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Your rights when working with multiple sclerosis

In this guide our employment law experts break down your rights when working with multiple sclerosis and how we can help if issues arise in the workplace.

11 August 2022

When living with a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, the symptoms are often unpredictable. Some people's symptoms develop and worsen steadily over time, while for others they come and go.

If you’re currently coming to terms with your diagnosis, you’ll probably have a long list of questions and concerns to think about. MS and employment rights shouldn’t be something to add to your worries at this time.

Many of the common symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, vision problems, and mobility problems, can impact work performance in a number of ways. It’s perfectly possible to maintain a successful career with multiple sclerosis, but you might find it difficult to concentrate on daily tasks or find that you need to take additional leave. It’s also understandable that you may begin to feel your current role is too demanding when working with multiple sclerosis and need to collaborate with your employer to find a reasonable solution.

How is multiple sclerosis protected by the Equality Act 2010?

If you’ve been diagnosed with MS, the Equality Act 2010 can protect you against disability discrimination at work. Like other conditions, such as cancer and HIV, MS is classed as a disability under the act.

Under the act, you’re protected from unfair treatment in the workplace and discrimination based on your disability. As part of this, you have the right to ask your employer to make reasonable adjustments on your behalf. These adjustments may be simple amendments to your working conditions, or even a phased return to work if you’ve had to take some time off. You should be able to make an initial request for reasonable adjustments directly to your employer, or through the HR department if there’s one in place.

Despite the clear benefits of disability inclusion under the Equality Act, there’s still a long way to go. Recent research by The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has revealed that disabled workers still face notable barriers that stop them feeling welcome in the workplace, despite this legal protection. If your reasonable adjustment request has been refused and you think you may’ve experienced disability discrimination in the workplace, it may be time to speak to an experienced employment lawyer.

If you think you’ve been unfairly selected for redundancy because of your multiple sclerosis, you could also be able to challenge their decision. For example, if your employer chooses you for redundancy because you’ve taken the most sick leave, but your sickness was connected to your MS, then this would be disability discrimination.

While cases like these can seem obvious from the outset, they’re often difficult to prove legally, making it key to choose a reliable and experienced employment solicitor who can work with you to achieve the best possible outcome. It’s important to note that, in these cases, you only have three months, minus one day, from the date of the last discriminatory act in which to commence your claim.

Do I have to disclose to my employer that I have multiple sclerosis?

There’s no legal requirement to tell your current employer about your MS diagnosis, or to mention it in a job interview. Still, if your employer isn’t aware of your diagnosis, it might be difficult for them to offer you the help and support you need in the workplace. Further, any claim made for disability discrimination at work may not succeed if it comes to light that your employer wasn’t aware of your diagnosis, depending on the facts.

To trigger an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments, they must know of your disability either through being told, or because they’re reasonably expected to know if the disability is visible.

If you do feel comfortable speaking to your manager, it can help to discuss with them how you’re feeling and what reasonable adjustments at work they can put in place to help relieve some of your symptoms. This could include rest breaks or flexible working. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your manager directly, it can help to first go to a HR team member, or another senior member of staff who you feel more comfortable with.

What reasonable adjustments am I entitled to?

There's no set rule for what constitutes a reasonable adjustment as these can vary dependant on your specific needs and circumstances. Many implemented adjustments are agreed during informal discussions between employees and their managers about how to improve their working conditions after an MS diagnosis.

According to ACAS, reasonable adjustments can cover changes being made to:

  • the workplace
  • equipment or services provided (both current or new services), for example an appropriate keyboard or chair to help with MS-related muscle symptoms
  • the ways things are done
  • make sure you can provide information in an accessible format

It’s important to note that where workplace adaptations are recommended, the employer has a certain amount of discretion when it comes to deciding if they're reasonable or not, decided on an individual basis.

Whether or not an adjustment is considered to be reasonable may depend on:

  • How do-able the changes are for your employer
  • The resources needed for the changes and if this is feasible for your employer
  • If the changes you suggest are already in place

This can seem daunting, but your employer should work with you to come to an agreement on how they can best help you carry out your job and feel comfortable doing so.

What actions can I take if I think I'm not being treated fairly?

The Equality Act covers all areas of employment, and you may be able to bring a disability discrimination claim to a tribunal if you’ve suffered unfair treatment in the workplace due to your MS diagnosis or related symptoms.

Reasonable adjustment requests are a complex area of employment law which raise several different legal issues. Requests need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and if you’re struggling to reach an agreement with your employer about how to reach a solution, it’s always best to seek the advice of an experienced employment law solicitor. Jo Mackie, head of our employment law team, adds: ‘at Slater and Gordon we have expert knowledge to deal with discrimination at work and are always here to support you’.

If you have concerns about your treatment at work and would like to seek specific legal advice, or would like more information about multiple sclerosis discrimination at work and how we can support you, call us today on 0330 041 5869, or contact us via our online form or web chat.

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