On This Page
About Chronic Pain
Chronic pain has been said to be the most costly health problem in America. While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years or a lifetime. Living with chronic pain can lead to loss of appetite, depression, and exhaustion. The pain associated with chronic pain usually overwhelms all other symptoms. Chronic pain can be caused by headaches, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, pain in the nervous system, and psychological pain.
Chronic Pain and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Chronic Pain
People with chronic pain may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with arthritis will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
- OSHA's Proper Computer Posture
- Limiting lifting, reaching, pushing, and pulling by job restructuring
- Using Proper Lifting Techniques
- Reallocating lifting duties, if marginal
- Providing assistance moving objects, to reduce weight
- Organizing items in a way that reduces the need to move or lift items
- Reducing weight to be lifted by separating items into smaller groups
- Reassigning an employee to a modified duty position or modifying duties by removing the lifting duties
- Extra time to complete paperwork
- Voice-to-text software
- Ability to dictate notes using a voice recorder and have another staff member input the notes (if inputting the information is a marginal function of your job)
- Grip Aids, to help with holding a stylus
- Reallocating documentation duties, if marginal
- Handwriting Recognition Software
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
A human resources manager had chronic pain due to a car accident.
The individual was having difficulty getting to work on time. He was accommodated with a flexible schedule to allow more time to access public transit.
An assembly line worker with chronic pain was having difficulty standing for long periods.
He was accommodated with a sit-lean stool and anti-fatigue matting.
An individual with chronic pain due to a back injury was having difficulty sitting throughout the day.
She was accommodated with a reclining workstation.
An appointment secretary was reprimanded for poor attendance due to chronic pain.
She was provided periodic rest breaks when at work and allowed telecommuting part-time.
A medical technician with chronic pain was restricted from doing repetitive work.
He was required to perform typing throughout the day. He was transferred to another job requiring less repetition.
A switchboard operator with chronic pain and fibromyalgia was accommodated with flexible scheduling, rest breaks, and an adjustable workstation.
The adjustable workstation allowed her to alternate between a sitting and standing position.