When you have arthritis, work can sometimes feel a lot like hard work – especially if your physical symptoms are affecting your ability to get your job done. You might be finding it challenging to stay in your current job or are worried about finding new work because of your arthritis.
The good news is that treatments for arthritis have significantly improved. Nowadays, many more people with arthritis can keep working despite their condition. Staying in the workforce may require anything from a little support to a complete change of roles, but there are many services available to help you.
Your rights at work
If your condition is making it hard for you to do your usual work, or find new work, it may help to know that arthritis is a recognised disability. This means it attracts certain rights under the Disability Discrimination Act and you may be eligible for additional support to help you stay in the workforce.
Disability Discrimination Act 1992
A person with a disability has the same rights as other people to a safe workplace that is free of discrimination. These rights are defined under the Australia-wide Disability Discrimination Act. There are also State-based anti-discrimination laws that protect you from being treated unfairly at work.
The Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people with a disability in employment. This includes during recruitment, with employment benefits and conditions, termination or dismissal. Simply, this means that if you can do the essential activities or ‘inherent requirements’ of a job, you should have just as much chance to do that job as anyone else.
You also have the right to workplace modifications or ‘reasonable adjustments’ that minimise the impact of your disability in the workplace.
Do I have to tell my employer I have arthritis?
Whether to tell your employer about your condition or not is up to you. There is no legal obligation for you inform him or her about your disability unless:
- it may affect your ability to work safely and/or put the safety of co-workers at risk, or
- it is likely to affect your performance or ability to meet the inherent requirements of the job.
The ‘inherent requirements of the job’ are tasks that must be carried out to get the work done. For example, an inherent requirement for an administrative job might be to record minutes from meetings. If you are unable to write or type for a long period of time due to painful fingers, you may be able to record the information and then transcribe it. Therefore, being able to write or type for a long period, is not an inherent requirement of the job because you are able to perform the work in another way.
In many cases it can be helpful to talk to your employer about your arthritis. For example, you may need to ask for modified equipment or flexible working arrangements. It may also help to tell your employer and co-workers something about your condition so they will be more understanding if you need to have time off work due to your arthritis. They may also be more likely to help with tasks that you find challenging, such as moving heavy deliveries or rearranging conference room facilities. However, the decision is entirely up to you. For more information on telling your employer about your condition, go to the ‘Your rights and responsibilities’ page on the JobAccess website, www.jobaccess.gov.au.
Depending on how your arthritis affects you, you may need to modify your workplace to be able to do your job. Your employer should be able to make reasonable and appropriate changes to the work environment to minimise the impact of your condition on your work. These changes are called ‘reasonable adjustments’. This should enable you to have an equal chance to be considered for selection, promotion, transfer, training or other employment opportunities. Reasonable adjustments also aim to ensure safety for you and your co-workers in the workplace.
In most cases you will be able to tell the employer what is needed to help you continue in your role. If necessary, employers should also seek advice from government agencies or organisations that represent or provide services to people with a disability. In many cases, the cost of workplace modifications may be (partially or fully) reimbursed by the Government. Employers can get more information about this from the ‘Access for Employers’ page on the JobAccess website, www.jobaccess.gov.au . Examples of reasonable adjustments employers may make include:
- Modifying work premises. For example, providing ramps, modifying toilets, and replacing doorknobs to your office or the nearest toilet with lever handles.
- Changes to job design, work schedules or other work practices. For example, swapping some duties among staff, allowing regular stretch breaks, and flexible working hours to allow you to attend medical appointments.
- Modifying equipment – such as lowering a workbench to allow you to sit on a stool rather than having to stand and cause strain to your back and legs.
- Adjusting your regular start time if morning stiffness makes it difficult for an early start. You may be able to work the hours at the end of the day instead.
- Allowing you to work from home on some days.
- Providing a parking space close to the work entrance to minimise your walking distance.
Superannuation and insurance
Most superannuation policies include disability benefits – but not all. If you can’t do your usual job because of disability or illness, you may qualify for a superannuation disability benefit. These benefits ‘top up’ the contributions in your superannuation fund if you have to stop work. You may also be able to claim disability benefits under various insurance policies that you may have previously taken out, such as income protection insurance or mortgage protection insurance, if the policy was in place prior to your arthritis being diagnosed. If your illness has progressed and you are thinking it is time to either reduce your hours or leave completely, it is wise to get good advice before telling your employer.
For more detailed information about accessing superannuation or insurance policies, see the ‘WorkWelfareWills’ section of the Chronic Illness Alliance’s website or contact your superannuation fund or relevant insurance agency.
How do I get help?
Understanding your rights and options at work can be confusing and overwhelming. Here are some services and organisations that might be able to help and guide you.
JobAccess is an information and advice service that offers practical workplace solutions for people with disabilities and their employers. JobAccess can assist you if you need additional support to help find or keep a job. It includes a comprehensive, easy-to-use website and a free phone information and advice service through which you can access confidential expert advice. JobAccess can arrange a free workplace assessment for eligible employees and will pay for the cost of workplace modifications and adjustments if required. For more information, visit http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/ or call 1800 464 800.
Centrelink is an Australian Government agency that makes payments and arranges services on behalf of a number of government departments. You can get advice about options to improve your chances of getting a job, how to obtain training, and ways in which to build your skills and confidence for work.
Centrelink services include:
- Income support payments and allowances – such as a disability support pension and a mobility allowance, which assists you if you are unable to use public transport due to a disability and are working, studying or looking for work.
- Job capacity assessment – you may be referred to a Job Capacity Assessor to assess your ability to work. This assessment will identify suitable services to help you re-train and overcome barriers to finding or keeping a job.
- Employment Services Assessments – this assessment helps work out the type of employment service or other assistance that can best help you to prepare for, find and maintain work.
- Jobactive: Can assist you to find paid work. They can match your skills to vacancies and help with general job search assistance.
- Disability Employment Services: This service has two parts: ·
- Disability Management Service is for job seekers with disability, injury or health condition who need assistance to find a job and occasional support to keep a job.
- Employment Support Service provides assistance to people with permanent disability and who need regular, ongoing support to keep a job.
In addition, there is a network of specialist employment providers that help people with disabilities to find and keep a job. They provide training and ongoing support during job placements. For more information about Centrelink services that may be helpful to you, visit https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/centrelink or call 13 27 17, or ask at your local Centrelink Service Centre.
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
The NDIS aims to provide all Australians under the age of 65 who have a permanent and significant disability with the supports they need to enjoy an ordinary life, including assistance with employment. As an insurance scheme, the NDIS takes a lifetime approach, investing in people with a disability, with the aim of improving their condition in later life. The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) manages the NDIS in partnership with State and Territory Governments and established disability providers. For more information about the NDIS visit http://www.ndis.gov.au or call 1800 800 110.