To disclose, or not to disclose – that is the question. Some people with invisible illnesses decide not to disclose them. It’s a highly personal decision, and one that is not always straightforward. It can depend on many factors, ranging from the specifics of your own condition and your personality to the culture at your place of work, your colleagues (particularly the senior team) and how you see it impacting on career progression.  

Factors to consider 

In some cases, people have no choice but to disclose, such as those with physically demanding jobs like construction jobs, or those that require standing for long hours, such as a hairdresser, teacher or nurse. In some cases, a change of role within the same organisation may be required in order to take account of limitations imposed by the arthritis condition. In this case, the support of employers is essential, and disclosure may be the only option 


Despite the potential benefits of disclosing, some people still remain afraid of what disclosure will open them up to, such as discrimination. Some people who disclose their condition have a very positive experience of doing so, and feel great relief when they do, but that simply isn’t the case for everyone. However, one thing to bear in mind is that not all employers will necessarily see you having your condition as being a bad thing’. You may not have thought about it before, but remember, having a chronic condition can make you an asset in that the challenges you face require a great degree of resilience, patience and adaptability – all skills that many employers cry out for.  


Do what’s right for you 

This blog details the potential benefits of disclosing your condition to the right person, or people. However, if you decide after reading this, that you still aren’t comfortable disclosing, then that is probably the right decision, and it is one that we entirely respect. You are also the only one who fully understands the culture at your workplace, and whether you would feel ‘safe’ enough to be honest about your condition. For this reason, and others, you should never feel pressured to disclose. Likewise, if you do disclose your condition, it is entirely your right to give as much or as little information as you like relating to it and how it affects you. 


Top 5 reasons why disclosing can be helpful 

  1. You may not feel so alone with it: If your fellow workers understand that you have a chronic medical condition, they're more likely to give you essential support. This can make taking time off for your healthcare appointments easier (If they don't know, colleagues may believe you're getting preferential treatment) and there may also be more compassion afforded to you if you require sick days. It could also mean that you could come to an arrangement with your line manager or a colleague in terms of sharing the workload, and that you will return the favour when needed.  

  1.  You may be more comfortable: By disclosing your condition, you can get the adequate assistance you need to create a better working environment. This means that, if your condition is seen as a ‘disability’, your employer may be required to do things such as providing ergonomic furniture and environmental adaptations to make your desk and workstation more ‘arthritis friendly’. Also, you can be more honest about certain expectations, such as if someone asks you to lift something but you know that could compromise your back, or if you’re asked to work late hours and fatigue is an issue for you. And taking regular breaks, ensuring to stretch your body – one of the essential strategies for staying well when you have arthritis – will no longer be met with strange or confused looks – there is likely to be more understanding and acceptance from the team in the office as a result of you disclosing your condition.  

  1. Your commute could be easier: If you work in an office one or two days a week and have disclosed your arthritis condition, your commute could be part of a negotiation you make with your employers. For instance, maybe you could start a little later or finish a little earlier, for example, to avoid busy commuter trains or buses, as long as you can make up for that slight loss of time once you get home/or before you leave.  

  1. It may keep you in the workforce: Unfortunately, a shockingly high proportion of those with severe inflammatory arthritis end up having to give up work. When this happens, statistically, only a small percentage of those people every return to work. We know that work, for many, can provide a sense of purpose and social connection, in addition to more financial security. If you disclose your condition to your employer, and accommodation is made for you to continue at work, then everybody is likely to benefit. As part of this, a discussion could be made about a more suitable role within the same company for a period while your condition is unstable, with a view to returning to your original role once the disease is less active. Also, it is a good idea to consult with an occupational therapist to discuss what early interventions could be made to help you to stay in a job you want to stay in whilst managing your condition. 

  1. You may find it less stressful: In some cases, it may be less stressful to have things ‘out in the open’. If your condition is unstable or unpredictable, or if you experience frequent flares, then it can be more stressful ‘hiding’ that reality than coming out with the truth, particularly if your co-workers are understanding. When it is known that you have a condition, expectations from the employee and the employer can be set, and there should be no major surprises with schedules and workloads. The opposite situation is one where someone does not disclose, and the condition deteriorates, which could leave an employer frustrated that it was not revealed from the outset.  

Remember it is entirely your decision whether to disclose or not, and you are under no obligation to disclose a disability or a condition under work legislation. If you are considering disclosing, however, you can get tips about how to go about disclosing your condition on our website. Also read our tips on how to manage your arthritis at work or listen to our podcast all about work and arthritis with occupational therapist, Dr Yvonne Codd.  


5 tips to make your work-station more arthritis-friendly 

  • Take regular breaks: these breaks can be brief (such as a two-minute break every 15 minutes or so) and should include stretches for optimal results. Taking a longer break is also advisable, ideally incorporating a walk outdoors to help minimise pain, stiffness and fatigue.  

  • Position your monitor correctly: many people make the mistake of having their monitor positioned above eye-level. Instead, the monitor should be centred directly in front of you so that you are looking at it with a slightly downward gaze to keep your neck in a neutral or straight position.  

  • Get the right type of chair: choose a chair with adequate lumbar support and, ideally, one that swivels and rolls to make it easy to reach for items or turn to face a colleague. A well-designed chair will have levers to adjust your seat height, tilt, backrest height and tilt, and armrest positions so that it can be tailored to you. 

  • Get your seated posture right: keep your shoulders relaxed and your upper back straight, with your feet firmly placed on the floor (knees should be about level with hips - you can add a footrest if you need to). Keep your monitor about an arm’s length away from you.  

  • Be careful with laptops: using a laptop instead of a desktop computer setup can cause problems due to the low screen height and the cramped keyboard and touchpad. If you don’t have a desktop computer, at the very least you should consider getting an external keyboard and mouse, along with a laptop stand, so that you can mimic a desktop computer setup. 

Your legal rights as an employee 

You have rights and entitlements as a worker with a chronic illness. Under the law, employers must make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for employees who have a disability. An employer is obliged to take appropriate measures to enable a person who has a disability to work, unless those measures would impose an unreasonable burden on the employer. This should allow you to do your job as easily as possible and/or to improve the physical environment in which you work. If having arthritis is debilitating a person’s everyday life, or if their condition significantly limits their activity and participation in life, it is deemed a disability.  

Occupational therapy 

Due to the long waiting lists for many occupational therapy services, some people want to avail of support from occupational therapists working in private practice. The Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI) has a directory of such therapists and their location and areas of which you can access on the homepage of the AOTI website.