Who to talk to

meeting

First you need to identify who you should be talking to at work regarding your AS, and any help you need from your employer. This will usually be at least two people:

  • Your line manager
  • Someone from HR who has responsibility for employee health and safety. Every organisation has a duty of care to their employees and therefore must have someone you can talk to regarding health and wellbeing. If you don't know who this is, you should find out - consult your staff handbook (you should have been given one when you were hired) or ask someone, perhaps your line manager. If you work in a small business with only a handful of employees and no HR department, this may be the owner of the business.

Note these two roles may be the same person.

Attitude

The most important thing when asking for reasonable adjustments at your workplace is to frame your discussions in a positive light. When you explain the benefits to the company of making relatively small, often one-off payments for equipment such as an orthopaedic chair or a sit/stand desk, or more flexible working hours, most employers will appreciate the effort you are making to remain productive and will be more likely to consider your requests. For example, benefits to the company might be:

  • increased productivity
  • taking fewer sick days 
  • better concentration
  • fewer mistakes

Try to think of some specific examples in the past where your productivity could have been improved or less time taken off sick if you were able to make certain adjustments at work, and try to explain that the company will be saving money in the long-run by making adjustments and purchasing equipment now.

Explain

Your employer has probably never even heard of Ankylosing Spondylitis, and the word 'arthritis' can be confusing or misleading - many people know arthritis only as something affecting older people because of 'normal' wear and tear, which AS is not. It is therefore important to explain your condition to your employer - what it is, how it affects you, what you find difficult to do, and how your employer can help you.

This can be the most difficult part, especially if you are uncomfortable or inexperienced at talking to someone openly about your condition, and what it feels like day to day. It is common for people with AS to underplay or hide the amount of pain and stiffness you really feel during a typical day, how much it fluctuates day to day and throughout the day, and how much fatigue can impact on your mood and ability to concentrate, either because you deal with pain and stiffness by ignoring it yourself, or you don't want to be seen as a liability or a 'complainer'. It can also be quite difficult to actually describe in words the sorts of different painful sensations and aches you may feel.

To help you be more confident and explain to your employer what AS is, get one of the many information booklets on AS, ideally a hard-copy which you can physically hand to your manager and HR. For example, this short 2-page employer's guide by NASS which you can order from their website has been written specifically for employers, and contains a brief outline of AS, it's effects and how they can help.

You may find that having a professional publication from a national organisation may make you more comfortable talking openly to your employer about your condition, without fear and anxiety about you coming across as just complaining or making things up. Consider taking a couple of copies to hand to your manager and HR, ask them to read it when they can, and arrange for a time to sit down and talk to them after a few days or a week or so to discuss it.

be reasonable

Your job is obviously a precious thing to have, and you should always be polite and engaging when asking for changes. Never speak to your employer about making adjustments at work when you are having a bad day, feeling particularly stiff, achy or just tired and worn out - always wait for a time when you feel positive and clear headed. The worst thing you can do is come off as ungrateful, resentful or rude.

Be aware that all employers are different in all sorts of ways such as size, how much contact you may have with your manager, how empathetic and understanding they are, and how flexible you can be in terms of work environment, travel and work hours depending on what you do (for example, a chef may not be able to start later in the morning because of the breakfast crowd, a pizza delivery driver probably won't be able to reduce the amount of travel involved). This means there is no fixed guidelines for what you can reasonably ask for - it all depends on the situation.

Also be aware that your employer does not have limitless amounts of money to spend on employees (although you should argue that they can save money on the long run by spending now on helping you), and they also may be concerned about not being seen to be giving you massively preferential treatment over others. The most significant factor is, unfortunately, simply how understanding and caring your employers are as people, so take this into consideration when deciding on who to talk to and what to say.

Finally, be willing to make adjustments yourself. Try to be creative and think about alternative ideas you could suggest to your employer in return. For example, you might be able to trade tasks with colleagues - maybe you could cut out some travelling which usually gives you a bad back in return for taking on some paperwork you can do at your sit/stand desk. Perhaps you can take a longer lunch break so you can go for a walk or swim, in return for staying a bit later or arriving a bit earlier in the day. Maybe you can do some work from home in the morning, if you promise to have some video-conference software such as Skype running the whole time so you can be contacted if needed.

Funding

Your employer may be able to get financial support for making reasonable adjustments for a disabled worker - search the web for information (such as the Access to Work scheme in the UK)

Know your rights

Be aware of the rights you have under whatever laws are in place where you work. For example, in the UK, the following legislation may be relevant depending on the severity of your AS:

  • Equality Act 2010 - protects workers with a long-term health condition which substantially affects your ability to carry out normal daily activities at work or home from discrimination. This includes legally requiring organisations to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to help you start, remain or return to work. AS is generally covered under the Equality Act.

Be very careful about bringing up the legal duty of care your employers have. This should only be used as a last resort if you feel that you are being ignored, or you feel your employer is not being reasonable. Do not start your discussions talking about legal rights - always start your discussions in a positive way which shows you just want to help the company and be a productive member. Hopefully you will not need to bring up legislation at all, and this is what you should aim for.