Entering or Reentering the Workforce with Arthritis Limitations

Use these tips and tools for the job hunt when you have an arthritis-related disability.

Maybe you have just graduated or earned a new certification or are ready to reenter the workforce after taking time off. The whole process of searching for jobs, building a resume, networking, applying and interviewing can be daunting.

The key to jumping into the job search with confidence is to focus on your passions and strengths. Look for jobs where you meet the skills and requirements and are ready to handle the day-to-day responsibilities.

While arthritis-related disabilities can add another layer of uncertainty and complexity, they should not stop you from looking for your dream job. The key is preparation.

Getting Started

Do some research into your desired job field. Make sure you are up to date on the latest requirements, skills and certifications. Take time to update any skills or knowledge you think you will need and make sure you include them on your resume.

You might also:

  • Consult with your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency; many can provide customized assistance.
  • Learn more about the workplaces where you are applying. Reach out to any connections on LinkedIn, or network with contacts familiar with the employers you are targeting.
  • Focus on what you bring to the workplace. How are your skills, training and education relevant?

Check in With Your Health Care Team

Discuss your desire to seek employment with members of your medical team. Your rheumatologist or physical therapist can offer suggestions and ideas that will help you best understand your situation and how you may prepare to meet the physical demands of a job.

If you feel you need more help to gain the necessary physical abilities, consider working with an occupational therapist. You can learn more at the American Occupational Therapists Association.

The Interview

Once you start the interview phase, you must decide whether to disclose that you have physical limitations requiring workplace accommodations.

According to Linda Batiste, principal consultant for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), “Some people choose to disclose the need for accommodations during a job interview in order to assess whether an employer will be supportive. Others may not want to disclose a disability at this time, so may ask questions to determine whether a workplace is generally flexible for employees.”

Batiste goes on to say that, in general, waiting until after a job offer has been made is the best time to disclose a disability and ask for an accommodation.

One reason for waiting is that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does generally prohibit an employer from asking questions about a medical condition or disability in the pre-offer period, there are three exceptions:

  • The employer reasonably believes the applicant will need accommodation because of an obvious disability.
  • The employer reasonably believes the applicant will need accommodation because of a hidden disability that the applicant has voluntarily disclosed. 
  • An applicant has voluntarily disclosed that there is a need for a reasonable accommodation to perform the job.

Batiste says that one way to handle questioning about a disability is to refocus the conversation and discuss how your skills, education and training make you a good candidate for the position.

Job-Related Activities

Determine whether you will be able to handle the physical demands of the job, with or without potential accommodations.

  • How many hours per week are expected?
  • Does the job require sitting, standing, lifting or repetitive motion?
  • Will you be spending a lot of time on a computer?
  • Is the workplace climate-controlled or is it too hot or too cold?

If the position requires travel, determine whether you can adhere to your schedule for doctor visits, infusions, physical therapy and other needs to manage your arthritis.

  • How much, if any, travel is required?
  • Are the dates flexible or fixed for trips?

Ensure the job benefits will provide enough resources through insurance and paid time off to handle your medical treatments and take care of yourself.

Does the job come with comprehensive health insurance, including medical and prescription drug coverage? Is physical or occupational therapy available to you?

  • Are your current medical providers covered by the employer’s plan?
  • Are your current medications included in coverage, and what are the co-pays for them?
  • Do you have enough paid time off for vacation and sick leave to cover any arthritis-related absences (in addition to your other needs)?

If you need a flexible work schedule, find out if you will have the ability to work from home or to come in early or late in order to handle morning stiffness, afternoon fatigue or other scheduling adjustments.

  • Does the employer offer a flexible schedule as far as start and end times?
  • Is it possible to work from home on a regular or periodic basis?

The Job Accommodation Network, which is funded by a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, has many resources for those with a disability or limitations who are just embarking on a job search and want to know more about the ins and outs of searching for a job.

After You Land a Job

Once you have received an offer and feel that you may need support and accommodations, learn what you have the right to ask for. Under the ADA, employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Depending on the circumstances, these accommodations may include:

You’ll need to be prepared with information, explains Karen Jacobs, occupational therapist and clinical professor at Boston University. “Employers are not always familiar with ADA requirements and possible accommodations. It may be up to the employee to explain what they need in order to be productive in their new role.”

Employers can help their employees who have arthritis as well as their organization with free information and resources from the Arthritis Foundation. Learn more at Arthritis@Work.


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