No Image Available

Charlie Duff

Sift Media

Editor, HRzone.co.uk

Read more about Charlie Duff

Ask the expert: What are our responsibilities to employee with MS?

pp_default1

One of our employees suffers from multiple sclerosis. What are our responsibilities? Adam Partington and Esther Smith advise.

 

 

 

The question: What are our responsibilities to employee with MS?

I run a mortgage brokerage business that has a number of mortgage advisors who are self-employed. One of the advisors suffers from multiple sclerosis. As her condition progresses it is getting more difficult for her to work normally.

Can you advise what my responsibilities are under the Disability Discrimination legislation?
 

Legal advice:

 
Adam Partington, solicitor, Speechly Bircham

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) applies to employees as well as those who work for you on a self-employed basis. The DDA recognises disability as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities. It seems that the mortgage advisor in question could well fulfil these criteria as you suggest her condition has been affecting her ability to work for some time and the situation is getting worse, in which case the DDA may well apply here.

Disability discrimination is a complex area of law imposing a number of obligations on you. The obligations under the DDA that are most likely to be pertinent in this situation are that you identify and implement reasonable adjustments to enable the mortgage advisor to perform her job. Reasonable adjustments could include redeploying her, modifying equipment to suit her needs, altering her hours, adjusting premises or allocating some of her duties to others. You would need to make a proper assessment of the advisor’s needs and what can reasonably be done to assist her. This might include consulting with her and may also require you to obtain medical advice as to what reasonable adjustments should be made.

You also need to be aware that under the DDA there are some more general obligations which, for example, prohibit you from treating the advisor less favourably because of her disability, than someone without the disability. You could not therefore dismiss or fail to promote the advisor simply because she has MS. You are also prohibited from treating the mortgage advisor less favourably than someone without the disability, for a reason related to her disability, for example because of her absence from work, slow completion of tasks etc.
In order to understand your obligations properly I would recommend that you take detailed legal advice.

Adam Partington can be contacted at Adam[email protected]. For further information, please visit www.speechlys.com.

* * *

Esther Smith, partner, Thomas Eggar
 

You have two main areas to consider with this particular employee. As with all your employees, irrespective of whether they have a medical condition of any kind, you owe her a duty of care. Therefore if her continued work is causing her to suffer harm, or equally, placing other employees who work with her at risk of harm, then you may be justified in taking action.

Under the disability discrimination legislation, which would apply to this lady, you have an additional obligation to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate her at work. As a simple example of what this might mean, if she became a wheelchair user, you would be expected to accommodate this so far as reasonable by moving her workstation to the ground floor or to a place that was more easily accessible by wheelchair. Reasonable adjustments might also include reducing her hours, or arranging for her to work wholly or partly from home. The important thing with adjustments is to try to avoid making assumptions without consultation or discussion with her. Also, if some of the requirements involve expenditure, consider whether there is any funding available to assist with this cost, rather than immediately make the assumption that the cost is too much for the company to bear.

Ultimately if this lady’s condition means that she is not capable of performing her job, and no adjustments can be made to accommodate her condition, then you may be justified in terminating her employment, even if she is disabled. However no such decision should be reached lightly and without extensive consideration, and specific advice should be taken.

Esther Smith is a partner in Thomas Eggar’s Employment Law Unit. For further information, please visit Thomas Eggar.

One Response

  1. Workers who have the unfotunate situation of developing MS

    I was fired for having MS as I ‘just wasn’t a team player’. I was told I was a liar because I hadn’t informed the ‘HR Manager’ (office Manager actually – and the boss’s wife) that I had MS, even though I’d only been diagnosed a week or so before I was interviewed and signed the paperwork.

    As I informed them, calling me a ‘liar’ was insulting and offensive, and I hadn’t had to tell them about my health condition anyway as they have no right to know (I was able to walk and do work, just not futher than about 400m, which meant that going to the pub by walking was not something I could do).

    As a result of my not being able to go on the office ski-trip and because I don’t drink/couldn’t walk to the pub with the other employees, I was branded ‘not a team player’ and fired.

    My work wasn’t great whilst I was there as I was consistenly misdirected, insulted, disliked, had personal comments made about my weight, my handbags, my presentation etc, etc. and the stress of being there was something which impacted heavily on my ability to function as a person and as an employee.

    People with MS generally don’t tell their employers as it effects the relationship between the employee and the employer. MY story is what most MSers fear – segregation, discrimination, ignorance….

    It is REALLY tough to live even a slightly ‘normal’ life when you have MS – employers should educate themselves on the condition prior to making decisions fuelled by ignorance.

    Rachael  

    –‘What we do in life, echoes through eternity.’ MARCUS AURELIUS (121 – 180 A.D.)

No Image Available
Charlie Duff

Editor, HRzone.co.uk

Read more from Charlie Duff
Newsletter

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.

 

Thank you.