Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Workplace
Get tips for managing RA symptoms and asking for accommodations to keep your career moving forward.
The 24/7 nature of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can make it hard to be at your best when you need to be. If you’re too exhausted to focus, your fingers are too sore to type and your achy wrists prohibit you from lifting anything, it’s tough to get much done on the job – or even make it into work on some days. Even so, an RA diagnosis does not mean you need to give up a fulfilling career. Part of living with RA is learning how to manage your symptoms and ask for reasonable accommodations when necessary.
How RA Affects Job Performance
Repeated absences and reduced productivity can prevent you from moving up the corporate ladder, force you to change jobs, or make it necessary to take early retirement. Still, you don’t have to let your condition derail your career.
Manage Your Symptoms
Research shows that good disease control can reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism. A 2016 study in The Journal of Rheumatology found that starting drug treatment within the first three months after diagnosis helped people with RA stay productive at work. Good symptom management can also prevent you from having to take an early retirement, according to another study.
Tell Your Employer
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, any company with more than 15 employees is required to provide reasonable accommodations to anyone with a life-limiting disability. You can request modifications you think will help you perform more effectively at work.
Ask for Accommodations
- Ask for a more ergonomic workstation if you have a desk job.
- Negotiate flexible hours or telecommuting (work from home) for times when symptoms are slowing you down.
- Request a flexible dress code so you can wear comfortable shoes when your feet are swollen.
However, for many companies, accommodations are an easy, low-cost solution. “The majority of accommodations – 59% – don’t cost anything,” says Beth Loy, PhD, principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). “When there is a cost, typically it’s $500, and that’s not very much.”
She suggests asking for accommodations as early as possible, before any issues arise with your job performance. You don’t want the company to put a negative mark in your personnel file if you’re unable to fulfill the responsibilities of your position.
Seek Support If you’re not sure
An occupational therapist (OT) can help you design your workspace to fit your physical capabilities. To find an OT in your area, contact the American Occupational Therapy Association.
With good management of your symptoms, motivation and support, you should be able to stay on the job.
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