People with MS face ‘disturbing’ levels of workplace bullying and mistreatment

THREE quarters of employees in the legal profession are uncomfortable speaking out about mental health issues. That’s according to a new survey, which asked senior business decision makers in the legal profession, whether employees at their organisation felt able to talk about their mental health.

People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) are facing ‘disturbing’ levels of disability discrimination at work. New research by the MS Society (of over 1,000 people living with MS) found that almost a quarter say their employer has treated them badly as a result of their condition.

A further fifth of respondents say their work colleagues have done so. Of the people who say they have faced mistreatment from their employer, an overwhelming majority (91%) say their employers knew they had MS. And 85% who faced mistreatment from their work colleagues say their colleagues were aware.

The survey reveals distressing examples of mistreatment people have faced at work because of their MS, says the charity. This includes facing offensive and humiliating comments, feeling bullied, and being accused of looking too well to have an illness or disability. People also say they have lost out on promotions, been forced out of work unfairly, and have had requests for reasonable adjustments denied (adjustments to working practices or practical support to help people to continue to do their role effectively).

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of the MS Society, says: “It’s disturbing to hear of so many accounts of people being bullied and mistreated at work because of their condition, especially as people with MS are protected against discrimination under equality law.

“We know that some people with MS absolutely won’t be able to work, but for those who can, simple adjustments and supportive employers can make a huge difference. We want to see more positive workplace cultures that value the important contributions people with MS can make.”

MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and symptoms typically appear when people are in their 20s and 30s – an age at which they are likely to be in work. MS attacks the nervous system, it’s often painful and exhausting and can cause problems with how we walk, move, see, think and feel. It’s unpredictable and different for everyone.

The MS Society is releasing these survey results ahead of a report on employment support for people with MS by a cross-party group of MPs and Peers, which will be published next month. The All Party Parliamentary Group for MS will issue its recommendations on 14 November following a year-long review looking into whether people with MS have the support they need to stay in, or get back into, work.

How can employers make the adjustments needed for people with MS to make an important contribution at work? How can employer’s promote positive workplace cultures? And what do they need to do to ensure that no employee is discriminated against (in this case, on the basis of his or her disability)?

Please post your comments below.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The results of this survey suggest that raising awareness of the impact of this condition is essential, along with more widespread training for employees and managers in the requirements and duties under the Equality Act 2010. The examples of offensive and humiliating comments would almost certainly amount to unlawful harassment on the grounds of disability, for which employers can be found vicariously liable. A robust Equality and Diversity policy, together with training for employees, would help prevent this from occurring.
    In terms of reasonable adjustments for those suffering with MS, this is always best achieved through an ongoing dialogue with the employee concerned, along with medical advice where appropriate. It is also a good idea to contact organisations such as the MS Society, who can provide invaluable expert advice on the symptoms of the disease and suggest reasonable adjustments to overcome the disadvantages resulting from the condition in the workplace. What is ‘reasonable’ will very much depend on the workplace and the duties carried out by the individual, and the severity of the individual’s symptoms.

  2. I have been involved in many disability discrimination cases over the last 16 years and in my experience it is often the lack of “buy in” from other work colleagues regarding reasonable adjustments that can cause friction between colleagues.

    It is fundamentally important for employers to communicate positively regarding supporting disabled colleagues but often that communication is overlooked and work colleagues just see another work colleague getting favourable treatment without fully understanding why.

    Of course, this isn’t just a responsibility for the employer . The disabled employee can also play a part in that communication in making sure their work colleagues understand their disability and the reasons why they need reasonable adjustments to be made.

    This can be challenging for disabled employees who may wish to retain a degree of privacy in respect of their illness especially if they feel that their work colleagues or manager won’t be entirely supportive. Disabled employees will often “down play” the impact of their illness on their lives as they don’t want to be defined by it and whilst one can understand that, not being open about it can lead to difficulties further down the line.

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