by Jenna Fletcher
Medically Reviewed by:
Stella Bard, MD
by Jenna Fletcher
Medically Reviewed by:
Stella Bard, MD
There’s no right answer for when — or even if — you should stop working when living with rheumatoid arthritis. Knowing your options and your rights can help you decide what’s best for you.
Living with RA can make working difficult. Getting up and going to work can be challenging some days and nearly impossible other days. And it’s rarely consistent!
If you’re contemplating stopping work, you want to make sure you’re making the right decision for you and your family.
You may have a lot of questions — like, for one, will you qualify for disability? You might also be considering how you could make employment work, such as what accommodations your employer can provide or possibly switching careers to one that’s less physically demanding or that lets you better set your own schedule.
RA can — and does — affect many people’s ability to continue working, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists employment loss or challenges as a complication of the disease.
A 2023 review of research found that nearly one-third of people diagnosed with RA are unable to work after 2–3 years, with almost half unable to work within 10–15 years following diagnosis.
In other words, if you’re contemplating no longer working because of your RA symptoms, you’re not alone.
Mobility changes, fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms can all interfere with your work — and your personal life, too.
Of course, work has many benefits. Steady income and potential healthcare benefits are quite literally a lifeline when living with RA.
Work can also bring you joy, make you feel confident, and can be a potential distraction from symptoms.
But it’s also something that requires you to give up your time, takes a lot of energy, and can be physically demanding — even if it involves sitting upright at a computer typing with sore or swollen fingers.
“I had worked so hard to be where I was in my career. I had dedicated my entire life to working in healthcare, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to continue.”
— Stefanie Remson in “How I Navigate Professional Life While Living with a Chronic Illness”
You can read more about Stefanie’s experience navigating work while living with RA.
If you find you’re not able to keep up with the demands of working, you will want to know what options you have.
Workplaces are required to offer reasonable accommodations for people living with disabilities. You may also qualify for partial or full disability payments.
Here’s what you need to know:
The U.S. government considers RA a disability if it stops you from performing your job.
The application for disability can take some time. They will ask questions about the severity of your condition, the nature of your work, and how it affects your work.
You may qualify for supplemental income, known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI offers up to $841 per month, and some states may offer additional benefits.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability.
Employers are legally required to offer you reasonable accommodations. This can include changes such as:
While certain accommodations may be helpful, they may not always be enough. And many people report feeling as though they get forced out, miss opportunities for advancement, or become the target of invasive questioning.
Stigmas, lack of understanding, and stereotypes can make discussing disabilities at work stressful. But sharing your medical story can also put you in a position of power over the diagnosis and help reduce the stereotype associated with disability.
If you have had a bad work experience, you can find information about filing a complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Insurance coverage and costs will vary greatly based on the plan you have. You may have to cover a deductible for treatment or provide copays for visits or medications.
Your employer may offer different levels of insurance plans. It may be beneficial to look into the various options available to you.
Almost everyone needs to work to pay bills. Not working anymore due to RA can be a stressful decision because of the financial strain it can place on you and your family.
A 2022 study found that living with a chronic condition, such as RA, is associated with increased debt. And if you’re living with more than one chronic condition, debt may increase even more.
And while you may qualify for disability insurance, it can take time for benefits to gain approval and start.
“I’ve seen firsthand that there are many ways being chronically ill or disabled can make life more financially difficult and unstable.”
— Nia G in “We Need to Talk About The Financial Challenges of Living with a Chronic Condition”
You may want to consider cutting your hours or going part-time before fully leaving your position. Some employers may be open to the consideration of part-time instead of full-time work. You may even qualify for partial benefits, which can help.
Here are some more steps to consider:
You may have more options than you think when it comes to employment opportunities, though they may involve some changes.
You might consider:
“In September of 2021, I launched Patients Getting Paid to help people with chronic illness learn to find and create work that both accommodates their health and generates an income. … I call us “chronicpreneurs.”
— Kathy Reagan in “I’m a Patient Getting Paid — and You Can Be Too”
Disability is a process that requires you and members of a medical team to submit information about your health and work life. It can take a long time to gain approval and may require you to reapply if rejected.
There are no set jobs for RA, but in general, avoiding physically demanding jobs is generally a good plan. You may also find flexible and work-from-home options better choices.
Setting realistic goals and taking short breaks often are two tips from fellow RA warrior Stefanie Remson. Check out some of her other tips.
Living with RA can make work challenging. Some days, you may feel fine, while other days can be a challenge to get out of bed in the morning.
If you find it difficult to get through most work days, it may be time to consider a change. This could include applying for disability, modifying your hours, changing career paths, or quitting entirely.
Employers are required to offer reasonable accommodations, but that may not always be enough or may come along with feelings of stigma or emotional stress.
There’s no universal answer to when you should stop working. You will want to consider your financial situation, your overall health, and other job opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and do what is best for you.
Medically reviewed on February 02, 2024
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About the author
Jenna Fletcher is a freelance writer and content creator. She writes extensively about health and wellness. As a mother of one stillborn twin, she has a personal interest in writing about overcoming grief and postpartum depression and anxiety, and reducing the stigma surrounding child loss and mental healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.