Once you let your boss know that you are going to need special accommodations because of the progression of your Huntington’s disease, you can’t be fired. At the same time, you can get fired for not being able to do your job if you have not told human resources or your manager about your symptoms prior to the termination. In other words, hiding your symptoms in hopes of getting away with something will only hurt your chances of keeping your job with modifications.
There’s a 50/50 chance you will develop the genetic disorder if one of your parents carries the gene for Huntington’s disease. You can go through school and get started on a career when symptoms finally do appear. According to the University of Utah, symptoms usually start between the ages of 30 and 50, and will get progressively worse. Symptoms include mood swings or depression, poor memory, difficulty talking or walking and uncontrollable twitching. In the late stages of the disease, you may even have trouble dressing yourself.
To get the benefits of Americans With Disabilities Act protection, as well as insurance coverage for your disease, you’ve got to tell your employer about your symptoms and your diagnosis before it becomes a problem. By disclosing your disease, you’re eligible for reasonable accommodations and special treatment. You should tell your boss verbally or in writing and tell her what kinds of things you need to help you maintain your performance. As long as you can stay in your current job and keep up the pace with the accommodations, your boss has to help you. If, however, you ask for another job because of the problems you’re encountering, your boss does not have to oblige and can let you go.
The ADA protects the disabled from being discriminated against in companies that employ 15 or more workers. In the workplace, employers must give workers modified schedules, technical assistance or make other reasonable arrangements so you can keep working. At first, medication can help you with the mood swings and depression so you wouldn’t need any special work accommodations. One problem with HD, however, is that your mental state, with memory loss and mood swings, may prevent you from even noticing physical symptoms, and you could lose your job before you’ve had a chance to disclose your condition.
Ergonomically designed keyboards, alternative access to phones and computers, recorders and page holders are just some of the accommodations that can help workers continue working when physical symptoms appear. Employers can allow you to use email and written correspondence if you lose the ability to speak. Workstations can be modified to make them more accessible for you. You can work from home or be allowed to work a more flexible schedule if you get easily fatigued. You can get more structure and written instructions when your memory fades. Many simple modifications can allow you to keep working through the early stages of your condition.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."