Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

Requesting Reasonable Work Accommodations for Chronic Pain

Living Well

April 20, 2024

Content created for the Bezzy community and sponsored by our partners. Learn More

Photography by Hernandez & Sorokina/Stocksy United

Photography by Hernandez & Sorokina/Stocksy United

by Elizabeth Medeiros


Medically Reviewed by:

Tiffany Taft, PsyD


by Elizabeth Medeiros


Medically Reviewed by:

Tiffany Taft, PsyD


While asking for accommodations can be intimidating, it can make your everyday life a lot more comfortable. Here’s what you need to know.

Graduating college and entering the workforce was quite a bit of an adjustment. Like many people, I had to get used to the new workplace dynamic.

But unlike most, I also had to navigate my new professional life while balancing a chronic illness. While there was so much I could do on my own, I also had to learn about requesting workplace accommodations.

I tried to go a long time without asking for any help. I assumed things would be okay because I was at a desk job. However, I hadn’t realized how a few accommodations would positively affect my quality of life.

Eventually, I got to the point where I had no choice but to ask my employer for help.

While I had done similar things in school and college, this time felt different. I was intimidated by the processes and terminology, like what exactly did “ADA” and “reasonable” accommodations mean? There was so much to learn!

Join the free PsA community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

What is ADA?

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), covered employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to enable them to perform essential job functions.

Accommodations are modifications made by the employer to ensure you can effectively carry out your job duties.

Arthritis and chronic pain are protected disabilities under ADA. Employers can’t discriminate against employees based on their need for accommodations or retaliate against them for requesting accommodation.

While I am forever grateful for the ADA and all its protections, I still found the process of requesting accommodations intimidating at my first job. I remember worrying my employer would think less of me and that I wouldn’t be considered a reliable employee.

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

How are accommodations requested?

The process of asking for accommodations can vary from workplace to workplace.

Typically, it starts with informing your employer about your needs: in most cases, you’ll reach out to HR. At smaller companies, a manager might handle it. You can reach out verbally or in writing — whatever is most comfortable. I prefer doing it via email so there is a record of my request.

The important thing is to let your employer know your needs and why. You don’t have to tell them your diagnosis if you prefer not to.

Stating that you have a chronic illness should suffice as long as you explain the disease’s effect on your life and how it affects your ability to work. For example, you might explain that your chronic illness causes chronic pain and fatigue. During this initial discussion, you can ask for specific reasonable accommodations.

Once you make your request, you and your employer interact to discuss possible accommodations. Your job can request additional documentation from your doctor, to make sure you have a qualified disability and to better understand your needs.

What does reasonable accommodation mean?

As the ADA states, you can request reasonable accommodations. “Reasonable” means that the accommodation won’t put undue stress on the company financially or fundamentally alter the job function, among other things. Reasonable accommodations help people fulfill the primary duties of their job.

For example, someone who works as a front desk receptionist might be given a headset to answer phone calls and an ergonomic chair to help with pain.

However, working from home or having flexible hours does not work in this scenario since that person wouldn’t be at the front desk during business hours.

Possible reasonable accommodations for people with arthritis:

For people with arthritis and other chronic pain syndromes, you could consider any of the following reasonable accommodations depending on the function of the job:

  • providing ergonomic equipment, such as chairs, keyboards, or anti-fatigue mats
  • offering voice-to-text technology
  • providing a headset instead of a standard telephone
  • assistance with note-taking
  • regular breaks to get up and stretch, rest, or take medication
  • accessible facilities such as ramps or wheelchair-accessible bathrooms
  • flexible working hours
  • remote work
  • reassignment to another vacant role that you’re better suited to (Please note that the employer is not required to make a position for you.)

Another point to consider is you might not need accommodation usually, but you do during flares. You can ask for temporary accommodations that change as your health does.

Depending on your employer, you might set these up in advance or request them as your needs change.

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you

What if my employer doesn’t agree?

Some people will have the experience of receiving the accommodation they request immediately and without question. But sometimes, an employer will suggest a different accommodation that they deem fair.

Remember that the accommodation needs to be reasonable for the employer to fulfill it, but it also needs to be effective so you can do your job. If you find the accommodation ineffective, you can appeal the decision by reminding your employer of your needs and why you feel a different accommodation is more appropriate.

If you’re outright denied, you can appeal the decision. If needed, you can contact advocacy groups for help or even obtain legal assistance if you feel you are being discriminated against.

The Job Accommodation Network has excellent resources for anyone who needs assistance with this process.

An ongoing process

Something significant to note is that accommodations shouldn’t be a one-and-done thing. You should have regular touch points to ensure the accommodation is effective and doing its job. If not, speak up!

Accommodations are to benefit you — if you’re not benefiting, it’s time to reevaluate and try something new.

Asking for help is always a challenging thing, especially at work. But I urge anyone struggling at work to consider engaging with your employer and see what can be done to help. You might be surprised at how receptive some companies are to help.

Regardless, it can be hard to maintain a career with a chronic illness. Anything you can do to make it easier can help you retain financial independence and a good quality of life.

While it can be a long process, I’m glad I eventually took the initiative to talk with my employer about my health needs. Even little changes can have a positive, lasting effect!

Medically reviewed on April 20, 2024

Join the free PsA community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

Like the story? React, bookmark, or share below:

Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at

About the author

Elizabeth Medeiros

Elizabeth Medeiros is a freelance writer and blogger at The Girl with Arthritis. She hopes to inspire those living with chronic pain by sharing her experiences with juvenile-psoriatic arthritis and offering practical tips on coping, emotional wellness, and patient advocacy. When she isn’t writing, Elizabeth enjoys crocheting, making art, traveling, and cooking.

Related stories

Ad revenue keeps our community free for you