Work and RA: Know Your Rights

  • One of the biggest challenges in living with RA is work. The day-to-day grind of a job is the perfect trigger for chronic fatigue and flares. The very nature of work assumes that you feel the same every day and with this disease, that’s very far from reality. Staying in your job isn’t just about you soldiering through with gritted teeth. You have rights that can make it easier to work. Today, I’ll share information that can get you started to find out how these rights can help you.



    Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you have a right to be accommodated in your job. Accommodation is a different way of looking at how you work.

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    Any task you do is composed of two elements: process and goal. Today, my goal is to write this post. Most HealthCentral writers complete this task by typing their post. That’s the process. Because I have severe RA damage and high pain levels, I can’t type very much. Instead, I dictate everything I write to a voice recognition program (Dragon NaturallySpeaking). Using voice recognition software is an accommodation that allows me to do the job. Likewise, many other accommodations change the process by which a person meets the goal of completing the tasks of their job.


    What kind of accommodation you need depends on your individual challenges, as well as the unique tasks of your job. There is a qualifier, though. Accommodations must be reasonable and allow you to do the essential duties of the job. That means that there are jobs and tasks that cannot be accommodated. For instance, since I use a wheelchair, it would not be possible to accommodate me in such a way that I could be a firefighter.


    The Job Accommodation Network has a library of accommodations that have been used by people with different medical conditions, including arthritis. Take a look and see if any of them could help you. If you think you could work better with an accommodation, talk to your supervisor or to the staff in your Human Resources Department. Don’t be afraid to start this process. Not only is it your employer obligated under the law to accommodate you, but most accommodations cost less than $500.



    It’s an unfortunate reality that sometimes RA can completely sideswipe your life with a flare. During those times, it can be very difficult to consistently show up for work. If you are experiencing health challenges that make it necessary for you to not go to work, you don’t have to exhaust your vacation time and sick days or worry that you might lose your job.


    The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. It applies to public agencies, public and private schools, as well as companies with 50 employees or more. FMLA can apply to a number of different situations, including birth and care for a newborn, providing care for a loved one with a serious health condition, as well as being unable to work due to a serious health condition. RA qualifies.


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    Taking leave can be a huge relief when you are facing a hard time with your RA, as Vanessa found out when she applied for FMLA. If you think you could benefit for some leave to take care of your health, talk to the staff in your Human Resources Department.



    Sometimes, there’s just nothing for it. No matter how hard you try, your RA gets in the way to the point where you can’t work anymore. If that happens, you can apply for Social Security Disability (SSD). Many don’t realize that as a person with RA, you have a right to apply and, if seriously disabled by RA, a right to receive it. You do.


    Being approved for SSD, however, can be a bit of a hurdle. The SSD application process is a maze filled with dead ends and complicated forms. Some people, like RA site team member Brad, did it on his own with some help from his doctors and elected representatives. It can also be helpful to hire a lawyer or advocate who knows exactly what you need to get through the process and be approved.


    To learn more about applying for SSD and to ensure that you find an ethical lawyer, do some research first. The Disability Secrets site is a terrific source of information on the ins and outs of the SSD process. The site also has links to advocates in different states who can help you.


    RA can throw curveballs in many areas of your life, including work. Knowing your rights can help you work better and work longer. Laws have been put in place to ensure that you can get help at work. For many, an accommodation or some occasional leave can make the difference between not working and being a better employee. Should there be a time that you have to stop working, knowing your rights can also help you through the process of applying for SSD so you don’t have to worry about a roof over your head and paying the bills.



    Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.


Published On: September 24, 2014