Health Issues in the Scientific Workplace

Everyone has to deal with health issues from time to time. When those issues threaten to intrude on work, decisions must be made.

A person who catches cold or sprains an ankle is likely to continue working. Even a broken bone may require a mere day or two off and some easy workplace accommodations.

But for someone who is diagnosed with a debilitating disease, or who survives a near-fatal accident, the impact on work can be much more serious. Large corporations have standard procedures for workers to follow in cases like this, along with some very helpful benefits. Even small businesses are likely to have a plan for dealing with accident and illness.

But what about career scientists? If an academic researcher coping with a chronic illness decides to take an extended leave of absence, what are the implications for his career? If, instead, she decides to continue working--very likely at a slower and less productive pace--will it jeopardize her career? Who will take up the slack? If the ailment is serious but he can still get the work done, does he have to tell his boss? What resources are available to help?

In this feature, Science's Next Wave explores the career decisions that sick and injured scientists must make to ensure that their health doesn't interfere with their professional lives. The feature will probe the implications of disclosing an illness in the scientific environment, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and highlight several scientists who have experienced health crises during their career.

In Irene Levine's MindMatters--To Tell or Not to Tell: Coping with Chronic Illness as a Science Trainee , experts discuss the costs of revealing or not revealing an illness to employers and co-workers.

Frequent contributor Jim Kling provides an overview of the Family and Medical Leave Act and examines the benefits it provides scientists who temporarily leave the bench.

In Edna Francisco's Bouncing Back , three minority women scientists, Kristine Brenneman, Joan Esnayra, and Deborah Jackson describe the obstacles they faced returning to work after an illness.

Finally, in Coping with Health Issues in the Workplace , Elisabeth Pain, the Contributing Editor for Europe, interviews Michael Hyland, professor of Health Psychology at the University of Plymouth and director of the Health-related Quality of Life Research Centre. Dr. Hyland recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and has devoted his time to studying the disease.

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