Canada's Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis Program

Canada's Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis

"Canada's Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis" Application Form

"Canada's Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis" Description and Terms

Arthritis is the leading cause of work disability in Canada. Canadian employers are increasingly looking for ways to promote patient-focused prevention, treatment and management of arthritis as part of a health and wellness program for their employees. To raise awareness of arthritis in the workplace and the needs of employees living with arthritis, Arthritis Consumer Experts’ annual Canada’s Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis Program identifies and recognizes Canadian companies that are applying best arthritis practices. The program provides employees and employers the opportunity to assess their companies’ awareness of arthritis and their support systems for employees living, including:
  • flexible work arrangements that meet the needs of employees to manage their disease and work with symptoms such as pain, fatigue, joint dysfunction or immobility; and,
  • employer benefit plans, particularly drug plans that help people with arthritis gain access to life-changing medications they and their doctors have decided they need.

What you need to know about arthritis in the workplace

Arthritis is the most common cause of work disability in Canada and typically occurs during prime working years, between ages 35-50. An impact of arthritis is that it costs the Canadian economy more than $6.4 billion annually. Lost workdays due to long-term disability account for approximately two-thirds of this total.

One in six Canadians has osteoarthritis (OA). That number is expected to rise to 1 in 3 Canadians by 2020. One out of every 136 Canadian workers lives with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but that will increase to 1 in 68 workers by 2020. Within ten years of the onset of RA, up to 50% of employees living with RA are work disabled if left under- or untreated.

Dr. Diane Lacaille of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada (ARC) has conducted studies to determine what workplace factors are closely linked to the risk of a work disability lasting six months or longer. She found that high physical demand, low job independence (i.e. minimal control over the pace of work and how duties are performed) and poor support from co-workers aggravated arthritis symptoms and accounted for longer absences from work.

9 to 5 support for arthritis is "good business"

A workplace environment that embraces the needs of people living with arthritis and provides private insurance plans that give timely access to medications is good for business health. Here's why:

You can reduce arthritis occurrence and workplace limitations at work and improve the quality of life at work for employees living with, or at risk of developing, arthritis
  • Arthritis is the most common cause of work disability in Canada and typically occurs during prime working years, between ages 35-50.

You can reduce economic loss to the Canadian economy
  • The impact of arthritis costs the Canadian economy more than $6.4 billion annually. Lost workdays due to long-term disability account for about two-thirds of this total.

You can increase your work candidacy pool
  • When an employer works with their private insurer to consider the health of employees living with inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout), they are increasing their work candidacy pool by 2-3% (the percentage of people in Canada living with inflammatory arthritis).

You can retain qualified and experienced employees living with arthritis, saving businesses the money and time needed to hire and train new staff
  • Within ten years of the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), up to 50% of people living with RA are work disabled if left under treated or untreated.

You can play a role in strengthening the Canadian work force and economy
  • One out of every 100 Canadians—about 300,000 Canadians live with RA. An estimated 1 in 136 workers lives with RA, which is expected to increase to 1 in 68 workers in six years. Similarly, 1 in 6 Canadians has osteoarthritis, this will increase to 1 in 3 Canadians by 2020. By accommodating these workers' needs, the work force will remain stable, consistent, and local.

Understanding the obstacles of arthritis at work

Does this sound familiar? You have arthritis and you're having a difficult time at work. The obstacles of fatigue, pain, stress, and depression seem insurmountable and lead to your inability to produce and meet deadlines. These and other obstacles often force employees with arthritis to leave the workforce earlier than planned, sometimes going on long-term or permanent work disability. Communication around the unique work challenges brought on by arthritis is important, yet the latest research tells us that employees living with arthritis often do not tell their employer about their disease because of concerns their disclosure could lead to discrimination and loss of employment.

Physical Obstacles
  • Type of work: Physically demanding work requires heavy lifting and prolonged standing and leads to muscle strain.
  • Nature of arthritis: Unpredictable flare-ups make it difficult to plan ahead.

Mental Obstacles
  • Flare-ups cause metabolic and other changes in the body, which can increase levels of inflammation and lead to depression.
  • How a person deals with his or her arthritis, such as self-loathing, low self-esteem, increased dependence on co-workers, feeling the need to overcompensate.

Private insurance and arthritis: Making it work, at work

People with arthritis are taking a growing interest in how private health insurance works, particularly given the benefits reform underway. This comes as no surprise, as 23 million Canadians rely on private health insurance for reimbursement of their essential medications. That means 65% of Canadians obtain drug coverage through private insurance and 35% through provincial medication formularies.

ACE is reaching out to private insurers, advisors, plan sponsors (employers), and plan members (employees) to raise awareness of arthritis and its impact on the workplace.

Studies by the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada (ARC) have found that early treatment with medications can reduce the short-term and long-term costs associated with arthritis (with work-disability claims being the largest among them). Quite often, appropriate arthritis medication or treatment can mean the difference between lifelong disability and a return to a mostly normal life.

According to ARC scientist, Dr. Diane Lacaille, spending as much as $25,000 per year for a biologic to control RA may seem prohibitive, but only until employers consider the cost of the illness itself, including decreased productivity at work, payment of disability benefits, and the loss of a skilled or valuable employee who needs to be replaced or retrained. Knowing this, the cost may be well worthwhile.

Through education programs, ACE wants to engage with private insurers, advisors, and plan sponsors to develop health benefit policies that provide reimbursement for an employee (or their family member) living with arthritis to cover the treatments their physicians say they require to keep them out of hospital, off short- and long-term disability and keep them at work. Ideally, like their co-workers, people living with arthritis will be able to lead productive lives and provide for themselves and their families.

What Can Employers Do?

Employers who understand the symptoms of arthritis (particularly inflammatory forms of the disease) and its seriousness are more likely to make adaptations in the work environment. Some high-value assistance that employers can offer include:

  1. An ergonomic workplace
    • This makes a person living with RA two and a half times less likely to be work-disabled.
  2. Schedule flexibility at work
    • Allows an employee to work at home during flares.
    • Accommodates medical appointments.
    • Allows job-sharing.
    • Allows flexible work hours, such as during evenings and weekends.
  3. Educate employees and employers
    • Raise awareness of arthritis so everyone knows what support systems are available, including the employee benefits plan.
  4. Improved reimbursement of prescribed treatments on the extended benefits plan
    • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) and biologics help to decrease inflammation, pain, swelling, stiffness and fatigue, and lower the average days lost from work each year from 32 down to 12.
    • Biologic medications help slow or arrest the progression of inflammatory arthritis and prevent long-term disability. Employees treated with biologics take less time off from work and are more productive.
    • Allied health professional services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy help employees maintain physical and mental health, and to remain productive and part of the "corporate culture".
  5. Encourage/maintain good two-way communication with employees who live with arthritis.
There are many other approaches to improving the workplace for employees with arthritis and reducing the incidence of work disability. For further information, please visit the article "Working with you to improve JointHealth™" in the April 2013 issue of JointHealth™ monthly. As well, visit the Canadian Council for Health and Active Living at Work.