How to Manage Incontinence Issues in the Workplace

Help from your doctor, good planning, and choosing the right protective products are the keys to overcoming incontinence issues on the job.

Incontinence is a physically and emotionally challenging condition under any circumstances. In the workplace, however, incontinence issues can pose a special type of tribulation that may have an impact not only on your quality of life, but on your livelihood. At the very least, contending with urinary or fecal incontinence can disrupt your work schedule and lessen your productivity. It may affect how you interact with colleagues and bosses, both socially and on the job. Under some circumstances, especially in very small companies that may not be subject to employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it could even threaten the job itself.

Incontinence is a disability, and the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities with respect not only to hiring, but to promotions as well. The Act covers employers with 15 or more employees, and requires them to make “reasonable” accommodations for an employee with a disability, provided the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. For a person with incontinence, that could mean having such privileges as permission to take extra bathroom breaks, a private changing area, or maybe even adjusted work hours, to cite a few possible examples.

This implies, of course, that the worker with incontinence is willing to make his or her problem known to the boss, and very possibly to fellow workers, too. On an emotional level, that could constitute a major roadblock to enjoying the protection of anti-discrimination laws as they affect incontinence. But whether the boss knows about your condition or not, the fact is that millions of working-age Americans like you have some degree of incontinence and remain gainfully employed. It is generally a very manageable situation.

Perhaps, the most immediate management question concerns what undergarments to wear on the job. Today’s state-of-the-art moisture and odor control systems for underpads, men’s briefs and women’s panties provide superior protection and comfort, along with the flexibility to accommodate ease of movement for almost any type of work, including jobs that require a lot of travel. Salk’s range of products includes pads and undergarments that contain HaloShield™, which kills 99 percent of odor- causing bacteria within minutes of an accidental urine discharge. This can be an especially important advantage in protecting your privacy in the workplace.

Here are some other important considerations for coping with incontinence while on the job:

Discuss the problem with your doctor! Surprising as it may seem, many sufferers fail to tell even their healthcare providers that they have incontinence issues, thereby, eliminating any possibility that their problem will be effectively treated. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, “50 percent to 70 percent of incontinent persons do not seek help for their condition.” Click here for a helpful discussion of why incontinence sufferers may not communicate properly with their doctors and how to counter the problem.

Schedule your bathroom breaks. Try to regulate voiding by the clock instead of by urges. For example, find the interval for urinating that works best for you on the job – perhaps, every two hours or even 90 minutes. Stick to that routine, even if it sometimes produces very little voiding. Some people with fecal incontinence take measures to ensure a bowel movement in the morning before leaving for work, using laxatives, stool softeners, and even self-administered enemas. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor before instituting such a routine.

Favor the water cooler over the coffee pot. Drink plenty of water for hydration, but minimize consumption of coffee and other beverages with caffeine, which stimulates the bladder. At business or social lunches, skip the alcohol, even in modest amounts. Avoid chocolate and spicy foods.

Keep a supply of protective undergarments in the office. You’ll want to have them handy, not just for comfort, but also to ensure that you can feel fresh and confident for meetings or job-related social events.

Remember to take your medications. If you have been prescribed medication to help control incontinence, don’t let the pressures of the day interfere with proper compliance. Set an alarm, if necessary.

Incontinence issues should not prevent anyone from having gainful employment or the satisfaction of a successful career. Get all the help you can from healthcare professionals, choose the best protective products available, establish the bathroom patterns that work best for you, and remember that your right to employment is protected by law.