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Sjogren’s Syndrome: Accommodations for the Workplace

Learn more about Sjogren's syndrome and what accommodations might be effective

From the desks of Teresa Goddard, M.S., Lead Consultant – Sensory Team and Lisa Mathess, M.A., SHRM-CP, Lead Consultant, Motor Team


Affecting up to four million Americans, Sjogren’s syndrome is more prevalent, but is less well-known, than similar autoimmune disorders and can go undiagnosed for long periods of time. Sjogren’s shares several characteristics with other autoimmune disorders affecting the joints and may accompany autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Generalized pain may lead to individuals being limited in motor functioning. Fatigue and weakness are other common symptoms. Additional symptoms such as dry mouth and dry eye tend to be more common in individuals with Sjogren’s compared with other similar autoimmune disorders. Individuals with Sjogren’s may be more likely to develop other medical conditions, including lymphoma and organ dysfunction.

Pain, fatigue, and weakness are common limitations among those with Sjogren’s, so employees may benefit from a modified schedule that could include longer rest breaks, a flexible schedule, and/or use of leave time when needed. Workplace accommodations may include making sure the facility is accessible and moving the employee’s workstation closer to restrooms and needed work-related equipment. In order to reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress, products may be purchased as an accommodation, such as an ergonomic workstation design and adjustable office chair or a scooter or other mobility aid.

With regard to pain, typical causes include joint swelling, stiffness, and neuropathy. Employees who experience these symptoms may have difficulty both commuting to work and accessing the facilities, so telework or remote work could be considered as an accommodation. Permitting a service animal on the premises or allowing the use of a personal attendant can also aid an employee with mobility, eating, toileting, and grooming needs. Modification to policies may also be considered for those employees who use medications for pain management.

Implementing a variety of products may be considered for fine and gross motor limitations. For office settings, there are many different adjustable workstations available, along with compact material handlers. For those working in the industrial setting, there are alternatives for adjustable workstations and a variety of material handlers, such as drum handlers, ergonomic tools, and compact cranes.

Employees experiencing dry eyes may benefit from accommodations to help manage these symptoms and prevent complications. Typical accommodation approaches include limiting exposure to environmental conditions that exacerbate eye dryness, such as dry and drafty areas, and modifying policies and break schedules to assist employees in managing their symptoms. Employees with dry eye may benefit from periodic breaks away from the workstation to rest eyes or use artificial tears and eye lubricants, limiting exposure to triggers such as fans and vents, providing or allowing the use of a humidifier, modifying lighting to manage photosensitivity, and providing or allowing use of personal protective equipment such as goggles. Telework may be useful if the workplace cannot be suitably modified.

Dry mouth is also a common symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome. In addition to causing discomfort, dry mouth can cause significant dental complications. Employees may benefit from access to beverages and time to brush their teeth after eating. Leave may be needed for dental management.

For more information on accommodating employees with Sjogren’s syndrome, please contact JAN.

Resources:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2012). NINDS Sjogren’s Syndrome Information Page. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sjogrens/sjogrens.htm

Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation. (2016). About Sjogren’s. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from http://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-sjogrens

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