RA and the Workplace

Most people with rheumatoid arthritis want to continue working. In some cases, where disease is more severe, finding and maintaining a job suited to your situation may prove challenging.

Working part-time or full-time, means that you will be better off financially (it may often be a necessity). Being in the workplace can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Keeping active through work can also improve your mobility, independence and quality of life. Returning to work is also known to promote recovery and aid rehabilitation. In general there are many health benefits of working.

Finding work

If you cannot work full-time, investigate the part-time options that are available. Your GP may be of assistance in helping you set realistic healthcare and work goals.

Think about the types of work and arrangements that would make returning to work easier. You might want to consider where you work and what your working hours will be. Jobs that involve repetitive tasks or that are physically demanding, or jobs that require you to stand or sit for long periods of time may be best avoided,

The longer someone is out of work because of ill health, the lower their chance of getting back into work. If you cannot work full time, consider other work-life options. For information on how to balance work and home life visit www.worklifebalance.ie. Examples of work-life balance options are:

  • part-time work
  • flexible hours
  • job sharing
  • working from home
  • self-employment
  • term-time working

Coping at work

Consider discussing your health issues with your employer, if you think you may need help in the future. There are many good reasons for being open about your arthritis and how it affects you. For example, it may be helpful for your colleagues to understand your RA. In addition, your employer may make adjustments to help you manage your work. Arthritis is a fluctuating condition, so your needs may change from time to time. Regular communication with your employer may be helpful.

Irish law requires employers to take reasonable steps to accommodate the needs of employees and prospective employees with disabilities. You have a legal right to ask for modification to the tasks or structure of a job or workplace. These modifications may be relatively straightforward, involving adapting standard equipment or providing special equipment. Employers may be able to avail of grants to pay for any adaptations/equipment.

Even if your rheumatoid arthritis is mild there are many simple and cost-effective adjustments that can be made to make working life easier. Simply rearranging furniture, working flexible working hours or using special equipment such as a user-friendly keyboard can be helpful.

In larger companies, the services of an occupational therapist may be available. If you work with computers, they may recommend that you use a wrist rest, ergonomic keyboard and a trackball mouse.

For more information visit the Workway website (www.workway.ie), an Irish initiative that helps those with disabilities with employment. The website has information on CV preparation and interviewing, adaptations in the workplace, disclosing your disability, communication tips, on the job training, career development, promotion and grants etc. it also provides information for employers.

Your rights and disability benefits

It is important that you know your employment rights. Two acts, The Employment Equality Acts 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000, promote equality of opportunities in employment and combat discrimination. Information on these two acts can be found on The Equality Authority website (www.equality.ie) and the National Employment Rights Authority website (www.employmentrights.ie).

For more information on support programs to help you work with a disability visit the Citizens Information website (www.citizensinformation.ie ). A useful booklet on the website ‘Entitlements for people with disabilities’ contains information on grants (see Chapter 13 for information on grants such as the Back to Work Allowance Scheme). Contact your local social welfare office for more information (www.welfare.ie).

The future

Unfortunately, some people with rheumatoid arthritis are not in a position to continue working because of the severity of their symptoms. But hopefully, the development of new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis will help more people stay active and be able to work.

Arthritis Ireland has recently expanded its range of Self-Management Programmes to include Working With Arthritis, a 4 week workshop that will help those currently in employment or those seeking to re-enter the workforce to learn ways to manage their arthritis at work, reduce pain and deal with fatigue. The programme will also provide you with practical advice on CV writing, applying for jobs, communicating with your employer about your arthritis, employment legislation, re-training and access to grants. More information on this programme is available atwww.arthritisireland.ie