Moving on: Working when you have a health condition

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Learn about some of the points to consider when entering the workforce as a teen with a health condition.

Key points

  • Family members, teachers, guidance counsellors, and support groups are all good resources when thinking about your career options and looking for work.
  • You are not obligated to disclose your health history to your employer. The only people who may need to know about your health include those who can help set up accommodations.
  • Accommodations at work may include flexibility in work hours or duties, support with learning new tasks or changes to the work environment.
  • Discrimination is illegal within the workplace. If you feel you are facing discrimination in the workplace, consider documenting the experience, talking to your employer and/or seeking legal advice.
  • Consider the health insurance and benefits offered by your employer and how they may apply to your health condition.

Thinking about entering the workforce?

As you get older, you may want to get a part-time job to earn some spending money or gain work experience. Or you may decide to enter the work force soon after high school. Many teens with health conditions look forward to starting work. Reasons may include financial independence, access to health insurance, and the feeling of being a "normal teen". Starting to work can be exciting! Working offers the opportunity to grow and gain independence, but it can also bring challenges. The information on this page offers some points to consider as a teen entering the workforce. 

What to consider when thinking about a job or career

When you are thinking about a job or career, consider whether you want a job where you can be active or if you would rather sit at a desk. Also consider if you would like to interact with colleagues or clients or prefer to work on your own. It is also worth considering if you would prefer an office or outdoor job, or a job that requires traveling.

Put all these answers together and then start asking teachers, your guidance counsellor and family members what kinds of jobs may be a good fit. You can also go online to assess your strengths and interests and identify suitable careers. This is something you can start in grade 9 or 10 well before you are ready to graduate from high school.

Finding out what job is right for you

A school co-op is another great way to check out something you think you are interested in. If this option isn’t available, consider contacting an organization or company to see if you could “job shadow” someone. This usually involves a safety orientation to begin with and then observing or helping someone at their job for anything from a few hours to a week. It gives you a real idea of what a job is like.

Many people get their first real job after volunteering at an organization. Volunteer experience is often a way to meet people in the working world and get some experience.

Where can I look for career advice?

In some areas of Canada, career counselling and guidance programs are offered to young people with health issues. Some places even provide counsellors that work in specific health areas. These counsellors have special training and experience, so they understand the specific issues that some teenagers deal with. They can help you clarify your career goals and may check in with you to help you stay motivated to achieve them.

Many high schools also offer career counselling. Check with your guidance department to see what options are available in your area.

Support groups

Support groups can also be a great resource to help you figure out how to be most effective in looking for or keeping a job. They offer opportunities to hear other people’s stories about how they overcame their challenges with their health, and how they managed to hold down a job. You can also share your experience and inspire others!

Ask your health-care team to recommend a group in your area or an online group.

What should I tell my employer about my health history?

The information you provide to your employer needs to be truthful. However, you are not required to tell your employer that you have had health issues in the past. You have the right to keep your medical history private. If you do choose to tell your employer your medical history, they can only share it with other staff who require that information for a specific purpose. People who may need to know about your health include those who can help set up accommodations, like human resources staff.

Will having a health condition affect my ability to work?

Some people may have experienced changes in their physical or cognitive ability, their mood, or their energy levels because of your condition or treatment. These changes do not mean that you are unable to enter the workforce! They may mean that you will need to be choosier about the type of work you do, or that you will need some accommodations in the workplace.

If you are uncertain about how your health history may affect your ability to perform in a job, speak with your health-care team. They may be able to provide some guidance or refer you for an assessment that will identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you select the right work environment.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations are changes that can be made in the workplace to help a person with physical challenges, cognitive challenges, or health conditions be able to work. Accommodations may include flexibility in work hours or duties, support with learning new tasks or changes to the work environment.

The type and amount of accommodation you may be entitled to will depend on your employment and your level of impairment. Some smaller organizations may not be able to offer as many accommodations as larger organizations.

If you need to request accommodation, your employer will usually ask for a doctor’s letter outlining your needs. This will allow your employer to support you properly. Even if you require accommodation, you do not usually need to tell your employer about your health history. Ask your employer (or potential employer) about the possibility of accommodation in the work environment.

Discrimination in the workplace

You may be worried about telling your employer about the limitations you have due to your condition or treatment. You may worry that you will face discrimination, which means experiencing unjust or unfair treatment based on your personal characteristics. Discrimination violates your rights as a person and is illegal within the workplace.

If you feel you are facing discrimination in the workplace, consider the following.

  • Write down what happened, when and where it happened, and who was involved.
  • Talk about the situation with your employer or the human resources department (if there is one), and ask about accommodations.
  • Ask a legal expert to see whether the law would consider your experience to be discrimination. If it is, you can explore the possibility of taking legal action.
  • Look for support from a community support group and your doctor. You may be able to learn from the experience of others in a similar situation.

Insurance and benefits

In Canada, we are lucky to have a universal health care system that provides free access to health care. However, in most cases, Canadian health care does not include access to physiotherapy, dental services and prescriptions. The Canadian health care system will not cover these costs. This is where insurance and benefits come in. Often companies offer employees extended health insurance or benefits for a small fee each month. Employees can then use their benefits to cover the cost of these additional services, like physiotherapy or orthotics.

If your parents are insured

Both within and outside of Canada, the duration of health insurance coverage under your parents’ plan will vary. It’s good to find out how long you are covered by your parents’ insurance. It is also important to ask about insurance coverage when you are applying for a job.

If you do not live in Canada, your health care coverage may be different. Ask your parents if you have insurance coverage and how long you are covered. This is important to consider when applying for a job, so that you can plan ahead to make sure you get the medical care that you need.

Last updated: March 3rd 2021