I’m an Employee

 

Depending on the severity of symptoms, some people with arthritis can manage well at work with little or no additional support, while others may require accommodations to help them thrive. The Arthritis and Work web portal provides strategies to self-manage your symptoms at work and beyond, as well as information about your rights in the workplace, factors to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to disclose your condition, as well as possible accommodation options to address your specific needs.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a term used to describe a group of over 100 diseases characterized by inflammation in the joints or other areas of the body. If you have arthritis, you may experience symptoms such as pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, as well as other effects such as fatigue or altered mood. Symptoms can change day to day or month to month, meaning that you may feel better some days or weeks than others. Because of the shifting nature of arthritis symptoms, you might not require the same supports all the time. This portal is designed to help you identify your workplace needs, take action to manage your symptoms, as well as identify strategies to help maximize your abilities at work.

In this section, learn more about different types of arthritis, their symptoms and possible treatment options.

Not sure if you have arthritis? Try our Risk Assessment or Symptom Checker:

Want to learn more about arthritis?

  • Challenges by the numbers

    Facts

    • When not well controlled, arthritis can prevent us from working and is one of the top causes of long-term disability in Canada.Source: Life with Arthritis in Canada – Public Health Agency of Canada, 2010
    • Working-aged Canadians with arthritis are twice as likely to report not being in the workforce compared to those without arthritis (52% vs. 25%), highlighting an increased need for support for starting and staying in work.

    Those who are working report significant challenges:

    • 41 per cent of employed Canadians with arthritis indicate that arthritis makes it difficult to carry out their work responsibilities
    • Over one-third report that arthritis makes it difficult to travel to and from work
    • Over one-third believe that their condition has affected their career development

    Source: The Arthritis Society “Fit for Work” Study: Findings, Challenges for the Future and Implications for Action, 2013

    According to a 2011 survey of osteoarthritis patients:

    • 35 per cent of working Canadians with osteoarthritis have taken sick days because of pain
    • 19 per cent have reduced their work hours
    • 14 per cent have taken a short-term disability leave from work
    • 80 per cent have indicated that osteoarthritis affects their ability to perform their job

    Whether or not your condition currently has a significant impact on your employment, taking steps to protect your joints at work and to seek the support you need can help you stay healthy and productive.

  • Common Fears and Experiences

    Beyond physical symptoms, people with arthritis may also experience additional challenges that can make it more difficult for them to cope with and discuss arthritis at work.  Here are some common interpersonal and emotional challenges that people with arthritis may face in the workplace:

    • Feelings of isolation, stress, guilt, despair and helplessness
    • Feeling that nothing can be done to improve the situation
    • Not wanting to be thought of as a poor worker especially when the job is physical
    • Pushing themselves too hard because they want to be a team player
    • Fearing people will think they lack motivation or interest when they are unable to do a task
    • Feeling that chances for advancement might disappear because of the limitations others think they have
    • Fearing arthritis might be seen as too costly to the organization or their department
    • Feeling that irritability resulting from pain may hurt relationships with co-workers
    • Fearing that because symptoms are episodic and they can sometimes do tasks that they can’t during a flare-up, co-workers might think they’re faking it
    • Wanting to wait until their symptoms are severe before seeking help for fear of looking sick
    • Fear that necessary accommodations like flexible work hours might be resented as “special treatment”
    • Using all their energy for work and having nothing left for family and friends
    • Worrying that their health information won’t be kept private
    • Fearing they might be discriminated against or lose their job

    Dr Diane Lacaille et al. – “Problems faced at work due to inflammatory arthritis”
    Robert D Wilton, Disability Disclosure in the Workplace. Just Labour, 2014

Strategies for the Workplace

Pain and fatigue can affect your work, and your work can affect your joints and energy levels. Taking care of your joints can help you manage your arthritis in the workplace, wherever you work. Learn more about tips and techniques to set yourself up for success.

Disclosing Your Condition

Every workplace is different. You are the only person who can determine whether or not you should disclose your arthritis at work. However, small accommodations can make a big difference in the quality of your work life. Learn more about the potential benefits and risks of disclosure, the process involved, and types of accommodations available.

  • Should I Disclose my Arthritis at Work?

  • Benefits & risks of disclosure

    Getting the Help you need at Work 

    As we’ve seen, many people are reluctant to disclose their health issues to their boss or co-workers. The Arthritis Society’s Fit for Work study found that fewer than one in five workers with arthritis had discussed options to better manage working with arthritis.

    “Employers and co-workers are often unaware that the person has a condition that causes them chronic discomfort. They might see that a particular employee seems moody and withdrawn, and they won’t attribute that to the pain or fatigue of arthritis. They may think that this is not a good worker.”

    - Dr. Monique Gignac, The Institute for Work and Health 

    While disclosing carries risk, so does keeping your arthritis secret. 

    "Over time…costs such as physical pain, exhaustion and anxiety about being discovered can take their toll. The benefits of non-disclosure have to be set alongside the costs, which include both the extra work of hiding an impairment and the worker’s inability to request needed accommodations.” 

    - Robert D. Wilton, Disability Disclosure in the Workplace 

    The Benefits of Disclosure 

    Every workplace is different. You are the only person who can determine whether you should disclose your health issues, but when you have arthritis, small adjustments can make a big difference in the quality of your work life. Even if you aren’t asking for major accommodations, giving people some context for your behaviour can make a big difference. Explain to your co-workers how your arthritis or persistent joint pain affects you to help them understand the times when you need some flexibility or support when you can't do something. It will also make asking for help when you need it easier if they are already aware of the situation. 

    "When I told my team why I was often late — when my body really hurts in the morning I need to take some time to get moving and let the meds kick in — they realized I wasn’t just being lazy. I assured them that I always make up for the time later, and this has made it far less stressful for me to take the time and do what I need to do to have a productive work day.”  

    - Alison, working full time with osteoarthritis and chronic pain 

    "When it went really well for employees at work, people often told us it was because of their co-workers. People with good support from others at work reported less stress and were less likely to have changed jobs."

    - Dr. Monique Gignac, The Institute for Work and Health 

  • When to Disclose

    The Fit for Work study found that almost half of respondents who hadn’t discussed their health issues at work did so because they felt their symptoms were currently under control. Another study found that three-quarters of study participants reported intermittent arthritis symptoms at work, but individuals tended to make changes only when symptoms were consistently high. However, potential issues can arise from the “wait and see“ approach, so researchers suggest a proactive approach. Let your workplace know before there are significant challenges like high absenteeism or conflict with co-workers over incomplete work. 

    There is a possibility that, by waiting until arthritis creates problems at work, the impact of the disease on poorer productivity will increase and that it may be too late to find ways to help individuals remain employed.”  

    Fit for Work Study 

    Sources: The Arthritis Society “Fit for Work” Study: Findings, Challenges for the Future and Implications for Action, 2013 

    Ninety per cent of workers in Canada are protected by the employment laws of their province or territory. The remaining 10 per cent are in jobs covered by federal laws. These include jobs working for the federal government, a bank, a company that transports goods between provinces, a telecommunications company, and most businesses owned and run by the federal government. 

  • What to Ask For and How to Ask

Managing Your Arthritis Beyond the Workplace

Taking care of your arthritis is important in all aspects of your life. The online resources featured here can help you to better understand your pain, manage fatigue, stay active, eat well, and advocate for yourself.

Your Rights in the Workplace

Every worker in Canada is protected by provincial, territorial and/or federal labour and human rights laws.  This means you have rights and responsibilities, and those rights can include legislation around workplace accommodation. In Canada, employers have a duty to accommodate people with disabilities to the point of undue hardship.

To learn more about your rights, visit the resources in this section.

  • Does my Employer Need to Accommodate me in the Workplace?

    Under the Canadian Human Rights Act and provincial/territorial human rights legislation, employers have an obligation to ensure that people who are able to work aren’t unfairly excluded from employment based on prohibited grounds of discrimination, such as disability. 

    This is called the duty to accommodate, which means that your employer is expected to remove barriers to your participation in employment where conditions can be adjusted without undue hardship.  This may require that alternative arrangements be made to ensure your full participation. 

    Sometimes accommodation is not possible because it would cause your organization undue hardship.  Before refusing to provide accommodation, your employer would first need to demonstrate that the cost would be so great as to change the nature of the organization or to threaten its viability, or that the accommodation would pose significant health or safety risks.  There is no precise legal definition of undue hardship, so each situation should be assessed individually.  Considerations such as inconvenience, moderate costs, or the perceptions and preferences of other employees are not valid reasons for refusing to accommodate.  Studies have shown that accommodations often cost nothing or very little and can save organizations money by retaining skilled employees and reducing the need for recruitment and training of new staff.   

    While you have a right to accommodation to the point of undue hardship, you are not guaranteed your preferred method of accommodation if another option is available that meets your needs.  For example, you might experience arthritis-related fatigue and you may ask to work from 12pm-8pm everyday instead of 9am-5pm. If this isn’t possible, you might be permitted to work from home in the mornings on days when your symptoms are bad.

Medical Cannabis

Since 2001, medical cannabis has been a legal treatment option in Canada for certain health conditions, including chronic pain from arthritis. The resources found here can help you learn more about medical cannabis and the difference with the now-legal recreational cannabis

Medical Cannabis: What people with arthritis need to know 

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