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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, debilitating disease with a significant impact on workplace productivity.To perform a systematic review of studies of the relationship between RA and reduced workplace productivity.Screening of 307 titles identified in bibliographic database searches resulted in 38 articles subject to systematic review. Productivity loss was expressed by three different measures: work disability, work loss (synonymous with absenteeism or short-term sick leave) and work limitation (reduction in productivity while present at work).A median of 66% (range 36–84%) of employed RA subjects experienced work loss due to RA in the previous 12 months, for a median duration of 39 days (range 7–84 days). The times from RA diagnosis until a 50% probability of being work disabled varied from 4.5 to 22 years. In inception cohort studies, the baseline variables consistently predictive of subsequent work disability were a physically demanding work type, more severe RA and older age.RA-related work-disability rates were similar in the USA and European countries. An apparent decrease in the prevalence of RA-related work disability since the 1970s may be related to a decrease in physically demanding work rather than to epidemiologic changes in RA. The majority of the literature addresses permanent disability and temporary work loss; none of the studies reviewed reported the effect of RA on presenteeism, i.e. work limitation from the employer perspective, and there are few published studies of the effectiveness of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs in reducing work-related productivity loss.