Return to work?

Hi, I was a full time Teaching Assistant at a local primary school when I was signed off work with shingles, then diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis in February this year (age 52). I've not been working since October 2022 and I need to make a decision about whether or not I return to my Teaching Assistant role.

I'm currently in week 8 of Methotrexate (6 weeks at 15mg, 2 weeks at 20mg; folic acid 5mg). I'm seeing the benefits, especially in my hands and wrists, but am still having problems with my knees, feet and ankles. I'm being seen by my employer's occupational health department and am having regular meetings with my line manager.

My worry is that I simply won't be able to do the job anymore - it's very physically demanding and I'm concerned that working in close proximity with 250+ primary school children may not be wise considering the immuno-suppressant effect of the Methotrexate. I have broached the subject of reducing my hours to part-time, but this is something the School's Board of Governors would have to consider/approve.

What would you advise?

Many thanks.


  • Hi @Chip_peeps71

    Thank you for posting on the Online Community. I am sorry to hear that you have been off sick from work, due to your recent diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis following an attack of shingles. It sounds as if you have a very physically demanding role as a Teaching Assistant. Physically demanding jobs do pose particular challenges for people with arthritis or related conditions.

    I am glad to hear that you are in regular contact with your line manager, and you have been assessed by Occupational Health. It may help to provide a medical report from your rheumatologist.

    It is understandable that you feel you need to make a decision about whether to return to work. However, if you are beginning to see the benefits of being on Methotrexate after 8 weeks. It may be worth holding off such a major decision as your condition may improve further with treatment. Methotrexate takes up to 12 weeks to be fully effective.

    The Equality Act requires that you are treated fairly and that you are offered 'reasonable adjustments' so that your job can be made more manageable. This may be reduction and flexibility of hours, adapting your role and delegating some tasks, and the provision of equipment e.g. a special chair. You may benefit from an Access to Work assessment, a government scheme which can also help with funding. Redeployment to a different role within the same school may be another option. If you are in a Union, it may help to talk things through with your union representative.

    The right kind of work is good for you, and not just financially, it can also provide a sense of purpose, identity, achievement and a supportive social network. You have options and rights, and it's important to understand and explore fully what they are, so that you get the right support you are entitled to.

    Talking things through further with your rheumatology nurse and GP may be helpful too.

    I hope the information given below will be of some help. 

    If you would like to have more replies to your post, you are welcome to repost on our Living with Arthritis forum which is another source of support to ask questions and share experiences with others facing similar challenges.

    Best wishes,

    Fiona, Helpline Advisor 

  • Thank you so much for your response. It's very helpful and supportive.