Going to Work During a Pain Flare-Up

The main (okay, only) criteria I had for my first full time job after college was that the lighting in my work environment wouldn’t be blindingly bright. I was psyched when I showed up for an interview at my favorite tech company, and the work space was lit only by natural light. I knew I wouldn’t get as many migraines in that room, so I decided right on the spot that if they offered me a job I would say yes.

Turns out I’m not the only one whose career path has been directed in part by a chronic pain condition. A study published in the European Journal of Pain in 2005 surveyed 46 thousand people with chronic pain, and found that 61% of them reported that their working lives were impacted by their pain condition. What’s worse, 13% of them had changed jobs because of their pain. Worst of all, 19% had lost a job at some point due to pain related decreases in performance or increased absences.

That data was collected in 15 European countries, and  I don’t have any information on the disability anti-discrimination policies in each of those respective countries. However, in the US the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mandates that qualified employees and job applicants shall not be treated unfairly due to a disability. The following is an excerpt from the EEOC website defining the term disability:

  • A person may be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning).
  • A person may be disabled if he or she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
  • A person may be disabled if he is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).

Any person who meets at least one of the three criteria above is protected by the EEOC. The law requires that employers “provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.” This means that most HR departments will be glad to help make your work environment a little more comfortable for you, particularly at your doctor’s recommendation. Exactly how many dollars a modification may cost before it is deemed a “significant expense” varies from employer to employer, but some sources estimate that about $500 is the tipping point. Therefore if your pain can be alleviated with a small modification like different lighting, ergonomic furniture, or standing desk, you might be in luck.

For spoonies who suffer from occasional pain flare-ups at work but don’t meet the EEOC definition of disabilities, there are smaller ways you might be able to manage your pain at work without any accommodations from your employer. Every Spoonie is different, but here are my own favorite tips for coping with pain at a desk job:

  • Learn meditation techniques to help you stay calm during a flare-up
  • Take frequent walk breaks
  • Keep water and healthy food close at hand
  • Adjust your posture and make sure your computer monitor and desk chair are adjusted correctly
  • Have a confidant you can call or text about your pain during the work day when it’s at it’s worst

How do you deal with pain flare-ups at work? What about other types of invisible illnesses? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below or email me your own tips and tricks.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so please be advised that this information is not intended to be used as a substitute professional legal advice.

8 thoughts on “Going to Work During a Pain Flare-Up

  1. Fantastic article. Was just reading this week about a women who lost her job due to her chronic illness, in spite of doing EVERYTHING in accordance with her employer’s guidelines…sad. Hang in there sister ♥


  2. Great article. I lost my nursing job due to chronic pain, and whilst I knew that I could no longer do the job it was a really tough experience. The EU process for retirement on health grounds felt just like a disciplinary procedure – and no, there is no “pension” attached to the word retirement. I was a 39 year old hospice with 3 kids……tough but had to carry on. Great to find you on Unbroken Smile Chronic Link Up party! Claire(PainPalsBlog)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I managed for 15 years with flare ups taking very little time off but I finally had to give up work last year. My employers have been exceptional as they are that desperate to have me back they are still paying sick pay. I have until April to decide either way. At 45 I think FMS finally has the better of me. Unfortunately your post is no surprise.For all who read this, hang in there and I hope you feel my gentle hug. Hx.

    Liked by 1 person

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