© The Author(s) 2018. Objectives: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is associated with high levels of workplace disability and unemployment. The objective of this study was to understand the reasons for this and to describe the barriers and facilitators of employment identified by people with SLE to develop appropriate solutions. Unemployment, as well as unsuitable work, has adverse health outcomes. Methods: Adults with SLE completed a UK-specific online survey, through the LUPUS UK website, designed to find out more about the difficulties and successes that people with SLE have in maintaining employment. The survey was predominantly qualitative, to understand participants’ employment experiences to generate possible solutions. Results: Three hundred and ninety-three people gave detailed responses to the survey within eight weeks. Every respondent reported a detrimental effect of SLE on their ability to work: 40.45% had left employment because of it. The themes of concern to respondents were unambiguous: (i) the difficulties of working (and career damage) with SLE, (ii) fear and anxiety overshadowing work/family life, (iii) the greater potential to remain in some employment or stay in full employment when modifications of work pattern and support from management and colleagues were available. SLE-related fatigue, its invisibility and fluctuating nature were felt to be the main barriers to maintaining employment. Numerous respondents could work only part-time and anxiety was high regarding their future ability to continue working. Many had taken substantial pay reductions and refused offered promotions to preserve their health. Distress due to loss of work and the benefits it brings were reported by every respondent who had left work. Conclusion: SLE presents specific difficulties for maintaining employment – fatigue, fluctuation and invisibility – not addressed by current anti-discrimination legislation or currently available ‘reasonable adjustments’. This study demonstrates that (i) employment is an important area of concern for people with SLE, (ii) SLE has significant detrimental effects on individuals’ ability to participate and progress in employment, (iii) legislators and employers need information about SLE as invisibility and fluctuation cause hidden problems, and (iv) more data is needed to inform workplace adjustments if individual distress and societal loss of skills are to be addressed.