An employee who receives a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) has the same level of skills, experience and competency to do a job they did the day before they were diagnosed. However, receiving a diagnosis of MS creates an awareness that they have the condition and the likely effects it will have on them both at work and at home.
While this may be upsetting for an employee, it will also explain the symptoms they are experiencing. A formal diagnosis can often lead to a feeling of relief and an opportunity to make changes to their environment, making things more comfortable for them. An employee with multiple sclerosis, a lifelong condition, may need emotional support.
The Equality Act 2010, protects those with the condition and it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that they treat someone with multiple sclerosis fairly. Employers also have a legal duty of care to protect employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), and you may need to review your existing risk assessments to ensure they adequately cover risks that may be present for someone with multiple sclerosis.
Here are some key things employers can do to support employees with multiple sclerosis. Here are a few:
1. Education, education, education
Without adequate education – for your entire workforce – it will be impossible to understand the challenges an employee with multiple sclerosis faces. Like so many conditions there are many myths about the effects of multiple sclerosis, which need dispelling. Educating yourself, as an employer, will help you to ensure that you are in the best possible position, when reviewing policies and procedures, to ensure you are supporting an employee with multiple sclerosis. Furthermore, educating your staff on multiple sclerosis will:
- Enable them to better support colleagues who are suffering from multiple sclerosis;
- Help people to identify potential symptoms of MS in themselves, what they can do about it and what support is available to them.
2. Management training
When working with an employee with multiple sclerosis, various situations may arise that a manager needs to be able to deal with adequately and appropriately. An employee’s condition may deteriorate, or they may suffer a relapse – common amongst those with multiple sclerosis. They may have an accident at work as a result of their condition, or they may need time off for treatment or recuperation. Not only is it important that managers are adequately educated on the topic to be able to handle any situations that may arise, it is also critical that managers have the confidence to discuss these issues with staff and staff feel that they can approach managers. Therefore, when considering training, it is also imperative to consider managers communication skills, how well they handle conversations they may feel are ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘difficult’, and how approachable staff perceive their manager to be.
3. “Reasonable adjustments”
Employees with multiple sclerosis have a right to request “reasonable adjustments”. What is “reasonable” will depend on the individual case taking into consideration the company and the employee’s role within the company. Such adjustments could include flexible working hours, a chair to sit on if it’s a standing role, time off for medical appointments, moving their workstation closer to facilities (toilet, printer etc.), or the ability to work from home, among others. The adjustments required will depend on the individual, and how their multiple sclerosis affects them.
4. The power of conversation
Multiple sclerosis affects everyone differently and therefore, the only way to ensure that you are doing your utmost to support an employee with multiple sclerosis is to talk to them. Speak to them regularly to enquire how effective the adjustments made have been and whether anything has changed since you last spoke to them. Don’t assume that because you make reasonable adjustments when an employee first notifies you of their diagnosis that they won’t require additional support in the future. If they are having difficulty coping with their diagnosis or challenges they face day to day, ensure they are aware of an Employee Assistance Programme and other helplines they can contact. Multiple sclerosis is a condition that can change as time goes on: regular conversations ensure that you can support them to the best of your ability.
5. Access to Work
Access to Work is a government-funded scheme can offer financial support to those with long-term conditions who want to stay in work. It could provide special equipment or support to your employees with multiple sclerosis, potentially even covering 100% of the costs.
Managing multiple sclerosis in the workplace is not a “one size fits all” approach. Follow these steps, and you can help them to stay in work longer – as well as improving your workplace morale, productivity and happiness.
For more information on multiple sclerosis visit www.mssociety.org.uk.
Contact us to discuss how you can improve the way you support employees with multiple sclerosis.
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