Living with rheumatoid arthritis can have a large impact on a person’s day to day life, including their ability to work.
With the right support, most people with rheumatoid arthritis lead full, active lives and can thrive in the workplace.
In this guide to rheumatoid arthritis and employment, we discuss the best jobs for someone with rheumatoid arthritis and jobs to avoid as well as ways to manage symptoms in the workplace and where to get support if you need it.
Working with rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks a person’s joints, causing swelling and pain. It usually affects the hands, wrists and feet, but may also affect larger joints like the hips and knees.
Everyone’s experience living and working with rheumatoid arthritis is different.
Some may find it hard to make it through a day at work while others may find their symptoms don’t greatly affect their ability to perform their job.
A person with RA may experience flare ups where their symptoms become intense. Swelling, stiffness and chronic pain in the joints can make it difficult to perform tasks such as typing, writing, crouching and lifting.
Other symptoms like fatigue, chest pain, fever and mental confusion can also present a challenge at work. Flare ups can be unpredictable and hard to plan for, which can make it difficult to stay on top of deadlines.
If you’re finding it hard to cope at work because of rheumatoid arthritis, support is available to help you overcome the challenges and feel confident in your job.
With the right support in place, many people with RA find that working is actually beneficial for their lives, bringing a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Call APM on 1800 276 276 to find out how we can support you to thrive in your job or find work that’s a good fit for you.
Managing RA symptoms in the workplace
The following things may help with managing your symptoms and reducing their impact on your work life:
- Continue with your treatment – Follow medical advice from your doctor and occupational therapist. Take time off work for appointments and keep reviewing how you are going at work with your doctor so they can give you the best treatment plan for your needs.
- Take regular breaks – At work, avoid doing repetitive actions for long periods of time. Use timers to remind you to take a break or change activity.
- Practice good posture – Whether you are sitting or standing, try to keep your joints in a neutral position. Ergonomic equipment, such as specialised chairs and desks, may help with this.
- Keep moving – Don’t get stuck in one position for too long. If you work at a desk normally, get up and walk around the office regularly. Go to the toilet, get a drink from the kitchen or physically visit a co-worker instead of calling them on the phone.
- Assistive technology – Some technology may help you better manage your symptoms. For example, ergonomic keyboards can help you keep your wrists and hands aligned.
How much should you tell your employer?
Deciding whether you should tell your employer about your rheumatoid arthritis is your decision.
In Australia there is no legal obligation for a job seeker or employee to disclose a disability unless it is likely to affect their performance in a role, according to the Australian Network on Disability.
Many people fear losing their job if they tell their boss about their condition. Others decide not to tell because they feel like their symptoms do not get in the way of their job performance.
Choosing to disclose (during a job application or interview) means your employer has a deeper understanding of your needs in mind from the start.
If time off and pain are affecting your work performance, telling your employer enables them to be more understanding and make reasonable adjustments for you where possible.
During an interview, employers can ask a candidate with a disability for information about their disability to determine whether they will be able to perform the inherent requirements of the job. This enables them to assess any health and safety risks or to identify any adjustments to the workplace that may be required.
If you’re not sure whether it’s best to disclose or not, it might help to chat things through with an APM employment consultant.
Asking for reasonable accommodations
In Australia, employers are legally required to make reasonable changes in the workplace to help their employees do their job well and safely.
Accommodations in the workplace could help you better manage your symptoms and feel confident at work.
Reasonable accommodations could include things like:
- Adaptive equipment – Equipment such as an ergonomic keyboard, an adjustable standing desk and voice recognition software may help you do your job better with less stress on your body.
- Flexible schedule – Symptom flare ups can be unpredictable. Having a flexible schedule, including time off for recovery, may help you better manage flare ups. Shorter working days may also be a possibility.
- Work from home – Having the option of working from home may help with managing symptom flare ups and give you more time to rest.
- Adjusting your job duties – If actions such as heavy lifting or repeated crouching cause flare ups, your employer may agree to adjust your job duties to reduce the amount of physical demand on your body.
If you’re having trouble at work but aren’t sure what will help, APM can assist with workplace assessments to help figure out a solution that’s right for you.
What are the best jobs for someone with rheumatoid arthritis?
If you are searching for a job or considering a career change, look for roles where you can better manage your symptoms.
Jobs with low physical stress, room for flexibility and the possibility of working from home are often better suited to people living with RA.
Here are a few examples of jobs for someone with rheumatoid arthritis:
- Administration assistant – As long as you have the opportunity to move around during the day and avoid physically strenuous tasks, admin assistant is usually a low-stress role.
- Virtual assistant – Freelance roles like virtual assistant can be done from home, giving you lots of flexibility and control over your schedule.
- Small business owner – Working for yourself gives you lots of control over your schedule and you may be able to subcontract work when needed.
- Management / training – If you previously worked in a role that is too taxing on your joints, such as landscaping or hospitality, you might be able to transfer your skills to a management or training role in the same industry.
- Sales rep – Sales reps tend to have more active duties, not just desk based work. When you are at the desk, tools like voice recognition software and ergonomic keyboards can help with managing symptoms.
Not sure what types of jobs are right for you? Speaking with an employment consultant could help you discover employment opportunities that are a good fit.
Jobs to avoid
For most people with rheumatoid arthritis, it’s best to avoid jobs that require repetitive movements over a long period of time.
Lifting heavy items, bending, crouching and even standing or sitting for too long can all have a toll on joints.
Some jobs that experts recommend avoiding if you have RA include:
- Truck driving
- Factory and warehouse work
- Construction work
- Textile work
Support to find work and thrive in your job while living with rheumatoid arthritis
If you’re finding it hard to cope at work because of RA symptoms or are having trouble finding a job that’s right for you, APM can help.
When you get in touch with APM, a dedicated employment consultant will work closely with you to find the right support so you can thrive in the workplace.
Our services include:
- Career advice and planning
- Discovering suitable job opportunities
- Writing job applications and preparing for interviews
- Accessing further training
- Workplace assessments
- Accessing workplace accommodations
Find out more about our Disability Employment Services program and how we help find jobs for people with an injury, illness or disability.
Register with APM today to get started or call us on 1800 276 276 to see how we can help you reach your employment goals.