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Hidden Disabilities – Why It’s Crucial You Seek Support

We’ve all had occasions when we’ve struggled with a project at work.

But for people with so called “hidden disabilities”, this can be an all too common occurrence and something they’re often embarrassed to seek help for.

I’ve been speaking to industry experts just recently about the challenges faced by employees struggling with disabilities that are invisible to others.

Dyslexia, ADHD, mental health problems – there are many conditions that can affect an individual’s performance in the workplace that won’t necessarily be obvious to their employer or colleagues.

But what can people suffering with these kinds of disabilities do to improve their situation?

Do I have to speak up?

While you’re under no obligation to tell your employer about your disability, if they don’t know about it they can’t make any adjustments to improve work life for you. There are no hard and fast rules that say you are obliged to say something and often, employees are embarrassed to admit they have a disability. However, unless your condition is obvious to your employer – for example you constantly spell things wrong or take time off work because of your disability – they may say they had no idea and so were unable to help.

What are the various options that are available?

Whether it’s your line manager, a member of HR or someone from your firm’s occupational therapy team – speak to somebody. Tell them what’s happening and maybe even suggest ways they can improve your working life. There are many options depending on how far you want to escalate the situation as well. You can submit a grievance, put something in writing explaining that you have a disability and need tools to make adjustments to the way you work, and ultimately you could instigate legal action.

Is your employer obliged to help?

The Equality Act became law in 2010 and is there to protect people from discrimination, harassment and/ or victimisation. Under the Act there are nine protected characteristics, one of which is disability.

The Act puts a duty on the employer to make reasonable adjustments for staff to help them overcome disadvantages resulting from a disability.

The Act also states that it is discrimination to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability – for example, a tendency to make spelling mistakes because of their dyslexia. This type of discrimination is unlawful where the employer or other person acting for the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person has a disability. This type of discrimination is only justifiable if an employer can show that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Does one solution fit all?

When your employer is made aware of the difficulties you’ve been having, they should carry out an assessment to see what could be done to improve the situation and meet your needs a little better. They must not, however, think that one-solution-fits-all.

I worked on a case where a dyslexic employee asked their employer for help and they simply assumed that the adjustments they had made to suit another employee who had dyslexia would be sufficient without carrying out a full assessment. Each case is different and employers are obliged to bear this in mind.

The Equality Act also protects disabled people from indirect discrimination. This means that an employee could claim that a particular rule or requirement the employer has in place disadvantages people with the same disability. Unless an employer could justify this, it would be unlawful.

The Act also includes a new provision which makes it unlawful, except in certain circumstances, for employers to ask about a candidate´s health before offering them work.

Juliette Franklin is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cardiff.

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