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Supporting employees with fibromyalgia

Information and guidance for employers on supporting employees who have fibromyalgia including legal obligations

These pages give more information on the specific condition. They should be read in conjunction with our Supporting employees with long term health conditions pages to help you understand how a workplace can assist in helping an employee return to and remain at work.

Fibromyalgia is defined as a rheumatic condition characterised by muscular or musculoskeletal pain with stiffness and localised tenderness at specific spots on the body.

Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.​

As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have

  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • problems with mental processes (known as fibro-fog) – such as problems with memory loss
  • headaches.

Researchers suggest that it could be a relatively common condition with some estimates suggesting that as many as 1 in 20 people may be affected to some degree.

The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but is thought to be related to abnormal levels of chemicals in the brain and in the way the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) processes pain messages carried around the body. In many cases the condition appears to be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event.

Anyone can develop the condition, although it is estimated that it affect around 7 times as many women as men and typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50.

There is no specific test for the condition, and they symptoms can be similar to a number of other health conditions.

Although there is currently no cure for the fibromyalgia, there are treatments that can help relieve some of the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with.

How to support employees in the workplace

Treatments tend to include a combination of

  • medication – such as antidepressants and painkillers
  • talking therapies – such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and counselling
  • lifestyle changes – such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques.

You may find employees with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome may have increased levels of sickness absence or they may need to attend the GP or their specialist more frequently than those without the health condition.

Authorised absence, out with the normal organisation sickness absence triggers, should be considered an appropriate adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, this would be identified within your Supporting Staff Attendance Policy.

If you feel your policy doesn’t include this, you can get support from our Supporting staff attendance pages.

Other areas that you can consider when supporting an employee with cardiovascular disease may include

  • fluctuating health and stamina levels which may affect them more if they do shift work or full time hours
  • does their medication make them sluggish? Would amending their work rotas (e.g. starting later and finishing earlier at work to avoid rush hour), home working if appropriate or a combination of both, help maintain them at work?
  • consider the nature of the work they do
    • is it physically demanding for them?
    • can they be redeployed or their duties amended to allow them to continue to work?
  • do they drive as part of their job role? If so do thet need to consider any medication they may be taking that could have side effects which contra indicate driving or operating machinery?
  • review the risk assessments for the job they do, taking into consideration manual handling or any other aspect of their job role which can exacerbate their health condition
  • can your employee utilise Access to Work for tools to assist them in the workplace.

Key sources of support

Healthy Working Lives can help you to develop supportive and inclusive workplace policies and offer support both online and on the telephone. You can contact the free and confidential advice line on 0800 019 2211 for more advice.