Many individuals who are moderately or less ill can continue to work without chronic harmful consequences—but only if they are able to alter the conditions of their work. The approach to use is "job accommodation". If you are such a patient, you could maintain your ability to work over time if you could reduce the number of hours and/or the nature or severity of the job tasks/work load. Perhaps you could work from home one or two days a week. A person with a valid disability may claim the right, in many cases, to job accommodation under state and federal disability laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state laws grant the right to job accommodations for certain types of employment. Employers covered by these laws are required to make "reasonable efforts" to assist the employee to maintain his or her employment by adjusting work conditions to accommodate the disability. However, the employer is only required to make such accommodations that are reasonably permitted by its business operations. Often larger businesses are better able to make such accommodations.
Therefore, if you are a patient with ME/CFS or FM who is physically and mentally able to continue working with work accommodations commensurate to your symptoms and illness, job accommodation is the route to take. As a prudent person, you should become aware of your legal rights and the practices of the employer before making direct requests for changes in working conditions or asking for a job transfer. The Massachusetts CFIDS/ME & FM Association can assist patients with ME/CFS or FM with some resources and counselling in the area of job accommodation. If the employer is covered by the law and does not make a good faith effort to assist the employee, or tries to unfairly terminate the employee, there are remedies under the various laws. For instance, a complaint may be made to the federal agency that enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act. States also may have agency enforcement mechanisms. In Massachusetts a complaint may be filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. In such cases, competent legal advice is required.
Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission—tel. 617-727-2183. The major function of the Commission is to provide vocational rehabilitation services to the disabled. If you are determined to be disabled by the Commission, you may receive extensive training, education, rehabilitation and support services for future employment more compatible with your disability. (You can receive assistance from the Commission if you are collecting Social Security benefits or if you are disabled and not receiving such benefits.) The Commission also offers homemakers/chore services to assist the disabled.
The Disability Law Center—tel.: 617-723-8455 The Disability Law Center in Massachusetts is a state-wide legal advocacy, information and referral agency for individuals with disabilities. The center does not usually provide individual legal representation, but it can assist in providing attorney referrals
Disability lawyers at the Center can answer by phone more difficult technical and legal questions concerning many aspects of the Social Security Disability programs. If you have been denied unemployment compensation because you cannot work full-time and can only work part-time due to your disability, the Center may be able to assist you obtain benefits. Also if you cannot continue to do your present job due to your level of disability but could still function within your company at reduced hours or in another capacity, the Center can advise you as to your legal right to job accommodations.
The Massachusetts Office on Disability—tel:1-800-322-2020. This agency can provide information, referral and advocacy for a wide variety of issues and problems facing disabled individuals. The Office provides direct advocacy for individuals who are having problems obtaining services from the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission, or who are suffering various forms of job discrimination. Information, referral and advice are provided for many other problems—including housing, medical assistance, transportation, independent living, and other needed services.
Many cities and towns have disability commissions, social service departments, or civil rights commissions that can assist you. To find out about this type of assistance in your community, call your city or town hall.