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Rheumatoid Arthritis, Work, and Disability

Understanding the impact RA can have on the workplace and your career.

What can people with RA do to make it easier to do their job?

The Arthritis Foundation offers the following suggestions for making it easier to stay in the workplace:

  • Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Create an efficient work environment so you limit the amount of lifting, reaching, carrying, and walking you do.
  • Try not to sit in one position or do repetitive activity for long periods of time.
  • Set priorities and pace yourself. Do the most important tasks while you feel strongest and most energetic.
  • Maintain a schedule. Go to bed at a regular time and get enough rest to carry you through the next day.

Tom Juneman of Houston has another important suggestion: Let your employer know what your limitations are, and ask if you can take breaks throughout the day.

Juneman, 55, communicates well with his boss, he says, so that he knows when a report is due and plans his day accordingly. When he teaches religious school he sits down between classes. When he uses an adding machine in his bookkeeping job, he favors the fingers that are "less worn" to do the job. Juneman, 55, also swims every morning.

Juneman was diagnosed with RA as a college student 35 years ago and now takes the biologic drug Remicade. "I still have fatigue," he says. "I tend to stay close to my coffee and sodas, but I try not to overdo it. I really have to learn to get proper sleep and rest, which I didn't do in my earlier life."

What type of workplace modifications help people with rheumatoid arthritis?

The U.S. Labor Department's Job Accommodation Network has provided a list of recommendations for employers of people with arthritis and arthritis-related conditions. You can use the following list to help you discuss workplace accommodations with your employer. The recommendations include:

  • adjusting desk height if an employee uses a wheelchair or scooter
  • allowing a flexible work schedule or allowing the employee to work from home
  • implementing an ergonomic workstation design
  • installing automatic door openers
  • providing a page turner, book holder, or note taker, if necessary
  • providing arm supports and writing and grip aids
  • providing parking close to the workplace
  • providing sensitivity training to co-workers
  • reducing or eliminating physical exertion
  • replacing small switches with cushioned knobs that can be turned with less force
  • scheduling periodic breaks away from the workstation

Your right to have accommodations made for you is protected by law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from discrimination based on their disability. Federal law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. It prohibits employers from:

  • not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of disabled employees
  • not advancing employees with disabilities in the business
  • not providing needed accommodations in training

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