What to Do When a Psoriasis Flare-Up Causes You to Miss Work
Psoriasis can have a real impact on all aspects of your life, including your work. During a flare-up, you might be in too much discomfort or pain to do your job and you may need to see the doctor for a visit or a treatment, such as phototherapy. This could leave you no choice but to take time off work.
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There’s no doubt about it—having to miss work due to a psoriasis flare-up can be stressful. You may worry about your job security and lost productivity. Make it a little easier on yourself by knowing what your rights are and how to best approach the issue with your employer.
Be Upfront and Honest
First of all, when starting a new job, you should let your boss or HR rep know right away that you’ve been diagnosed with psoriasis. “This will help to prevent any uncomfortable situations later on, and your employer will be more likely to understand when you have to take time off,” says Ellen Mullarkey, a VP of business development for the Messina Staffing Group.
If you’re already employed when you get your diagnosis, don’t waste time letting your boss or HR rep know what’s going on. Mullarkey understands that it’s common for people with psoriasis to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about their condition, or worried that it’ll affect how they’re perceived in the company, but it’s important to keep everyone in the picture. Ultimately, this can help protect your job. “As long as you’ve discussed the issue with your boss or HR department ahead of time, there shouldn’t be any problems when it comes to missing a few days of work during a flare-up,” she says. During this initial conversation, you can discuss things like who will cover for you when you need to take time off, whether the company is set up for remote working, and any other concerns.
If you wake up one morning with a flare-up and can tell it's only going to get worse, you should reach out to your boss and let them know. If working from home is an option and you're feeling up for it, volunteer to do so.
“These types of conversations are easier if your boss already knows that you struggle with psoriasis. In other words, if they are prepared for the fact that you'll have to work from home a few weeks each year, you can work together to plan ahead,” Mullarkey says.
Know When You Need to Take Extended Leave
There’s a difference between missing the occasional day or two, and missing long stretches of work. “If you exhaust all of your sick time and personal days, it may be time to think about disability benefits,” Mullarkey says. “And if you are in pain, then working isn’t doing you any favors, and perhaps you should take some time away to care for yourself.”
In the U.S., the two main disability programs available are the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. To qualify for Social Security disability, you must have worked in jobs covered by Social Security and have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability. Psoriasis is included in the official list of disabling conditions, but if your psoriasis does not “significantly limit your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering — for at least 12 months,” you won’t qualify for disability, unfortunately.
If you need time off for doctors’ appointments or treatments, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may help. As long as you meet certain criteria (for example, you must have worked for a “covered employer,” such as a public agency or private-sector employer with more than 50 employees, for more than 12 months), you could be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year.
Ask for Accommodations
If you sometimes feel up to doing your job but not up to going into the office, you may want to ask if it’s possible to work job at home regularly during flare-ups. Of course, this isn’t possible with every job or workplace; but, if it’s common in your line of work, it may be worth asking.
“An employee with a disability has the legal right to reasonable accommodation if requested,” says David Reischer, Esq., employment lawyer at LegalAdvice.com. An accommodation could be a change to your workplace, the employment policies or the role itself—and working from home is a legitimate request, Reischer says. He advises making the request in writing and providing as much information as possible about your needs. “Your employer doesn’t have to provide the precise accommodation you request, but they must engage in a flexible, reciprocal, and interactive process to come up with an accommodation that will be effective,” he adds.
Know Your Rights
Unfortunately, not all employers are understanding when it comes to psoriasis (and other chronic health conditions). If you believe you’ve been discriminated against at work (for instance, if you’ve been refused a promotion) because you’ve had to take time off during psoriasis flare-ups, the legislation you need to know about is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which prohibits discrimination based on disability.
“The ADA does not contain an inclusive/exhaustive list of covered conditions, but psoriasis is considered a disability under the Act,” says Michael Liner, Esq. from Liner Legal, LLC in Cleveland, Ohio.
Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is defined as someone “who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or, is regarded as having such an impairment." The regulations define "physical or mental impairment" as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems—including the skin.
Liner advises contacting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if you think you’ve been discriminated against because of your psoriasis. Generally, you have to file a charge of discrimination within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.
Take Care of Yourself
Juggling psoriasis and work life can be a huge stress for many people, which can lead to a vicious circle—since stressing about the situation can be a trigger for a psoriasis flare-up. So, it’s really important that you make your mental health a priority. You can’t remove stress from your life altogether, but you can do lots of things to reduce anxiety, keep your energy levels high and keep stress to a minimum. Figure out what makes you feel relaxed, and do more of that! It might be yoga, meditation, painting, working out, or gardening, for example.
If your psoriasis regularly flares up due to work stress, look at how you can reduce it. Could you be more organized, or delegate certain tasks to other people? Don’t be afraid to speak up if the demands aren’t realistic or if you could use help.
And as always, if you don’t think your current treatment plan is working, make an appointment with your dermatologist to explore alternatives. Sometimes, taking a step toward making positive change is enough to turn a bad day around.
Remember, taking a day off work can be well worth it if it’s going to make you healthier and happier in the long run.
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