Several taboo subjects aren’t considered appropriate water cooler talk, such as revealing intimate details about your dating life or telling your boss about your wild weekend in Vegas.

But what if you have a chronic pain condition? Do you tell your manager about your health issue, especially if your pain is affecting your ability to perform your job? Do you let human resources know? Or do you keep your health concerns to yourself out of fear of losing your livelihood?

According to experts, learning how to appropriately discuss your pain can help you keep your job and get the changes you might need to be more comfortable at work, physically and emotionally. Some tips to consider:

Unless it’s necessary, refrain from sharing personal medical information in the workplace. It’s easy for some people to be confused about the meaning of a medical diagnosis, or how some medicines work, said Evelyn Corsini, a social worker with painACTION. There’s really no such thing as speaking to someone in absolute confidence in the workplace, and someone who misunderstands may accidentally pass around incorrect information. You may never know what other people have been told or be able to correct misperceptions.

If you have to talk about your condition, choose your words carefully. The words disability, chronic illness, and accommodations spark strong reactions with some employers. Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, some companies are still concerned about its ramifications.

An accommodation (also called an adjustment) can be as simple as getting a brighter lamp or a more ergonomic chair. But it could also mean altering your schedule so that you can get to doctors appointments or have medical treatments.

The ADA says that employers have to give a reasonable accommodation to a worker who has a disability, as long as the accommodation isn’t a hardship for the employer, Corsini said. In addition, businesses don’t have to offer paid sick leave or health insurance to a disabled worker if no one else in the company gets those benefits.

Be sure to speak with the right person, someone who can make a decision or reliably relay your situation to someone who can. In any event, know who the decision maker is. That’s usually a manager, or a vice president in a larger company.


Before scheduling a meeting with your boss, detail what you need.

What are your challenges, and how can your boss help address them so that you can both be successful? For example, if you have difficulty with pain or have an early-morning therapy appointment, would arriving a little later be possible without interfering with your responsibilities or affecting your colleagues? And what about working from home?

You and your boss may be on friendly terms, but your pain problem is not an area for you to bond, said Linda Ruehlman, a health psychologist and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program.

The goal of your meeting should not be to elicit social support or sympathy, she said. Anything you share should be related to how you will continue to perform, despite your pain. You want your boss to maintain faith that you can do your job.

Share with us: Have you had challenges at work related to your chronic pain? If so, how did you handle them? Did you tell your boss, or keep things private? Share your experiences with the Pain Resource community.


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