If you have any health condition, it's important to remember that you have defined rights set out in law which mean you should be treated fairly by your employer.
These rights are designed to protect you against direct and indirect discrimination. What's more, your employer has a legal obligation to make 'reasonable adjustments' to your working environment and practices in order to make sure your condition doesn't prevent you from doing your job to the best of your ability.
The 2010 Equality Act (Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland) makes it unlawful for employers to treat anyone with arthritis or a related condition less favourably than anyone who doesn't have that condition, in these key areas:
- application forms
- interview arrangements
- aptitude or proficiency tests
- job offers
- terms of employment, including pay
- position, transfer and training opportunities
- dismissal or redundancy
- discipline and grievances.
Reasonable adjustments which your employer may be required to make can include, where possible:
- changing or modifying the tasks which are part of your job
- altering work patterns/hours
- providing special equipment
- allowing time off to attend appointments
- help with travel to and from work (the Government provides grants for this through the Access to Work scheme).
Flexibility in working hours, practices and your roles and responsibilities can make a big difference.
For example, because symptoms of arthritis and related conditions are often worse in the morning, you might be able to have flexible hours so that your working day starts and finishes later. This could also help you to avoid busy commuting times.
With the assistance of your employer, you may be able to make some or all of the following changes:
- moving your work station
- trying a different office chair
- using a back rest and/or foot support
- using equipment or technology that could make the tasks easier
- working from home, for at least part of the week
- working part-time
- swapping certain tasks with colleagues.
An employer's obligations to meet reasonable adjustments is a long-term one, and so if your condition changes and makes any new aspects of your working life difficult, the situation should be reassessed.
The Equality Act (and the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland) are designed to protect people's rights if they have a disability. You might feel that the term 'disability' doesn't apply to you, because you don't want to feel that you're not coping or that your condition is holding you back. But in this case the definition is a technical and legal one.
Although arthritis isn't one of the conditions automatically considered as a disability under the Acts, it's one of a number of conditions which might be treated as such depending on the effect it can have on your daily life.
Under the terms of the two Acts someone is termed 'disabled' if they have a 'physical or mental impairment' which can have a 'substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. Normal day-to-day activities can include:
- walking or driving
- washing or getting dressed
- cooking or eating
- using public transport
- writing or typing
- carrying or moving things.
It's worth remembering for the purposes of the Acts, the assessment of the impact of someone's condition on their daily life must be considered before they take any medication or treatment. So the question you may need to ask is if you weren't to have any medication or treatment for your condition, would you at least sometimes have difficulty with any of the above activities?
These pieces of legislation can give you the rights which could provide you with real practical support, so it would be a good idea to investigate with your GP, rheumatology team or an occupational therapist, whether your condition entitles you to extra support under the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act.
If you ever feel that you're not getting fair treatment, or if you need advice, remember that you're not alone. There's plenty of help and support available from different organisations, including:
Programmes of support
If you have arthritis or a related condition, you might be entitled to an Access to Work grant, which can help pay for practical support if you have arthritis or another long-term health condition. This Government scheme is designed to help you:
- start work
- stay in work
- move into self-employment
- start a business.
The amount people get depends on their circumstances. The money doesn't have to be paid back and it won't affect any other benefits you may receive.
You'll need to apply by contacting Access to Work and then printing off the eligibility letter to take to your employer. You (and your employer if you're in work) will then be contacted by an advisor who will need to know about the help and support you need. A DEA at your local JobCentre Plus can help you find out more about Access to Work.
You might be entitled to help through Work Choice, which is a Government programme designed to help people with a disability get a job and then keep it.
The type of support you get depends on the level of help you need. While it's different for everyone, this can include:
- training and developing your skills
- building your confidence
- interview coaching.
If you're interested in seeking help through Work Choice, talk to a DEA at your local JobCentre Plus.
Employment support services in Northern Ireland are slightly different.
- Step 2 Success is an employment programme to help you build the skills and experience you need to find a job.
- Pathways to work can help people who are claiming incapacity benefits to start to return to paid work.
For more information on support available in Northern Ireland, visit: nidirect government services.
When looking for work, keep an eye out for the 'positive about disabled people' symbol (with two ticks) on adverts and application forms. This symbol means that the employer is committed to employing people with a disability.
Remember that while you might feel a bit worried or nervous about talking to your employer about your condition, your employer is only obliged to provide extra support and make reasonable adjustments if you have told them about your condition.
What else should I know?
If you have joint pain, back pain or similar problems that you think may have been caused or aggravated by some aspects of your work, it's important to discuss this with your employer as soon as possible. Employers have a legal duty to look into problems and to take steps to protect the health and safety of their workers. The website of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has further information and guides on how to assess health risks linked with particular types of work.
Farmers or farm workers who have hip osteoarthritis and have worked in agriculture for 10 years can claim through the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council for Disablement Benefit. Similar help is available for miners and carpet fitters/layers with knee problems.