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I work as a junior software developer. I have been suffering from poor sleep for a long time (5-6 years) due to IBS, a debilitating illness that affects my sleep and quality of life.

More on Irritable Bowel Syndrome - "Irritable Bowel Syndrome", The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (US)

On the rare days that my symptoms subside or the days when they are minimal, my efficiency is amazing and I do impressive stuff.

Usually, my sleep is messed up and it often prevents me from thinking clearly and quickly. As a result, my efficiency at work is noticeably poor. However, since my work is not too difficult, I have managed to survive. But now, my poor efficiency is being noticed more and more and I fear that I might lose my job. By the way, I know about cases where people with severe forms of IBS have lost the ability to work or keep their job. I don't want to stop working or go on disability.

I fear that if I tell my employer about my IBS they might release me.

I've worked for this employer for 3 months. I managed to keep symptoms under check for brief periods. Initially, the work pressure was not much, so things went by unnoticed for the most part. Now, its getting harder and also my IBS has flared up. I have crazy stomach aches and burning, and sleep is poor which is affecting my work. I told them about the heartburn part openly. I might have ulcers or something similar, waiting for the med tests.

How should I request a more flexible work arrangement that allows me to work from home when symptoms are bad, and come in to the office when they are under control?

Although I like to be around people and work in an office, I also want to be able to work from home so that I can catch up on sleep and work more efficiently. I am tempted to approach my employer, but I don't know how to go about it.

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    I've known a number of people be very productive with otherwise debilitating diseases in companies past... once they talked to the appropriate parties and chimed them in on what's up... Some things you can manage and work around yourself, some you can't. There is a possibility they'll let you go when they figure out you have IBS, but if they do, then it was only a matter of time to be honest, IBS is one of those ones people figure out over time. It's better to make it known on your terms instead of waiting until they figure it out on their own. – RualStorge Sep 8 '14 at 17:40
  • If your employer deems your request for accommodation under ADA reasonable based on the requirements of the job you do, then the employer keeps you. Otherwise, they let you go. – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 11 '15 at 21:53
  • Note that if you do not disclose you are ill you will be measured as if you were fully healthy. At this time this is probably not going to work out well. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 13 '16 at 10:21
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The answers by Monica Cellio and Joe Strazzere provide good suggestions, but I wanted to add a key point.

You have mentioned that your performance is now perceived as poor. What you really want to avoid doing is raising this in a meeting that is about your performance. In my opinion, no matter how you explain it, it will be taken as an excuse, (as you have not mentioned it in the past) and you're less likely to get any support or assistance.

If / when you have this discussion, try to have a meeting with your boss specifically about the IBS. That doesn't mean that you can't explain that it is affecting your performance but it should give you a better platform for getting some support. Try to put a positive spin on it and say that your performance would improve if they could allow you some more flexibility.

  • I like your suggestion. Makes sense to me. I guess I should add the spin to it. I want to be able to do a great job. – coder_with_IBS Nov 28 '13 at 2:18
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My employer (large international company; I'm in the US) recently asked me to file a formal request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This didn't thrill me, but I felt better about it once I got a look at the forms. Here's what they needed to know, as reflected in their paperwork:

  • What activities are affected.
  • What I need them to do for me.
  • Which activities of workplace-related daily life are affected -- a long checklist here including things like "stand for extended periods", "lift 10/25/50 pounds", "climb ladders", "read", "fine motor control", etc. For each of this, check no/minor/major effect. (Note: this list is generic; climbing ladders etc isn't a function of my job in particular.)
  • From my doctor: nature of the problem, how long will it affect me, how severe is the impairment, do you agree with employee's answers to previous questions.

My doctor was pretty terse in filling out that form and no medical records were transmitted. There's nothing secret about my vision problems, but if it had been something more sensitive I'm pretty confident that my doctor would have revealed as little as possible.

Mostly what your employer needs to know is: what do we need to do for this guy to be able to work? They really don't care about the sensitive details.

(All of this came after less-formal discussions spanning years. My management and HR contacts were always as helpful as possible; eventaully we ran into hurdles with IT. Often informal arrangements will work fine if the people involved have good will.)

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How should I request a more flexible work arrangement that allows me to work from home when symptoms are bad, and come in to the office when they are under control?

Some companies have a culture that embraces flexible work arrangements. I currently work for one such company.

In my company, you would have a conversation with your manager, expressing your desire for flexibility, and outlining how you plan to accomplish your goals and assigned tasks within the flexible arrangement.

If working from home occasionally were what you needed for your arrangement, your manager would make sure you and she were in agreement about what meetings you must attend in-house, and which you could attend remotely. You would also reach agreement on how often and when you would be working from home, how your stakeholders can keep in touch with you, any additional reporting requirements on your plate, etc, etc.

In my company, if you were a very good-performing worker, you would almost certainly be granted a flexible arrangement that met your needs.

However I see a couple of things in your question that could cause problems (at least in my shop).

  1. You have indicated that your work has become noticeably poor. This would be bad, since flexible arrangements are sometimes denied to poor workers here.
  2. You have indicated that you do not want to disclose the nature of your illness. While not strictly necessary in my company, it would be very awkward to request this sort of flexibility without indicating the real nature of "why" you wanted the flexibility.
  3. You have indicated that you are often unable to think clearly and quickly. That's not good for an IT worker being trusted to work independently.
  4. You indicated that you want to work from home so that you can catch up on your sleep. Catching up on your sleep isn't something you can do while you are working (from home or elsewhere).

If you worked in my company, I'd advise you to be completely honest with your manager (perhaps me, perhaps someone else). Without that you still might be able to gain the flexibility you desire, but it would be far less likely, and far harder to achieve.

If you worked for me, I'd want you to educate me enough about your condition, so that I could understand your proposal. I'd want to understand how working from home would help you think more clearly and be able to handle the rigors of the job better. I'd want to understand what you meant by "I also want to be able to work from home so that I can catch up on sleep" and how that is going to help you get the work done.

You still might not be granted the flexible working arrangement, even if you did open up, but I think it might help tip the scales in your favor.

In my company at least, your manager wants to see you succeed, and will help as much as circumstances allow. Sometimes that means flexibility in the work is possible, sometimes business circumstances dictate otherwise.

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One thing that wasn't touched on in the answers is why you want to keep the nature of your illness confidential. Are you worried that you will be let go if they know you have a chronic illness, period, or are you more concerned about the personal nature and the specifics of the illness itself? The second is probably easier to work with.

If flexible work schedules or working from home aren't the norm in your company, then asking for them will probably necessitate some explanation. So, I don't think it's possible to get the accommodations you want without mentioning that you have a chronic illness. However, they don't necessarily need details, especially highly personal ones.

From personal experience, I've gotten flexible work hours and occasionally the ability to work from home without having to specifically say what was wrong. I also had a reputation as an excellent employee, so if you're having performance issues, you might not have as good a result.

If the main issue is sleep, for example, you could say that you have a medical condition that interferes with your sleep. Because of this, working from home on days when you don't get enough sleep would allow you to sleep later by cutting out your commute. It would also make it easier for you to adjust your hours to take a nap without losing out on work time.

Depending on your company's schedule and whether they currently have anyone working from home, they may want you to track the time you spend working remotely and/or give your boss a heads up if you're going "off the clock" during normal business hours and make sure they know how you're making up that time. (As Joe Strazzere points out, you don't want to suggest that you're going to be sleeping when you're supposed to be working.)

There are a couple downsides to being vague about medical issues when you're asking for accommodations for them. The biggest is that people may be suspicious. They might wonder if you're really sick if you won't share any details, and it might contribute to an impression of you as untrusting or overly private. Knowing some details also makes it easier for them to understand how what you're asking for will help. It's easier for someone to wrap their head around "I was up every hour with GI issues, so I'm going to need to take a long lunch to catch a nap" than something vague about medical problems. It's up to you to weigh that against the hit to your privacy of having everyone know your health issues.

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