Employees with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to have work absences, leading to high excess costs for employers, reports a study in the June Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Jennifer H. Lofland, PharmD, MPH, PhD, of Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC, in Horsham, Pa, and colleagues used national health survey data from 1996 to 2006 to estimate the impact of work absenteeism in employees with RA. According to the authors, "RA is a chronic inflammatory disease that leads to destruction of joints and is associated with severe long-term disability."

In the sample of 90,000 working Americans, about 0.3 percent reported having rheumatoid arthritis. Nearly three-fourths of workers with RA were women.

Sixty-seven percent of workers with RA had missed work days, compared to 58 percent of those without RA. Among employees with absences, missed work time averaged about 14 days per year, compared to ten days for those without RA.

Overall, workers with RA were 30 percent more likely to miss work. The odds of missed time were generally higher for women with RA and for those with other major health problems. The difference of four missed work days led to extra costs of approximately $600 per employee per year. "Estimated national indirect costs of RA-related absenteeism were $252 million annually," the researchers write.

Dr. Lofland and coauthors believe their study has important implications for identifying which employees are more likely to miss work, and for the use of strategies to facilitate retention of employees with RA. They also note that the number of missed work days decreased during between the late 1990s and early 2000s — perhaps reflecting the use of newer, more aggressive treatment strategies for RA.

Citation — Gunnarsson C, Chen J, Rizzo JA, Ladapo JA, Naim A, Lofland JH. The Employee absenteeism costs of rheumatoid arthritis: evidence from US National Survey Data. J Occup Environ Med. 2015;57(6):635-42.