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Simple solutions can help businesses retain employees living with multiple sclerosis

Employers who provide reasonable accommodations can help people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) continue to work and be successful at their jobs. This helps the employee be more productive and the employer retain a trusted employee whose accommodations have helped them succeed at their work. 

What is MS?

As March is National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, it’s useful to learn more about this often invisible illness that affects more than 1 million people in the U.S. MS is an unpredictable neurological disease that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body. Its symptoms can range from numbness, tingling, pain, and vision loss to fatigue and cognitive difficulties. Because of its uncertain nature, MS can have varying effects on a person’s ability to work. However, people living with MS often continue working long after their diagnosis. 

Young woman sleeping on couch in daytime, relaxing after computer work

Because MS is seen as an adult-onset condition, people living with the disease have often completed their advanced degrees and are moving up the career ladder. MS is often diagnosed in a person’s prime working years, between the ages of 20-50. This brings unique challenges of having to adjust to a diagnosis during the middle of one’s career. Over time, their MS symptoms can change, which may directly impact their ability to continue working in their chosen occupation or career. But thanks to advances in research, a number of interventions, including medication and lifestyle changes, have proven effective for managing symptoms.

Nonetheless, negative attitudes of employers, individuals’ lack of awareness of employment-related supports or rights, and failure of employers to provide reasonable accommodations can contribute to people with MS leaving the workplace. For example, MS-related fatigue is often misunderstood. A manager might think they know what it is like to be tired, but MS-related fatigue is different. A person with MS cannot just push through their fatigue with more caffeine or stronger willpower. If they aren’t getting the support they need, people with MS might decide to quit prematurely. 

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MS Work Accommodations

This doesn’t have to happen. It’s important to note that there are many creative ways for employers to accommodate their employees living with multiple sclerosis. These include accommodating some of the most complex symptoms such as fatigue and cognitive symptoms, as well as both physical and invisible symptoms. These workarounds can help keep individuals successful in their jobs and optimize their employment options. The Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) provision of reasonable accommodations has opened various new avenues of employment for people with MS allowing them to continue to work, either full time or part time, with or without accommodations. Some people may decide that due to their symptoms, changing careers is a way to help them stay in the workplace. 

An accommodation is a modification to the work environment or the way an essential job function is performed. These might include a flexible work schedule, working from home, more time to complete tasks, assistive technology, and much more. The type and need for a specific accommodation might also change over time as symptoms evolve. With the help of an understanding and knowledgeable employer, a person living with MS has a wealth of options for accommodations and continuing to work. 


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Accommodating a trusted employee can also enable employers to keep an experienced worker on the job rather than spending the time and money to search for and train a new employee. The accommodation process is meant to be an interactive process between the employee and employer. The employee is responsible for requesting the accommodation and seeing the process through with the possibility of some negotiation.  An employer does not need to provide an accommodation that would cause an undue hardship. For example, a reasonable accommodation does not include removing essential job functions, creating new jobs, or providing personal items such as eyeglasses and mobility aids. Additionally, an employer is not obligated to provide the exact accommodation a person requests, but does need to provide one that is as effective. One fear that is expressed by both employees and employers is the potential cost of an accommodation. However, according to a survey conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), most accommodations are free or cost $500 or less. 

Managing MS at Work

Disabled young African-American male meeting the deadline working at home using laptop.

Working from home is a common accommodation request. For individuals with MS, working from home could mean the difference between continuing to work or not working altogether. By eliminating their daily commute, employees experiencing fatigue can conserve their energy and concentrate on work instead of driving. Technological advancements have increased telework options and expanded opportunities for people with disabilities. Allowing work from home can accommodate MS symptoms and can boost morale and productivity, making the practice a win-win for the employee and employer.  

It’s important to emphasize that MS affects people in unpredictable ways, with symptoms, severity, and duration varying from person to person. Some individuals might be symptom-free for much of their lives; others might have severe symptoms that never go away. With such an unpredictable illness, employers or coworkers might not understand the needs of a person with MS. If their symptoms are invisible or are in remission, an individual might be told, “But you look so good.” This attitude can prevent people with MS from asking for help when they really need it. They fear people won’t believe they have a real medical problem. 

All employees have a right to be respected at work and to be given the tools they need to be successful. For people with MS, reasonable accommodations allow them to continue to show up to work, be productive and contribute in meaningful ways. An inclusive, people-first workplace culture can also boost happiness and lessen stress, both of which have shown to reduce symptoms of MS. 

Employers who are looking for ways to support their employees with MS are encouraged to contact the Job Accommodation Network. Individuals with MS can reach out to the National MS Society at 1-800-344-4867 and speak with a member of the Benefits and Employment Support Team. The Society has information related to employment on its website, including a brochure, “The Win-Win Approach to Reasonable Accommodations.” For more information, please visit

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Christina L. Foster is a manager of the Benefits & Employment Support Team at the National MS Society. Her background is in vocational counseling, and she is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC). 

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