Work Considerations and Fibro: What You Need to Think About

Managing fibromyalgia symptoms like pain, fatigue, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression can feel like a full-time job. For some fibromyalgia patients however, their job is their saving grace, because it gives them something to focus on other than their symptoms. Learn more about how to balance your symptoms and work-life and when to consider disability. 

Employees with fibromyalgia symptoms often find that a few simple tweaks and a thoughtful conversation with their employer are all that's needed to continue working well. Every fibromyalgia patient's employment situation is unique however. Here are a few things each patient needs to consider:

  • How do your symptoms conflict with your work situation?
  • How much time off do you need for rest and sick days?
  • Can you physically and mentally do your job the way it was originally designed, or do you need special accommodations?
  • Are those special accommodations reasonable or would they cause considerable hardship to your employer?
  • Should you look for a different job or consider applying for disability payments?

Some fibromyalgia patients are afraid to tell their employer about their illness, for fear they'll be pushed out of their jobs. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) says employers have to make reasonable accommodations for employees with qualified disabilities, though they don't name specific qualifying medical conditions (like fibromyalgia syndrome).  Instead, the ADA provides a general definition of disability that each person must meet. Not ever patient with fibromyalgia qualifies, but many do.

While the ADA doesn't require an employee to disclose their disability, their employer isn't required to provide reasonable work accommodations unless she is made aware of the employee's needs. What's the best way to inform your employer about your fibromyalgia?

  • Prepare a written description of what fibromyalgia is and how your symptoms impact your work.
  • Focus on the positive—all the ways you're fully capable of performing well, despite fibromyalgia. Include a list of recent accomplishments and positive performance evaluations.
  • Make a short list of specific accommodations needed to continue performing your job. Here are some fibromyalgia-specific accommodations suggested by the U.S. Department of Labor's Job Accommodations Network:

Ask your employer to:

  • Provide written job instructions when possible
  • Prioritize job assignments and provide more structure
  • Allow flexible work hours and allow a self-pace workload
  • Allow periodic rest periods
  • Provide memory aids, such as schedulers or organizers
  • Minimize distractions
  • Reduce job stress
  • Remind you of important deadlines and meetings
  • Allow time off for counseling
  • Provide clear expectations of responsibilities and consequences
  • Allow breaks to use stress management techniques
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for support
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress
  • Allow work from home
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Write down everything you do to disclose your illness. And record the accommodations that are being made. Include a written letter that informs your employer that fibromyalgia syndrome is covered under the ADA (along with documentation from your physician, if necessary) and that you are requesting reasonable accommodations. Documentation will be important if problems crop up later.

Once your employer has agreed to accommodate your unique situation, do your best to make it work. If you're still unable to perform your job, it may be time to talk to your doctor and contact the Social Security Administration to find out if you qualify for disability payments.


Social Security Administration - Disability Resources

US Department of Labor's Job Accommodations NetworK
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Employees with Fibromyalgia
By Beth Loy, Ph.D.