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Fibromyalgia - Work & Disability

Fibromyalgia Disability Information and Resources Many people with fibromyalgia are able to continue working either full or part time. Others find that the chronic pain and fatigue are so severe, continuing to work is impossible. When that happens, it may be necessary to consider applying for disability.

Whether you're struggling to continue working or trying to navigate the disability maze, the following sections offer guidance and tips to help you along your journey.

Working with Fibromyalgia

It is estimated that 60% of people with fibromyalgia work full-time jobs. While working when you have FM is not easy, it does offer some important benefits if you're able to do it. In addition to the obvious financial benefits, working can contribute to feelings of self-worth, provide opportunities for social interaction, offer intellectual challenges and even help distract your mind from your illness for periods of time as you focus on your job tasks.

In most cases, there are modifications that can be made to your job, schedule or workspace that can improve your ability to continue working and increase your productivity. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most employers are obligated to make "reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities.

The following list of possible modifications for people with FM is provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Job Accommodation Network. You can use this list when discussing suggested modifications with your employer.

Concentration Issues:
  • Provide written job instructions when possible
  • Prioritize job assignments & provide more structure
  • Allow flexible work hours & allow a self-pace workload
  • Allow periodic rest periods to reorient
  • Provide memory aids, such as schedulers or organizers
  • Minimize distractions
  • Reduce job stress
Fine Motor Impairment:
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design
  • Provide alternative computer access
  • Provide alternative telephone access
  • Provide arm supports
  • Provide writing & grip aids
  • Provide a page turner & a book holder
  • Provide a note taker
Gross Motor Impairment:
  • Modify the work-site to make it accessible
  • Provide parking close to the work-site
  • Provide an accessible entrance
  • Install automatic door openers
  • Move workstation close to other work areas, office equipment, & break rooms
Temperature Sensitivity:
  • Modify work-site temperature & maintain the ventilation system
  • Modify dress code
  • Use fan/air-conditioner or heater at the workstation & redirect vents
  • Allow flexible scheduling & work from home during extremely hot or cold weather
  • Provide an office with separate temperature control
Skin Sensitivity:
  • Avoid infectious agents & chemicals
  • Provide protective clothing
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion & workplace stress
  • Schedule periodic rest breaks away from the workstation
  • Allow a flexible work schedule & flexible use of leave time
  • Allow work from home
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design
Depression & Anxiety:
  • Reduce distractions in work environment
  • Provide to-do lists & written instructions
  • Remind employee of important deadlines & meetings
  • Allow time off for counseling
  • Provide clear expectations of responsibilities & consequences
  • Provide sensitivity training to co-workers
  • Allow breaks to use stress management techniques
  • Develop strategies to deal with work problems before they arise
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors & others for support
  • Provide information on counseling & employee assistance programs
Sleep Disorder:
  • Allow flexible work hours & frequent breaks
  • Allow work from home
Migraine Headaches:
  • Provide task lighting
  • Eliminate fluorescent lighting
  • Use computer monitor glare guards
  • Reduce noise with sound absorbent baffles/partitions, environmental sound machines, & headsets
  • Provide alternate work space to reduce visual & auditory distractions
  • Implement a "fragrance-free" workplace policy
  • Provide air purification devices
  • Allow flexible work hours & work from home
  • Allow periodic rest breaks
For answers to the most frequently asked questions about your rights under the ADA, read: Working with Fibromyalgia or ME/CFS - Your Rights Under the ADA

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Fibromyalgia Social Security Information and Resources

Social Security Disability Insurance

If you are no longer able to continue working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Going through the process of applying for SSD is generally not a simple task.

Therefore, it's important to learn all you can about the process before you begin in order to maximize your chances of being approved.

The following information and especially the suggested articles can help you navigate the system as smoothly as possible.

There are two types of disability benefits available through the Social Security Administration (SSA):
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) - Pays benefits if you have worked long enough and have paid Social Security taxes within the past five years.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - Pays benefits based on your financial need.
If you're unsure which program best fits your situation, use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to see which you may be eligible for. The information here applies only to SSDI. For more information about applying for SSI, see: Supplemental Security Income Home Page

In determining whether or not you are disabled, SSA asks five questions:
  1. Are you working? If you are working and earning an average of more than $980 a month, they do not consider you disabled.

  2. Is your condition "severe"? Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities.

  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? The SSA has a list of conditions they consider so severe, they automatically mean you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, they have to decide if it is equal in severity to another condition on the list. To check the SSA list of disabling conditions, see: Listing of Impairments. If your condition is not on the list or equal in severity, they then move to question 4.

  4. Can you do the work you did previously? If the SSA determines that your condition does not interfere with the work you previously did, your claim will be denied. If it does interfere, they then proceed to question 5.

  5. Can you do any other type of work? It's not enough just to be unable to do your previous job. They also look at your medical conditions, age, education, past work experience and transferable skills to determine if you could adjust to doing other types of jobs.

For answers to frequently asked questions about how the SSA determines the answers to questions four and five, see: Work and Education Information the SSA Needs

These articles will provide you with additional in-depth information about applying for SSDI, particularly in relation to fibromyalgia:

Applying for Social Security Disability (A step-by-step overview of the process)

How Social Security Evaluates Fibromyalgia for Disability

Tips for Winning a Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Disability Case - and - What Actually Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?

The Interplay Between Fibromyalgia and Social Security Disability

Fibromyalgia Disability Application Issues: How to Be Your Own Expert Medical Witness

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Long-Term Disability Insurance

If you have long-term disability insurance through your employer, you may be able to receive benefits - at least for a period of time - when you are no longer able to work due to fibromyalgia. Be aware, though, that you will likely meet with resistance from your insurance company.

According to disability attorney, Aaron Hotfelder, on the legal network,
Long-term disability (LTD) insurance companies routinely deny or limit claims for long-term disability benefits based on fibromyalgia... Because there is no objective test for fibromyalgia and diagnosis is based largely on self-reported symptoms, many insurers specifically exclude fibromyalgia from coverage. Other carriers consider fibromyalgia primarily a mental disorder and will limit payments to 12 or 24 months.

Read your policy carefully to understand whether and for how long you can receive benefits based on fibromyalgia. The following language limiting eligibility is fairly typical.

Benefits will be terminated after 24 months for those with disabilities which are based primarily on self-reported symptoms, and disabilities due to alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness. Self-reported symptoms include manifestations of your condition that are not able to be verified using tests, procedures, or examinations commonly accepted in the practice of medicine, including headaches, pain, fatigue, soreness, numbness, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and loss of energy.

Even if your policy doesn't specifically mention fibromyalgia as being excluded or limited, you should expect to meet substantial resistance if you file for LTD benefits based on fibromyalgia.
These articles will provide you with additional in-depth information about applying for LDI, particularly in relation to fibromyalgia:

Disability Insurance Q&A - Attorney Team Answers Your Questions

Fibromyalgia Disability Application Issues: How to Be Your Own Expert Medical Witness

Disability Attorneys See Signs of Evolution in Fibromyalgia Coverage

VIDEO: Top 5 Reasons for Long-Term Disability Insurance Denials

The Evolution of Denying Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Claims in Group Long-Term Disability Policies

When You Can't Manage a Full Workload - Partial Disability May Be an Option

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