Know Your Workplace Rights if You Have a Disability

Learn how to get a reasonable accommodation at work if you have arthritis.

If you have arthritis and feel that you may need support to do your job, it is important to understand your rights in the workplace.

To be officially considered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your doctor must first diagnose you as having a disability. If you have limited mobility, significant pain or moderate to severe arthritis, you probably qualify. See your physician to know for sure.

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is something that helps workers perform their job, such as a specific tool or a change in work hours. These accommodations can include:

  • Ensuring the workplace is accessible.
  • Providing ergonomic workstations and equipment.
  • Modifying schedules and allowing leave.

Equally important to know is that employers are not required to make an accommodation that would pose an undue hardship on the company – such as an undue financial burden. Specifically, employers do not have to:

  • Lower production standards.
  • Provide personal-need items such as medical equipment.
  • Remove essential jobs functions.

How To Tell if  You Need an Accommodation

If you have arthritis, it is not uncommon to experience periods of pain and fatigue that make it difficult to perform day-to-day activities. Understanding if your pain and fatigue is job-related may not be obvious.

Occupational therapist Karen Jacobs, a clinical professor at Boston University, suggests keeping a written activity log and recording what you do and how you feel for a week. Highlight when you are symptomatic – what you were doing and the time of day.

Determine What Accommodations You Might Need

Reviewing your activity log will help you pinpoint any work-related issues that might be causing your symptoms.

“If you look at that log after a week, you should be able to identify what the physical demands were at the time your symptoms occurred,” says Jacobs. “You can also see what level of stress you were under and if there is a pattern to the time of day pain, fatigue or other arthritis symptoms flare.”

This information will help you determine what accommodations you will need to be your most productive. For example, if you are experiencing pain or fatigue after working on a computer for a while, you might need ergonomic furniture or equipment, like a special keyboard or voice recognition software.

If there are certain times of day when pain, fatigue or other symptoms are worse, you may need to change your schedule. Coming in earlier or later or working from home part of the day may be possible solutions. Or you might benefit from a flexible work schedule that allows you to work at home some or all of the time.

How Do I Approach My Employer?

The key to approaching your employer is understanding your needs and understanding your rights.

“It is not required, but it can be helpful to put an accommodation request in writing, says Linda Batiste, principal consultant of the Job Accommodation Network. “Specifically mention the ADA to ensure that there is no confusion about what you are asking and to establish a paper trail.”

Provide your employer with the essential information. They need to know:

  • You have a disability under the ADA.
  • The limitations that are causing the work-related problem.
  • Your accommodation ideas.

 Batiste further advises that you focus the letter on how the accommodations will enable you to do your work. Learn more about how to request an accommodation at JAN. You can also learn more about your employment rights under the ADA at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission

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.

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.