Symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) can sometimes affect the ability to work. There are many factors to consider before deciding whether a person can continue working. Requesting job accommodations can increase accessibility and safety.

MS is a progressive neurological condition that can affect many aspects of a person’s health, functionality, and well-being. It is an autoimmune disorder and develops when the body’s immune system attacks the protective layer surrounding nerve fibers, disrupting signals to and from the brain.

Symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, loss of muscle control, and weakness, can sometimes make it difficult to complete regular activities. As a result, people with MS may need to make changes to their routine, including their work life.

This article explores how MS can affect a person’s ability to continue working, including accommodations that can help improve accessibility and safety.

The decision to stop working after a diagnosis of MS depends on a combination of personal and disease-specific considerations. People with MS may weigh a variety of factors, including:

  • personal preferences
  • the type of work they do
  • the severity of their symptoms
  • how quickly they expect their disease to progress

According to a 2022 study of over 1,100 people living with MS, nearly 85% were still in employment at the time of diagnosis. However, the number of people who are able to or who choose to continue working declines over time. Research estimates that about half to two-thirds of people with MS are no longer working within 12–15 years of diagnosis.

A 2018 study found that fatigue is a significant predictor of a person’s ability to continue working with MS. Fatigue affects up to 80% of people with MS and is one of the most common reasons for leaving the workforce.

Other factors that may affect a person’s ability to continue working include:

The ability to continue working with MS depends on the symptoms a person is experiencing and the nature of their work. A 2023 survey in Sweden found that, in general, people in office jobs or managerial positions were more likely to be able to continue working than those in manual labor roles.

When deciding whether they can or should continue working, a person should consider how their symptoms may affect their ability to do their job safely and effectively. For instance, people who have muscle spasticity may experience difficulty with fine motor tasks. Dizziness or fatigue may make it unsafe for others to operate heavy machinery.

Various accommodations may be possible to help people with MS continue working in a safe and effective manner.

For many people working in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to help create a work environment that is safe for people with disabilities and allows them to meet their job expectations.

Reasonable accommodations may look different for everyone, depending on their symptoms and their jobs. Some examples of accommodations that a person can request include:

  • installing ramps, mechanized door openers, rugs, or grab bars to improve accessibility
  • adjusting job responsibilities
  • modifying work schedules
  • providing assistive technology, such as voice-to-text software
  • allowing for remote work

Specialists such as physical or occupational therapists can help identify accommodations for a person’s specific needs.

Individuals with MS who require accommodations to continue doing their jobs can talk with their employer to determine what changes can reasonably be made based on their needs, work environment, and job responsibilities. While it is necessary to disclose that a disability affects their ability to do their work, it is not a requirement for a person to disclose the nature of their disability unless they choose to.

Note that not everyone — including those working part-time (less than 20 weeks per year) or in small, private companies — is protected under the ADA. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers a list of resources to help people understand their rights and how federal disability laws protect them.

Temporary leave

Some people may need to take temporary leave as a result of their MS symptoms or care. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows people to take an unpaid leave of absence — up to 12 weeks (continuous or noncontinuous) — to help manage medical-related issues.

Temporary disability-related medical leave typically comes under the ADA as a reasonable accommodation, but some restrictions apply. As with the ADA, not all employees have protection under the FMLA. A person can review these protections and how they may apply to their situation before approaching conversations with their employer.

Many people who live with MS continue to work after their diagnosis. Working may become challenging or unsafe for some individuals, especially as the disease progresses. Federal laws are in place to help protect many people with disabilities, and accommodations may be possible to help ensure a person is able to continue working should they choose to do so.

People who require accommodations to continue working can talk with their care team and employer to determine what changes to their work environment, responsibilities, or expectations are possible to help ensure they can continue working safely and effectively.