Communication at work

Communication about your needs and pain condition at work can be stressful. This module includes information on your rights at work, ways to negotiate accommodations at work, and tips for communicating with your employer and co-workers.

In this module, you will learn about:

  1. Disclosure at work: your rights to privacy and accommodation.
  2. How to ask for workplace accommodations.
  3. Managing expectations and dealing with conflict at work.

The following are a few scenarios you may be facing upon your return to work, or when asking for accommodations:

  • Your Rights

    • You may need accommodations from your employer.
    • What should you disclose about your health condition in order to receive accommodations?
      • It is important to know that you are never required to disclose more than you want to.
      • You are not you required to reveal the nature of your disability or health condition.
  • Employers Rights

    • Your employer does have the right, however, to be informed of any work restrictions or functional limitations you may experience
    • You may be asked to provide some detail in order to help explain your restriction.
      • You are still in control of sharing the details of your pain condition
      • What you choose to say may depend on your work environment, your relationships with your supervisors, your co-workers, your workplace culture, and your level of comfort with personal disclosure.
  • Ontario Human Rights Code


  • Interviewing for a new job

    Employers are not legally allowed to ask you about your medical conditions or disabilities. They are only allowed to ask about your ability to perform the duties of the job. If you think that you have the necessary abilities to perform the job to which you are applying, you may consider not disclosing your health condition or disability. Always answer questions truthfully about your ability to do the job, and think carefully about whether you need or want to disclose your pain condition during an interview.

  • Getting workplace support

    Many people do not understand the nature and impact of persistent pain. It can be helpful to have support from your healthcare providers for others to understand how pain may affect your work. You may want to ask your doctor, or a therapist or counsellor from your employee assistance program to speak to your employer about your pain and your work abilities.

    Think about what kinds of accommodations might be helpful to you. There are several different ways you may receive accommodations, including things like changes to your physical workstation, your job hours, the types of tasks you do, working from home, or taking more frequent breaks.

    Get co-workers' support: Some work you're no longer able to do may be passed on to your colleagues. To reduce resentment, let them know that you are working hard, but that you are limited by your medical condition.

    Stay in the loop: If the pain forces long absences, remind your boss and co-workers that you are still part of the team by checking in on work while you are away and, if you are able, attending work seminars and important meetings.

    Decide who gets to know about your pain condition: It is your personal choice to tell people at work about your pain condition. You have no obligation to disclose any medical information to your co-workers. For example, when you return to work, you might say something like, “I had a health issue to attend to.”

Key concepts:

  • It is your right to receive accommodations for your pain condition from your workplace.
  • It is your personal decision to disclose the details of your pain condition.
  • Employers cannot legally ask you about your medical conditions or disabilities.

How to ask for workplace accommodations

Employers often appreciate ongoing communication about your need for accommodations. 

Some examples of these accommodations include:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Holding a position open
  • Workstation adjustment, including ergonomic equipment
  • Scheduling of breaks
  • Graded return to work programs

Remember: they only need to know how your pain and its treatment may affect your ability to do your job.

  • How to approach your employer

    Keep your employer informed in a timely manner about your ability to work. In particular, if you need time off from work, your employer will likely require a medical note from your doctor with the following information:

    • That you have a medical condition affecting your ability to work
    • An estimate of how much time you need off
    • A date for reassessment

    Approach your employer with requests for accommodations with assertive communication. For example, “I need to change my position more frequently now to manage my pain, so a standing desk will help me take fewer breaks.”

  • How to negotiate accommodations at work

    Negotiating with your employer to establish accommodations may require some compromise. The following are a few ideas to guide your discussion:

    • Prepare in advance to have your health care providers/team give you recommendations in writing.
    • Use medical information as the basis for information on your restrictions or limitations.
    • Only ask for what you need based on restrictions and limitations.
    • List the specific job duties that concern you.
    • Think ahead of time about suggestions for reasonable ways to deal with challenges at work, and prepare to give details about the accommodations you propose.

     Example: “My health care provider thought these might be ways to improve my productivity at work while best managing my pain.”

    Here are some tips for negotiating accommodations at work:

    • Come to the discussion anticipating that it will be positive.
    • Keep an open mind regarding your employer’s suggestions.
    • Be constructive in your requests for accommodations.
    • Be flexible in your approach to the discussion, keeping in mind your needs as well as your employer’s needs.
    • Focus on what you and your employer have in common.
    • Be aware that you may not get everything you ask for.
    • If negotiations do not go well, try not to take it personally.
  • If you need help:

    It may be helpful to track how your work is affected by your pain. Keeping a pain diary at work can help you see patterns in work activities, stress, and pain. This may help you come up with suggestions for accommodations at your workplace.

    Sometimes problems may arise or you may not feel confident enough to negotiate accommodations on your own. If this is the case, you can receive assistance from the following professionals (where they are available):


Key concepts:

  • Maintaining ongoing communication with your employer.
  • Remember to always utilize assertive communication strategies.
  • Provide written requests from your health care providers/team regarding your specific restrictions and limitations.
  • Having an open mind, constructive requests, flexibility in your approach, and focus on mutually beneficial solutions

Striking a balance between privacy and disclosure

  • Maintaining communication with your co-workers:
    • can help prevent misunderstandings or rumors about your absence or accommodations at work.
    • can also help prevent stress when your co-workers are aware of your situation.


Talk as a Team

  • Talk about accommodating needs as part of a caring work culture, not just a legal requirement.
  • Highlight that acceptance of others’ needs at work will benefit everyone
    • for example, if others require accommodation at some point.
  • Recognize any changes in work responsibilities that have been made.
  • Discuss a time frame for any short-term or temporary changes.

Facts, Feelings, and Fair Requests

  • Reduce conflict and communicate assertively by using the “Three Fs”: Facts, Feelings, and Fair Requests.


  • What are Fact statements?

    • Objective descriptions of what you see, hear, notice
    • Do not make judgments
    • Do not place blame or guess at someone’s intentions
    • Separate from feelings

    Examples of Fact statement:

    “I notice that the order for a standing desk for my workstation has not been completed.”

    “I see that I have been scheduled for an overnight shift.”


  • What are Feeling statements?


    • Your honest, personal feelings and reactions
    • Tells the other person how you have been affected
    • Not blaming
    • Not venting your emotions

    Examples of Feeling statements:

    “When I see that this order for my accommodations is not complete, I feel concerned that I will need to keep working in a way that is difficult for me due to my condition.”

    “When I see that I am scheduled to work overnight, I feel frustrated that my request for accommodation to daytime shifts is not being followed.”


  • What are Fair requests?

    • Saying what it is that you want
    • A specific request that is reasonable
    • Asks for a change in someone else’s behaviour, not their attitudes or feelings

    Examples of Fair requests:

    “I would like you to order the standing desk for my workstation.”

    “I would like to be scheduled for only daytime shifts.”


  • Putting it all together: The 3F assertive statement:


    “I notice that the order for a standing desk for my workstation has not been completed (facts). I feel concerned that I will need to keep working in a way that is difficult for me due to my condition (feelings). I would like you to order the standing desk for my workstation (fair request).”

    “I see that I have been scheduled for an overnight shift (facts). I feel frustrated that my request for accommodation for daytime shifts is not being followed (feelings). I would like to be scheduled for only daytime shifts (fair request).”

  • Consequences

    Sometimes, the 3Fs do not achieve results. In these situations, it can be useful to add consequences to help motivate people to meet your needs. Consequences should be:

    • Specific about what will happen, not vague
    • Reasonable and realistic, focused on meeting your needs, not punishing
    • Consistent and something on which you will follow through and not change your mind
    • Something you can live with that does not make your life harder

    Examples of consequences:

    “If I am able to stand while I work, I won’t have to take as many breaks.”

    “Night shifts have a very negative impact on my pain and fatigue, and I have noticed that I end up needing to take more sick days as a result.”

     You will not always get the outcome you want by using the 3Fs, but you may find that using the 3Fs decreases stress and conflict, and helps you get your needs met more often.

Key concepts:

  • Striking a balance between privacy and disclosure can help maintain a positive work environment and lessen feelings of anger and resentment from co-workers.
  • Communicate assertively by using the “Three Fs”: Facts, Feelings, and Fair Requests.

Continue learning effective communication strategies or return to Pain U online

Communication Principles

Communication with my Healthcare Provider

Communication with Family & Friends

Amin, L. (2015). Prepare to return to work after treatment for cancer, Form D-5914. UHN Patient Education.

Brain Injury Society of Toronto. (2019). Returning to Work after a Brain Injury. Retrieved from

Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. (2019) Cancer and Work. Retrieved from

Johne, Marjo. (2017). Struggling to work through chronic pain. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved Feb. 2018 from

McKay, M. & Rogers, P. (2000). The Anger Control Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

76 Grenville St. Toronto, ON M5S 1B2 Canada

TAPMI Hub Clinic

Phone: 416-323-6269 Office Fax: 416-323-2666 Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Monday – Friday


Dr. Tania Di Renna, Medical Director Sandra Robinson, Administrative Director