Work and Kidney Disease – Your Right to Ask for Special Accommodations

January 13, 2017, 10:07am EST

Facing a chronic illness like kidney disease can make it challenging to do the things you used to do. Going back to work is a great way to get back into a routine and feel like yourself again. Besides the financial benefits, work raises your self-esteem, gets you into a stable routine, lets you interact with people, and just gets you out of the house.  
Once you’re back on the job, you may need to make adjustments. These may include scheduling time for your dialysis treatments, designating a sterile area to exchange cleansing fluid bags for PD, or even being assigned to a less strenuous job.  All these situations and more are called “reasonable accommodations.” 
You may feel reluctant to ask for any special help, not wanting to stand out. Some employers may not want to make the extra effort or put you off. No way. It’s your right to ask for changes. It’s your right to get them.
Advocates and people in government have fought hard for a long time to protect those with chronic illness in the workplace.  These gains have some famous names: The Civil Rights Act, The Rehabilitation Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act, and The Family and Medical Leave Act. These laws were written to offer protections for people with disability who want to continue to work and to provide guidance for employers.

Some hypothetical examples:

When Jamal, 38, received a diagnosis of stage 5 kidney disease, he was a delivery man driving a truck and loading and unloading heavy boxes. When he returned to the job, he was on peritoneal dialysis. Strenuous activity made his access leak. He asked for and received a transfer to dispatch and training for this new job. 

Mary was just out of college and starting a career in publicity when her kidneys failed. She needed dialysis treatments three times during the work week.  Her company let her telecommute with her clients from her dialysis chair using her smartphone and laptop, and she also worked makeup time on the days when she doesn’t have to go into the center.

After 10 years with her company, Maria, 50, was up for a supervisory position in her local retail store. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney disease. Dan, a less-qualified coworker, got the promotion instead. Maria first went to the personnel department and reported the situation. When they did not respond, she contacted the local office of the Department of Labor who contacted the main office of the retail chain. The dispute was settled in Maria’s favor and she is now a supervisor.

Here is another great story about someone returning to work after receiving a kidney transplant. Remember, it is possible to work and live with kidney disease.