As one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) impacts more than 2.3 million people around the world. The term multiple sclerosis means “many scars”. It relates to the areas that appear on the brain and spinal cord after the sheath covering the nerves is damaged or dies. The damaged sheath leaves a lesion behind. These lesions are identified by an MRI scan when symptoms begin to appear.
MS symptoms vary and progress at different rates for each person diagnosed. The disease is unpredictable, progressive and challenging to diagnose. The cause is also unknown. While there is no cure, treatments are advancing to help slow the progression of MS and reduce the symptoms.
Not every employee with MS will need extra support in the workplace, and many of those who do will only require small changes (reasonable adjustments) – to enable them to continue working. A reasonable adjustment is a change, perhaps to the job or the working environment, that enables your employee to continue to do their job. Your employee’s right to reasonable adjustments is a key part of the Equality Act.
MS is a disability making it illegal to discriminate against someone because they have MS. This applies from the moment they are diagnosed, no matter how their MS affects them. You must consider reasonable adjustments and you must not treat them unfairly at work.
You should take care to ensure that any information your employee shares with you about their MS remains confidential. For example:
- Do not discuss your employee’s MS with anyone else, unless they have said you can.
- If your employee has an occupational health assessment, clarify with them exactly who can see the report.
- If you have any meeting notes discussing your employee’s MS, or any other documents that give any details of their condition, make sure they are kept secure and access to them limited only to those who need to know.
Supporting your employee
For many people with MS, having a supportive employer is what enables them to manage their condition at work, and to remain in employment.
Most people with MS don’t have to tell their employer about their diagnosis. As a result, the decision to reveal their MS is often a difficult one to make. Many people are afraid they will be seen as less capable, that it might affect their career progression or even that they could lose their job as a result. The chances are that it’s taken your employee a lot of courage to tell you about their MS. It’s important to recognise this, and to provide them with the reassurance and the support they need.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to MS, so the support your employee will need will depend on how their MS affects them, the job they do and their own abilities and coping strategies. If you are managing an employee with Multiple Sclerosis, you can only do this effectively by speaking to them. Don’t make any assumptions about what your employee can and can’t do. They might be able to continue doing their job as usual, without any additional support. Ask about the support you can offer. Talking to your employee needs to be more than a one-off conversation. Try to foster a relationship with your employee in which they feel they can trust you, and you can both talk about any of your concerns.
What is considered ‘reasonable’ will depend on the company and the job your employee does. Many reasonable adjustments cost little or nothing to put in place.
The cost of an adjustment can be a factor in deciding whether it is considered reasonable or not. If your employee has asked for a piece of specialist equipment, or adaptations to existing equipment, that goes beyond what would be considered reasonable for your company, you may be able to get funding for it through Access to Work (see below)
Whatever reasonable adjustments you agree with your employee, you should review them on a regular basis – perhaps quarterly – to make sure they are working for both you and your employee. As MS is a progressive condition, your employee may need further reasonable adjustments over time.
Access to Work
Access to Work is a government-funded service available in England, Scotland and Wales, that offers financial support to help someone who is disabled or who has a long-term health condition to stay in work. If you are managing someone with multiple sclerosis it will provide practical advice and support to help overcome work-related obstacles.
It can pay for extra equipment or support for to help you when managing an employee with multiple scelrosis such as:
- adaptations to the equipment they use
- special equipment
- taxi fares to work if they can’t use public transport or drive
- a support worker or job coach to help them in the workplace disability awareness training for their colleagues a communicator at a job interview
Depending on the size of your business and how long your employee has been with you, Access to Work may cover 100 per cent of the costs of any equipment or support. The Department for Work and Pensions has a factsheet called Employers’ guide to Access to Work.
Are you managing someone with multiple sclerosis? Would you like to speak to someone in confidence about your obligations as an employer? Call us on 01706 565332 or drop us an email and we’ll get right back to you.
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.