“Is That An Inhaler?” Asthma In The Workplace
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A new year brings change and new opportunities. Like many of you that are changing jobs or are thinking about it. There are often a lot of questions about how you handle asthma in the workplace.

I went through a job transition of working full-time or more than full-time hours, while healing, balancing my health stuff and even severe exacerbations while dealing with work. I heard someone reference that “managing your health” is a full-time job, on top of your full-time ” I can’t agree more. Between appointments, sick days or even being unwell at the office. There are a lot of considerations, if you are able to modify your job that is better for your health, I highly recommend doing that, you will be your more productive, happier and hopefully well. Employers tend to get nervous with chronically ill employees. Unfortunately, there is the perception that the chronically ill are troublemakers, lazy, inefficient and suck up precious group benefits. Just like the gross generalization of my last statement, there are a lot of individual variables here.

So, how do you handle asthma in the workplace? Here are a couple of tips when dealing with employers and concerned or gossipy colleagues:

Employers

  • Be honest with your employer about your needs, however, be focused on your SOLUTIONS. For example, if you need a work accommodation or flexible schedule, be focused on how those accommodations will allow you to be the most productive employee possible. You need to make sure that you deliver on those promises.
  • Stay to the facts and only provide information that is required for you to provide. Depending on where you live and local labor laws you only need to provide specific documentation and recommendations. I recommend that you do not overshare, if an employer reads doctors note that you could be out for a long time or need extensive modifications it could taint your relationship. By law/human rights obligations you should not be discriminated against, you don’t want to give any misconceptions fuel.
  • You may be able to work out a compromise or move into a different role that will allow you more flexibility. Don’t be afraid of a change that could be a good thing.

Colleagues

  • Depending on your comfort level, you may be comfortable taking medications at your desk, or you may be a person that needs to regret to the washroom to do this. There are have been a time or two I have had someone walk by when talking a med through space, you get a look of “are you taking drugs” or “what is wrong with you”. Be mindful that taking medications may bring on curious bystanders. It is important that not everyone is comfortable watching someone take medications. Be mindful of squeamish colleagues. If you are comfortable sharing, do so, it should put gossip to bed about the medications you are taking or why you have been out ill for a while. Have a conversation with your colleagues if you are ill and working on a team project. Try to honor your commitments, even if you need to get creative on how you get them done. You are still part of the team, ill or not. If you are not comfortable with this level of sharing, you are not required to share with a colleague.
  • It is good to have at least have a trusted friend or your HR department aware of your asthma and your emergency action plan, in case something does happen at the office. It is not good when your colleagues have to take you to the ER.

A word about managing your expectations; people are human and so will reactions to your asthma. Generally, people will probably not care much or will be just be concerned for you. If you are feeling unwell, it might be best to stay home that day or make arrangement to work from home. It might take some negotiating to work out workplace accommodations if that is something you require. The things to remember on accommodations is that you need to be part of the solutions. You will win brownie points for being proactive! If you need to change from full-time to part-time, it may seem scary, unfair or financially horrible. There is definitely some financial planning that you need to considerate when making this step, however, you may find you have better health. When I stopped spending two hours in my care daily commuting in gridlock, I notice that my health improved. Moving to part time for a while does not mean that you will be part-time forever. Think of it as rest, when your health is improved you will always be able to go back to full-time work.

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