A group of six employees have a meeting

Briefing: Medical diversity in the workplace

In recent years, the workplace has become increasingly diverse in many areas, including health. As a result, it’s more important than ever before that employers understand their legal obligations and considerations when it comes to accommodating and supporting their staff in the workplace. In this briefing, Pam Loch, Managing Director of Loch Associates, considers some of the more common disabilities that employers could encounter.

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that affects how the body processes glucose, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. Diabetes can onset at any stage during a person’s life with symptoms including feeling very thirsty, fatigued, having blurred vision and requiring frequent bathroom breaks. With 4.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK, these individuals form a significant portion of the workforce. 

The Equality Act 2010 in England and Wales prohibits discrimination on the grounds of a disability. Diabetes will likely be considered a disability under the Act because the symptoms are likely to have a substantial, long-term adverse impact on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Staff with disabilities, therefore, are potentially protected against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. If an employer or worker has diabetes, it’s essential to establish how it impacts them on a day-to-day basis, ignoring any medication they take. If the impact meets the requirements under the Act, then employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to enable them to continue working with you. What is reasonable is determined by reference to each business and what is reasonable regarding available resources, e.g., financial or spatial resources.

Cancer is already deemed a disability under the Equality Act 2010. It has also been established that those with pre-cancerous cells (e.g. skin cancer moles) qualify as having a disability. This means employers must make reasonable adjustments once they know about the diagnosis. In the UK, approximately 375,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed annually, which is over 1,000 diagnoses a day. With one in two people developing some form of cancer in their lifetime, employers will likely be exposed to the challenges this can bring.

It’s important to remember that cancer does not only directly affect employers and workers but also family members. The families may have to take on the burden that was carried by someone unwell and they also have to cope with the stress of dealing with a loved one being diagnosed with cancer. Therefore, employers need to think about being flexible in how they can help all their employees, not just the person diagnosed with cancer, to support and retain their staff.

Neurodiversity refers to the natural variation in human brains and the way someone processes information and includes conditions such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD and Tourette’s. Simply having a neurodivergent condition does not automatically mean the person has a disability under the Equality Act 2010. However, if the impact of this condition meets the requirements under the Act, it can be a disability too.

What if a condition is not a disability?
Employers must also consider the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which places a duty on employers to ensure their employees’ health, safety and welfare at work. This includes considering any risks or hazards that may be present for someone who is neurodivergent or has a condition that is not officially recognised as a disability. Employers, therefore, should conduct risk assessments, for example, even if someone does not meet the specific criteria required to have a disability.

To disclose or not to disclose?
Many employees do not disclose they have a condition that could be a disability because they are concerned about being discriminated against or losing their job. This ends up potentially being a no-win situation as often the employer only finds out when they have concerns about an individual’s performance or conduct at work. The relationship between employer and employee by this point may be irreparably damaged because the employer may think the employee has acted disingenuously by not telling them about being neurodivergent or having a potential disability before. Had the employer known before, the role could have been adjusted, potentially avoiding the performance concerns arising in the first place.

Educating staff
It's important employers have clear policies in place to try to avoid any unlawful discrimination and harassment of staff with disabilities, as well as training their managers and teams. Creating a supportive and inclusive work environment is crucial to increasing awareness and improving understanding. 

These issues are covered in IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing, brought to you by International Workplace, is suitable for managers and supervisors working in any sector and for any organisation. It's designed to provide them with the tools and techniques to improve health and wellbeing in the organisation.

The course is broken down into four main modules followed by a multiple choice online assessment and a workplace project, taking approximately six hours to complete.

It's accredited by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the market-leading designer of manager courses for safety, health and wellbeing. So once your learners successfully complete the course, they will be issued with an official IOSH certification. Find out more here.