People With MS Face Higher Rates of Harassment, Criticism at Work Than Healthy Employees

September 24, 2020

Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) reported higher rates of harassment and criticism in the workplace than their healthy counterparts, even after informing employers and coworkers about their diagnosis.

A new study from the University of Buffalo found that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) tend to face more negative work environments than their healthy counterparts.

MS causes physical and cognitive problems that can affect employment, with roughly 50% of people with MS reporting job losses within 5 years after diagnosis, noted the study, which was presented at the MSVirtual2020: 8th Joint ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS Meeting.

“This quick vocational deterioration emphasizes a need to study MS specific work problems immediately prior to job loss,” said the authors.

The retrospective analysis compared responses from 607 workers with MS and 140 healthy controls (HCs) to the Buffalo Vocational Monitoring Survey (BVMS), an ongoing research instrument developed by investigators at the university. The BVMS includes questions regarding demographics, work status, job type, work duties, income, hours worked, disclosure, negative work events (NWEs), and work accommodations.

MS and HC groups were matched on age, sex, and education; the majority of both groups were female and tended to be in their mid-forties. The most common type of MS was relapsing remitting MS; by severity of disability, 41% described it as normal, 26.4% said mild, and 11.9% said moderate.

Just over 76% of people with MS told their employer about the diagnosis, and 85.4% disclosed their diagnosis to co-workers.

Overall, patients with MS reported significantly more NWEs than healthy subjects (0.5 [1.0] vs 0.2 [0.5]; P <.001.

Compared to HCs, the study revealed that patients with MS experience higher rates of verbal criticism (13.1% vs 6.4%; P = .012), harassment (6.9% vs 0%; P = .013), and NWEs that were classified as “other ” (7.5% vs 2%; P = .019).

“Other” NWEs were defined as criticism that was coded as attendance complaints, poor performance reviews, deteriorated relationships with employer or co-workers, dissatisfied clients, and unspecified events.

Overall, patients with MS were also more likely to use work accommodations (1.1 [2.5]; P <.001), with flexible work hours, air conditioning, and working from home among the most frequently used. Others included prioritized job assignments, access to a refrigerator, written job instructions, and additional periodic rest breaks.

Additionally, patients with MS worked more hours unpaid (2.9 [5.9] vs 1.9 [4.2]; P = .014) and worked for more years for their employer (10.4 [9.6] vs 7.8 [8.8], P = .003) than healthy employees.

These discrepancies in treatment occurred despite the 2 groups being equivalent in annual income/hourly wage, hours worked, and years working in their current position. However, the groups did differ in missed workdays, with people with MS missing significantly more days per month than HCs (3.2 [8.5] vs 1.7 [7.4], P = .108).

Reference

Jaworski M, Wijcik C, Youngs M, et al. Employment outcomes in multiple sclerosis. Presented at: MSVirtual2020: 8th ACTRIMS-ECTRIMS Meeting; September 11-13, 2020. Presentation P1026.