When someone is diagnosed with a condition, which may be progressive or life threatening, they might worry about whether or not to tell their employer. Equally an employer (or colleagues) may want to provide support, but worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. An employer can often be an important source of support for the employee trying to manage their condition so it is generally a good idea to discuss issues with them.
The Equality Act can also provide protection for certain illnesses when they are established as a disability.
Under the Equality Act a person is disabled if they have 'a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.
However, there are exceptions to this definition. These exceptions include certain medical diagnoses, progressive and life-threatening conditions. A progressive condition is one that gets worse over time, such as muscular dystrophy and motor neurone disease. Employees with a progressive condition can be classed as disabled.
Employees will automatically be protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 from the day they are diagnosed if they have Cancer, HIV or Multiple Sclerosis. However, many people with these conditions can work and have an active and fulfilling career.
- Three potentially progressive and life-threatening conditions - Cancer, HIV and Multiple Sclerosis - are regarded as disabilities from the point of diagnosis.
- The more serious the condition the more likely it may be that a suggested adjustment for the employee would be seen as reasonable by an employment tribunal. The adjustment, though, would need to be reasonable and would be considered against the circumstances of the individual case.
- The law covering sickness absence for these three conditions is the same as for other disabilities. However, it may be more likely that taking what is termed 'disability leave', rather than sick leave, might be seen as a 'reasonable adjustment'.
This web page should be used together with Acas guide Disability discrimination: key points for the workplace [601kb]. It includes more of the considerations for employers and employees in practically and sensitively dealing with circumstances where an employee has a potentially progressive or life-threatening condition. Also, it signposts to where they can find out more.
Telling an employer
Generally, in law, an employee does not have to tell their employer about their condition, but it may be more practical for them to do so, so the employer can support them and take their condition into consideration. However, there are some circumstances where an employee must tell their employer if they have MS or HIV.
More info can be found at ACAS or by talking to your local steward.