Arthritis and Work FAQs
Why is work important?
Work is an important part of life and we all need to work to support ourselves and our families. Work is also generally good for a person’s health and wellbeing. It can be very distressing when a person struggles to cope at work because of arthritis.
How can arthritis effect work?
The impact of arthritis on work varies greatly according to the type of arthritis and type of job. You should speak to your rheumatologist or GP if you need any help with your work. Remember there are a number of people with special skills who can help you with work problems including your GP and Occupational Health Department at work. There is also help from government services such as the ‘Fit for Work’ service, Job Centre Plus of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
What problems may I experience at work because of my arthritis?
The pain, stiffness of symptoms and associated fatigue and poor energy levels all impact on an ability to work regularly and successfully. In many chronic Rheumatological diseases, such symptoms often happen in unpredictable ‘flares’. These symptoms may impact on your work by affecting:
- Your ability to do the physical parts of your job
- The length of time needed to finish the job
- The amount of support you will need from co-workersYour ability to get to and from work
- Your ability to work your full hours
What can I do to help myself?
Recognising and understanding that you are having problems is an important first step towards helping yourself. First, make sure to have a full diagnosis of your current medical condition. This is really important if your symptoms have suddenly got worse or changed. Then follow all the advice about treatment that you have been given. Take your medication as you were advised on the prescription.
Think about what you have to do in your job. Are there ways in which you could cope better or make the work easier?Can you do some lighter tasks between the heavier ones? This may reduce the strain and share it out more evenly over the working day?
- Can you do some lighter tasks between the heavier ones?
- This may reduce the strain and share it out more evenly over the working day?
- Can you share work tasks with colleagues?
- Are you sitting still for long periods and getting stiff at work?
- If so, try setting an alarm or your computer to prompt you to get up and move around or do some stretches if you are able.
- Can you take a proper break at lunch time and perhaps leave your work environment to go for a walk or even a swim?
- If you are working at a desk, have you had a workstation assessment to check that your chair is adjusted correctly? If you work with visual display equipment (a computer screen), your employer is required by Health & Safety Regulations ( http://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/) to set up your workstation to make you as comfortable as possible (whether or not you have arthritis).
- If at times you can’t manage all of the demands of your job, can you set priorities differently or delegate some of the work?
- Should you reduce your hours or job share?
- If you cannot change the load at work, can you make changes at home? Can you reduce your burden e.g. by doing shopping on-line or getting extra support from family/friends/partner with caring responsibilities or housework?
- Are you eating a healthy diet and taking some regular exercise suited to your needs?
What if I have done most of these things and am still struggling at work?
It is really important that you get help. You need to talk to people you trust, such as your partner /friends/ trusted co-workers. They may have ideas you have not thought of. You must also talk to your Rheumatology multisdisciplinary team. It is better to get advice and support early rather than waiting until you have to go off sick.
You should also consider discussing your problems with your employer either through your line manager or a representative of Personnel / Human Resources (HR). Large and public sector employers often have Occupational Health departments where you can be referred.
Do I have to tell my employer about my arthritis?
Usually, the answer is ‘no’ – you are entitled to full medical confidentiality about your condition. However, in a few jobs (especially those with responsibility for the safety of other people) special standards of fitness are needed and you may have to tell your employer. You will be told if you are in this type of work.
Many people worry about telling their employer about a new diagnosis. They may be worried that it may lead to discrimination or job loss. This is understandable. In fact, employers have legal obligations to support you (see below). The decision is up to you and you should talk to the people around you whom you trust before you decide. Good employers tend to be very supportive of their staff and try their best to help by making changes to your work patterns or tasks.
What can my employer do?
It may be possible, for example, to:
- Offer you flexible working hours (e.g. so that you could start work later after your early morning stiffness has worn off);
- Alter your workplace to make work more suitable or comfortable e.g. technology such as voice-activated software to reduce typing or new chair.
- Change your workplace demands e.g. by swapping tasks with colleagues.
What does my employer have to do?
Some employers can be more flexible than others. However, you are protected under the 2010 Equality Act from being treated less favourably than any other worker because of your arthritis e.g. in recruitment, promotion, training or dismissal. Your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to try and enable you to continue working.
Should I stop working?
Some people will feel that the benefits of work are being outweighed by the costs to them emotionally and physically. Instead of stopping altogether, you may find that you could, for example, reduce your work hours, arrange a job-share or re-train within the same company to do a different job more suited to your arthritis.
Before you make any decisions, ask yourself:
- if you want to work and
- if you need to work.
Discuss it with friends and family and take time to think things through. If your work is seriously impacting upon your wellbeing it might be best to stop working. You should take the advice of your GP and work Occupational physician about this.
Where else can I go for help?
Occupational Therapist (OTs) work with people of all ages helping people overcome disability caused by physical or mental illness, ageing or accident. You can be referred to an OT by your GP or hospital rheumatology service. If you and your employer agree, they can come to your workplace. See Patient Information on ‘The Rheumatology Multidisciplinary Team’.
Occupational Health services. Large employers and public sector employers have their own occupational health service, which are staffed by nurses, doctors and/or physiotherapists with specialist training. They will know your workplace and can be fully informed confidentially about your diagnosis.
Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) ( www.citizensadvice.org.uk) The CAB offers free, confidential, impartial and independent advice from over 3,500 locations, including high streets, community centres, doctors’ surgeries, courts and prisons. CABs can provide advice to help you resolve problems with debt, benefits, employment and other issues including discrimination. You can access CAB advice by telephone or by visiting one of their centres.
Jobcentre Plus ( www.gov.uk/contact-jobcentre-plus) Disability Employment Advisers are available through your local Jobcentre Plus office. They can provide advice about reasonable adjustments to your employer and your eligibility for other allowances and benefits.
Access to work ( www.gov.uk/access-to-work/overview) A means-tested government grant available to provide practical help to support a person with a disability who wishes to return to work, stay in work or become self-employed. For example, it can be paid for travel costs to from the workplace.
Personal independence payment (PIP) ( www.gov.uk/pip) A means-tested benefit that helps with the costs associated with living with long-term illness or disability. It is replacing disability living allowance for people aged 16-64 years.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ( www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance/overview) This means-tested benefit provides financial support if you are unable to work and personalised help if you are able to remain in work. It is available only after attendance at a work capability assessment and is reviewed regularly.
Fit for Work service ( www.gov.uk/government/collections/fit-for-work-guidance) This new service was launched 15/12/14 and will be fully active during 2015. It will provide telephone advice for anybody who has been on sick leave for 4 weeks.
To conclude, if you are in any doubt speak with your Rheumatology team.