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Supporting Employees

Help Support the Success of Valued Workers

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, disabling disease of the central nervous system that impacts nearly 1 million individuals in the United States.1 That’s nearly twice the number that was believed just a few years ago! With so many individuals at risk, it’s important now more than ever that we help individuals living with or caring for someone with MS by providing the resources they may need to continue performing well in the workplace.

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What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis disrupts communication between the brain and body.

  • MS causes lesions in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord
  • These lesions make it difficult for the brain to communicate with the rest of the body
  • When communication signals break down, MS symptoms can begin to impact sight, energy, and coordination

Possible Symptoms

No two people are the same when it comes to how they’re affected by MS—it can affect different people with different symptoms. Many symptoms may not be visible, however some to look out for are:

Common symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Vision Problems
  • Numbness or Tingling
  • Bladder Problems
  • Weakness
  • Bowel Problems
  • Dizziness and Vertigo
  • Cognitive Changes
  • Pain & Itching
  • Depression
  • Emotional Changes
  • Spasticity (stiffness or tightness of the muscles)
  • Walking (Gait) Difficulties

Less common symptoms

  • Speech Problems
  • Tremors
  • Breathing Problems
  • Swallowing Problems
  • Seizures
  • Hearing Loss

Workplace Accommodations

While local laws and/or corporate policies may differ, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations—modifications or adjustments to job requirements and the work environment. These modifications enable individuals with MS to have an equal opportunity to successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities. Below is an excerpt from the Job Accommodation Network’s (JAN) Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Multiple Sclerosis.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Some accommodation ideas include:

For Decreased Stamina/Fatigue

  • Ergonomic Equipment
  • Flexible Schedule
  • Job Restructuring
  • Periodic Rest Breaks
  • Work from Home or Remotely

For Worksite Access

  • Modified Workspace
  • Adjustable Workstations
  • Ramps
  • Service or Support Animal
  • Expanded Keyboards

For Temperature Sensitivity

  • Heated Ergonomic/Computer products
  • Workspace Heaters
  • Fans and Portable ACs

For Attentiveness/Concentration

  • Alternative Lighting
  • Cubicle Doors, Shields, and Shades
  • Modified Break Schedule
  • Noise Canceling Headsets

For Low Vision

  • Enlarged Keyboards and Screen Magnifying Software
  • Large Button/Visual Display Phones
  • Magnification Tools

Be aware that not all people with MS will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations.

 

Download JAN Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Multiple Sclerosis

Impact of Accommodations on Employers
Results from the Job Accommodation Network survey of 3,369 employers from 2004 – 2020

Most employers report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities2

(n= 1,029 employers)
56%
said accommodations cost absolutely nothing
4%
accommodation resulted in an ongoing, annual cost to the company
39%
experienced a one-time cost (median one-time incremental expenditure of $400)
1%
accommodation required a combination of one-time and annual costs

Employers report accommodations are effective2

(n= 986 employers)

Employers who had implemented accommodations by the time they were interviewed were asked to rank the effectiveness of the accommodations on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely effective. Of the 986 responding, the majority (75%) reported the accommodations were either very effective or extremely effective.

Employers experience direct and indirect benefits from making accommodations3

Direct Benefits
  • 90%
    Retained a valued employee
  • 68%
    Increased employee productivity
  • 58%
    Eliminated costs associated with training a new employee
  • 57%
    Increased the employee’s attendance
  • 36%
    Increased diversity of the company
  • 30%
    Saved workers’ compensation or other insurance costs
  • 12%
    Hired a qualified person with a disability
Indirect Benefits
  • 57%
    Improved interactions with co-workers
  • 55%
    Increased overall company morale
  • 49%
    Increased overall company productivity 
  • 46%
    Increased safety
  • 38%
    Improved interactions with customers
  • 35%
    Increased overall company attendance 

There are a number of organizations that provide free consulting services for employers and their employees. This includes guidance around the Americans with Disabilities Act and workplace accommodations. They include:

JAN

Have questions about workplace accommodations or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Ask Jan at askjan.org.

MSAA

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America has comprehensive information on the challenges and opportunities involved with employment and MS. Go to mymsaa.org.

MS

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a brochure available for download called ADA and People with MS.

MS Focus

The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is an organization focused on providing free services that address the critical needs of people with MS and their families. Go to msfocus.org.

Caregiver Action Network

Caregiver Action Network (CAN) provides education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers free of charge. Go to caregiveraction.org.

Caregiver Action Network

MS MindShift is an initiative built to help patients understand the impact that healthy lifestyle choices can have on MS. See how healthy choices can help patients manage MS.

Employee Resources

Living with MS and staying in the workforce can be complex, but getting them the support they need doesn’t have to be. We’ve curated a select group of resources to help people with MS be proactive around discussions about accommodations and seeking outside support that’ll help you be as productive as possible.

Explore resources for government acts and rights at work

References: 1. Wallin MT, et al. Neurology. 2019 Mar 5;92(10):e1029-e1040. 2. Job Accommodation Network (Updated 10/21/2020). Workplace accommodations: Low cost, high impact. https://askjan.org/topics/costs.cfm. Accessed December 15, 2020. 3. Job Accommodation Network (Updated 9/30/2019). Accommodations: and Compliance Series Employees with Multiple Sclerosis. https://askjan.org/publications/Disability-Downloads.cfm?pubid=382018&action=download&pubtype=pdf. Accessed December 15, 2020.
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