How to Build a Culture That Accommodates Employees With Chronic Pain

by Chris Rhatigan on Aug 29, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Safe organizational culture

From carpal tunnel syndrome to back issues to cancer, todays workers face serious pain problems. Almost half of all American adults face one or more chronic health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The vast majority of healthcare spending is on chronic disease issues, which totals $2.2 trillion annually.

These are people who suffer for days, months, and years from frequent pain signals being sent through their nervous systems. As you can imagine, people with chronic pain are often distracted or tired as a result.

Employers should take steps to accommodate these workers and promote a healthy organizational culture. Here are some tips on how to ensure the workplace is safe for all employees:


01. Plenty of breaks

Sitting at a desk all day isn’t ideal for people with chronic pain issues. Allow employees frequent breaks to walk around the office and get fresh air outside. Keeping mobile is important for those with joint and muscle problems.


02. Flexibility

Providing accommodations for workers is key. For example, hiring an assistant might be necessary for an employee who cannot type. For an employee who suffers from frequent migraine headaches, offer a quiet, dark place to rest. Talk to employees with chronic pain about what you can do to help them.

Being flexible with scheduling is also important. When pain issues flare up, allow employees to work from home or take some time off.


03. Wellness education

More employers are promoting healthy lifestyles than ever before. These programs can reduce the incidence of preventable chronic pain issues. Incorporating a wellness plan may reduce insurance premiums as well. Wellness plans encourage employees to eat healthy, quit smoking, and exercise regularly. Individuals who engage in these behaviors are ultimately less likely to have chronic pain problems.

Chronic health issues at work 

04. Physical workspace

Consider investing in items such as ergonomic chairs and adjustable height desks to assist employees. These will help prevent employees from experiencing back and joint problems in the future. For workers who have more physical duties, make sure that they have access to the proper equipment and that the job isn’t having a long-term impact on their health.


05. Legal considerations

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employers provide accommodations for workers with disabilities. However, it does not specifically define disability. The ADA does say that people with “a major impairment” that “substantially limits them from one or more life activities” qualify as disabled, according to the Job Accommodation Network. Therefore, some employees with chronic pain will be eligible for disability status.

Chronic pain is a reality for millions of Americans. Employers should consider it their responsibility to make reasonable accommodations for all of their workers.



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This post was written by Chris Rhatigan

Chris Rhatigan is a freelance writer and editor. He is a former newspaper reporter for The New Haven Register and The Iowa City Press-Citizen. He enjoys playing old video games, studying (and trying to speak) Hindi, and walking his dog on the local trails. He lives in India.