IBD and Work

If you have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you may be worried about the impact your IBD may have on your job and career. If you are newly diagnosed, you may be concerned about how you will cope if you have a flare-up. If you have been diagnosed for some time, you may need advice on how to modify your working practice to adapt to your IBD better.

You may face:

  • Worries about what to tell your employer/manager
  • Concerns around needing the toilet often and/or unpredictably at work
  • Anxiety around taking time off sick during flare-ups
  • Feelings that colleagues do not understand your condition or support you

This section contains suggestions on how you can make the most of your working situation. You may also want to seek advice on the laws in your country, to understand your rights in the workplace.

Try our IBD Work Planner to get individualised recommendations for you and your employer including:

  • Information on IBD and working life
  • Individualised recommendations for employees and managers to make the workplace more ‘IBD Friendly’ 
  • Guidance document for employers

What should I tell my current employer?

Whether you are going into a new job or already employed when you are diagnosed with IBD, you will need to consider whether you want to tell your employer/manager about your IBD.

Telling your employer/manager may seem embarrassing or daunting, however informing your employer about your IBD can help to:

  • Allow you to be honest about times you are not feeling well and reduce the strain of having to hide your symptoms
  • Create reasonable adjustments at work to help you to be more comfortable and work more efficiently

It might be helpful to take someone with you (such as a colleague, human resources, occupational health or if you belong to a union, a representative) when you discuss your IBD with your manager/employer. This person can help to support you, and also if they have a formal involvement in your job (e.g. occupational health), can also help to work with you and your employer/manager to help support you in your workplace.

Overall, most employers will be sympathetic to your circumstances. Increased understanding about your condition can help you and your employer/manager work together. Remember even if you tell your employer/manager – it doesn’t mean everyone else at work needs to know.

You can refer your employer to our Employing people with IBD page.

Telling your co-workers can also be challenging, but it can:

  • Help others to understand why you may have time off or need support
  • Help create a better working relationship
  • Help others to give you the support and assistance you need, helping to create a better working environment
  • Mean you don’t have to hide taking medication or when you are feeling unwell
  • Mean that people don’t draw the wrong conclusions or believe you are getting preferential treatment
  • Alleviate fears that your condition might be infectious

Do I need to tell my future employer about my IBD?

When you apply for a new job, you might worry that by disclosing that you have inflammatory bowel disease at the interview stage you may be at a disadvantage. In many countries it is unlawful for employers to ask invasive questions about your health - including previous sickness absence - before making a job offer. At the same time, withholding information about your health at this stage may make matters worse and if your employer finds out later, it would not reflect well. It may be useful to also find out about the laws in your country before your interview.

You can refer your employer to our Employing people with IBD page which provides support on employing someone with IBD.

What are my employment rights?

Whatever country you live in there are usually legal rights put in place to ensure that you are not discriminated against because of your condition.

Generally the main issue is whether you are able to do your job properly, however your employer should also look at any alternatives, such as offering you other duties or different employment. You may find it helpful to seek advice on the laws in your country, to understand your rights in the working environment.

What adjustments can be made to help me at work?

Helpful adjustments can include:

  • Allowing you to work from home at times
  • Flexible work hours such as shortr day or different hours (especially during or after a flare-up)
  • Unlimited toilet breaks
  • Moving your desk/work station close to a toilet
  • Allowing time for medical appointments or treatment

Travelling to work is really difficult

You may find simply getting to work can be stressful and difficult. If you travel by public transport, it can be difficult to find toilets en route if you need them. You may also find the journey itself very tiring and stressful.

It might be helpful to:

  • Adjust your working hours so you miss rush hour traffic and travelling is less stressful
  • Ask to work from home some days especially when you feel very tired or your symptoms are worse
  • Find out if there are toilets available en route on your journey to work. Some countries have websites which detail where the public toilets are
  • Find out if it is possible to obtain a key or access to locked public or disabled toilets that are on your way to work

I am being bullied at work

You may face difficulties if your colleagues do not understand your condition. Sometimes this can result in being bullied for taking time off sick or feeling tired, or ‘not pulling your weight’.

It's a good idea to write down each incident as it happens and note if anyone else was in the room. Speak to your line manager or employer informally about your concerns of how you are being treated. You may be able to resolve things this way.

If you do not feel the situation has been resolved, you may need to speak to human resources or the relevant person in your workplace.

I feel bad about all the time I have off sick

Feeling guilty as you have to have time off because you are genuinely unwell can put an unnecessary strain on your health.

If you have IBD, it is possible that you have to be off work at some point. You can help to alleviate strain between yourself and your employer by:

  • Setting up an agreed procedure (in advance if possible) for how your employer will contact you when you are absent. You may prefer to be contacted via email or phone. Agreeing who will contact you and at what intervals (every day, once a week) can help both parties understand how to proceed
  • Keeping in touch with an employer can help – try if possible to estimate how long you may be off for – so your employer can make necessary arrangements

It is important not to feel pressured into returning to work too soon before you are well

I am worried about returning to work after being off for a long time

If you have been off work for several weeks or months because of your IBD, returning to work after a long absence can seem stressful. Speak to your employers and any co-workers once you think you are ready to come back to work. Try and find out what might be expected of you in the first day or so of your return so you can be prepared.

It may also be helpful to try a phased return to work – starting with a few hours, and then increasing over time.

I can’t cope with my job and IBD

If you have spoken to your employer, and adjustments have been made at work, you may think its time to try another career path that fits in better with your health needs.

  • Reduce your working hours – going part-time or job sharing can alleviate the stress of full-time working
  • A different location – if travel is the main issue – consider looking for a similar job closer to home
  • Becoming self employed – setting up your business – whilst a difficult and sometimes unstable prospect, this would allow you to be your own boss and potentially control your working hours. It may also allow you to work from home
  • Consider retraining – finding a new career doing something that you can do part-time, from home or with shorter working hours can also help you to create a working life more suited to your health needs

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