work for the day.
I had a male friend who tells his story of working on treatment on my blog -
Tell everyone – By the time treatment was over, I was living with my daughter in a different school district. I was exhausted with the commute, and applied for a job nearby for the fall and got it! This was just a few weeks after a varices bleed, so I had 7 pints of fresh blood and platelets. I was looking and feeling so much better. I told my immediate supervisor and a few in my department about Hepatitis C. They were sympathetic and curious and then we dropped it. I had an awesome school year. Being free of the virus helped. My energy level and mental ability was higher than it had been in years.
Wondering if you should tell your boss or co-workers about Hepatitis C Virus and Cirrhosis or treatment is not easy. I have done it both ways. The only real consideration is whether you are able to perform your job. I know that you will do your best. It is all you can expect of yourself. There is that feeling that life is over as you know it. If your job is part of a lifetime calling, you may get a lot of personal satisfaction from just being in the work environment that you love. It may be the only place in your world where you HAVE to put your best foot forward. You can recapture the sense of your former self. You know, life like it was before the diagnosis. That alone can be very beneficial.
Your co-workers may be like family to you. In my case, my students reminded me of what it was that I loved to do best. It gave me an inspiration to live, to keep pushing through the physical problems. I know that the decision includes your health benefits, insurance, as well as your finances. Life has changed for many of us. We have enough to deal with getting to know doctors and dealing with family issues and the physical symptoms. Keeping your job is a huge component in all of that.
I hope that you are able to keep your job if you need it. I know what it is like to reveal something that can bring discrimination, fear, and threaten loss of your livelihood. You know where my mind is right now: I am thinking about YOU and your decision to tell your boss. It may not go smooth, but you are not alone. You have me and all the other best friends in the battle who are standing behind you. As always, my heart is with you. Karen:)
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Should I Tell My Boss about Hepatitis C