Can I still work after my lupus diagnosis?

No matter the area of expertise, our achievements and accomplishments in the workplace contribute to our self-image and identity. It’s not surprising that people with lupus, especially soon after being diagnosed, often wonder if their illness will affect their ability to contribute in the workplace.

Many people with lupus are able to continue to work, although they may need to make changes in their work environment. Flexible work hours, job-sharing, and telecommuting may help you to keep working. It may be helpful to begin to make such arrangements soon after you have been diagnosed with lupus.

If you work in an office setting, changes may include:

  • modifying your workstation to relieve physical stress factors
  • placing light shields over fluorescent bulbs and anti-glare filters on computer screens
  • using ergonomic keyboards and desk chairs
  • having a couch available for periods of rest

If you work in outdoor occupations, changes may include:

  • taking on tasks that are less physically demanding
  • having more frequent rest periods
  • avoiding the sun at midday

It’s understandable that you might not want to make your illness a matter of general knowledge among colleagues. You may be concerned that telling your employer about a lupus diagnosis might call into question your effectiveness in your job, or might somehow decrease your value as an employee.

In confronting these work-related issues, people with lupus have a valuable resource in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1990, the ADA makes it against the law for an employer to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. Chronic illness, lupus included, is recognized as a disability for the purposes of administering the law. The law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to enable a disabled employee to perform his or her job (modifications to work stations, assistive equipment, flexible work schedules, changes in job location, etc.). However, exactly what is "reasonable" can be a matter of interpretation, and sometimes a dispute can arise between employee and employer. The most important thing to know is that the ADA provisions apply only if the employer has been made aware of the employee’s disability.

Sometimes the physical and/or mental demands of your job may become too much for you to handle on top of the many physical and emotional changes that lupus can cause. You might benefit from changing to another job, or switching to part-time hours at your current job.

Medically reviewed on July 25, 2013

This article was published by the Lupus Foundation of America Office.