Considering Whether to Start a Conversation about Arthritis at Work is a tool to help employees think through the communication process as it relates to their particular situation and needs. The tool identifies issues for employees to consider when making a decision whether to communicate any health needs at work but does not provide answers or recommend a particular course of action for any individual. The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. If you require legal advice, please contact an appropriate legal professional.
Only you will be able to make the decision about whether or not to speak to your employer about your arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis and severity of symptoms, some people find they can manage in the workplace without accommodations, while others may need additional support. However, an employer won’t be able to provide accommodations unless they are aware of your needs. Many employees wait until they have significant challenges before disclosing their arthritis, though some take a more proactive approach and choose to disclose before their work is impacted.
This tool is intended to help you think through some of the key considerations to take into account when deciding whether to disclose your arthritis early, wait until symptoms become more severe, or to not say anything at all. The decision is up to you – you are not required to communicate your limitations or your condition to your employer, though in some situations, it might be beneficial. If you do decide to say something, you don’t need to tell anyone your diagnosis or disease symptoms, just your limitations related to your job tasks. Your employer is required to remove barriers or provide reasonable support to help you participate in employment based on a disability unless the cost or other hardship to the organization is too great, or it would pose a safety risk to you or others. For more information about your rights and responsibilities, visit the section on Your Rights in the Workplace on our employee workplace portal.
The questions below are designed to help you think about your arthritis and its impact on your job. Please complete all of the questions to help you think more about the decision that’s best for you. This information is for you only. You don’t need to share it with anyone.
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Depending on your workplace and your particular circumstances, you might choose to communicate information about the impact of your arthritis on your ability to perform your job so that you can access support. Alternatively, you might prefer to keep your personal health information private, especially if it doesn’t impact your job or you’re able to manage your work without the involvement of others. When deciding on whether or not to request accommodations, you will want to take into consideration how this will affect your role and relationships, and ultimately, the larger impact on your quality of life. The decision is up to you. It’s important to weigh the benefits of communicating against the risks and keep in mind the factors discussed in this tool: the severity of your symptoms, the status of your employment, and the structure, policies and culture of your organization. Educate yourself on your rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of your employer.
Many organizations have a variety of policies and practices already in place to support their workers living with a disability. Remember, if you do choose to communicate some information about your health or its impact, you are not required to disclose your specific diagnosis (i.e. arthritis) but may be asked to provide a note from a healthcare professional confirming your functional limitations (i.e. unable to stand for long periods of time). Employers have a duty to accommodate a disability to the point of undue hardship, but they aren’t required to use a particular accommodation if they believe another accommodation can achieve the same results. Employers are also not required to accommodate an employee if doing so would pose a risk to the health or safety of the employee or others or if it would represent an excessive cost or other hardship to the organization. If you’ve decided to share information about your limitations living with arthritis at your work, check out our Arthritis and Work employee portal for more information.
CONSIDERING WHETHER TO START A CONVERSATION ABOUT ARTHRITIS AT WORK tool was developed in collaboration with the ACED Partnership Project, with expert advice from:
Monique A. M. Gignac, PhD
Scientific Co-Director and Senior Scientist, Institute for Work & Health
Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
- Accommodating and Communicating about Episodic Disabilities (ACED): A partnership to deliver workplace resources to sustain employment of people with chronic, episodic conditions, 2018: https://aced.iwh.on.ca.
- Arthritis Society, Arthritis and Work, 2019: https://arthritis.ca/support-education/online-learning/arthritis-and-work
- Government of Alberta, Talking About Invisible Disabilities, 2019: https://alis.alberta.ca/plan-your-career/additional-resources-for-specific-audiences/for-persons-with-disabilities/talking-about-invisible-disabilities/
- National Disability Coordination Officer Program, Disclosure: It’s a Personal Decision, 2019: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/choosingyourpath
- von Schrader, S., Malzer, V. & Bruyère, S. Employ Respons Rights J (2014) 26: 237. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10672-013-9227-9