Article

Returning to work

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Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
November 4, 2021

Many people with kidney disease or kidney failure work full-time or part-time. Having a job may help you feel good, make money to do things you enjoy and help you get health insurance. If you want to keep working or return to your job when you have kidney disease or are on dialysis, here are some tips and support to help you.

Can I keep working if I have kidney disease?

Yes! If you want to keep working when you have kidney disease, you will likely be able to work for as long as you feel able. 

If your kidney disease starts to affect your ability to do your job, talk to your employer (although you are not required to share your health information with your employer unless you want to). You may want to educate your work supervisor about kidney disease and talk about job changes to make it easier for you to work, such as:

  • Changing your work schedule so you can go to doctor's visits
  • How to make up time you take off for health reasons
  • Physical limits you may have, such as how much you can lift
  • What to do in case of a health emergency

Can I work if I have kidney failure and am on dialysis?

Yes, as long as you feel able. One study found that about 1 in 4 patients on dialysis were still able to work. You may be able to keep working full-time as you start treatment. Or you may switch to a part-time or flexible schedule. 

Talk with your health care team about your dialysis treatment options. You may see some options that work better with your job and schedule. Where you work and the type of work you do may help you decide on a type of dialysis. For example:

  • In-center hemodialysis may be a good option if you have a job with flexible hours, you could work from home or work a night shift.
  • Nighttime (nocturnal) in-center dialysis may be a good option if you work full-time during the day. It allows you to get treatment at the dialysis center overnight.
  • Home hemodialysis may be a good option if you work a job with flexible hours. You can do treatments any time during the day or evening, and use it if you travel for your job.
  • Peritoneal dialysis (PD) may be a good option if you work full-time during the day. It is often done overnight while you sleep. You can also do it in a clean area at work during the day.

How can I keep working with kidney disease or kidney failure?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable adjustments that you might need to work, if you work for a company with 15 or more employees. Talk with your employer about changes to make it easier for you to do your work and meet your health needs. These may include:

  • Change or modify your work tasks, so it does not harm your dialysis access (a way to get to your blood).
  • Change your work patterns, such as to work from home or work from a laptop computer or cell phone during dialysis or doctor's visits.
  • Take time off for dialysis.
  • Take extra breaks.
  • Have a flexible schedule. For example, to reach 40 hours per week, you might do hemodialysis on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Then, you could work nine hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and six-and-a-half hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 
  • Lower your work hours, work part-time or switch to a less stressful position.
  • Install special equipment or a clean space to do your treatment.

You could also look for a different job that better fits your health needs. Talk with your social worker about employment resources in your community, such as a vocational rehabilitation program (a program run by the government to help people with disabilities identify job skills, get training in new job skills and find a job).

What happens if I need to take leave from work?

As much as you may want to work, you may have some health problems that will make you take some time off work. For example, you may take time off for surgery to get a dialysis access, to start dialysis or for other health problems. There are several ways to take leave and keep your job:

  • Use paid time off or vacation time.
  • Take time off with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA is a federal law that lets some employees take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off within a 12-month period for certain health reasons. You can take all 12 weeks at one time or in blocks of time.
  • Talk with your employer about a temporary leave of absence.

How will I know if I am ready to return to work?

Your health must be your top priority. Before you think about returning to work or finding a new job, decide if you are physically and mentally ready to work. Think about if you:

  • Are healthy enough physically
  • Have a negative or positive feeling about work
  • Can work and still have time for hobbies and spending time with family and friends
  • Will feel more productive by working

If you decide you are not ready to return to work, you may want to think about volunteering. It may help you feel productive and gain skills that could help you get a paying job in the future.

If I am unable to work, can I get disability benefits?

Most people need financial help if they cannot work. Talk with your social worker about programs and how to apply, including:

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): a program that pays a monthly cash benefit to people who are not able to work for a year or more because of a disability. The amount you get depends on the length of time you worked before your disability and the amount of tax you paid while working.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): a program that pays monthly benefits based on your financial needs, not the amount of tax that you paid.

Ticket to Work: This program helps people on SSDI or SSI who want to work. It allows states to give Medicaid coverage to disabled workers and provide vocational rehabilitation services.