Those suffering chronic pain can face numerous challenges in the workplace and we have been contacted by a number of people requesting further information on their rights as employees. We have therefore brought together Jennifer Renney-Butland, a specialist employment solicitor, and Gary Ford, a Vocational Occupational Therapist, to examine some of these legal and practical issues. Jennifer and Gary also provide a number of extremely useful links to further information.
The vast majority of those people who have contacted us suffer CRPS, but the information provided below applies equally to other chronic pain conditions.
Employment Law can be a minefield and within the context of this article it has not been possible for Jennifer and Gary to address the specific scenarios we have received. However, we hope that the majority of the general issues raised have been covered.
Between them, Jennifer and Gary have a wealth of experience in providing sound practical advice to employees and employers to enable employees with health challenges to flourish in the workplace and for employers to continue to benefit from their skills.
Most people suffering CRPS struggle to cope with work at some point, and are sadly too often forced to give up their jobs which can have a severe impact on lifestyle, finances, as well as physical and mental health.
This article is intended to be a general guide to employees suffering from CRPS and how to manage sickness absence and reduced function. We will not address the medical symptoms often associated with the condition nor individual cases, but if you do have a specific issue you seek advice upon, please note our individual contact details at the end of this article.
We understand that, from an employment/vocational perspective, CRPS can be an extremely debilitating condition which may necessitate absence from work and result in reduced levels of function. Additionally, secondary symptomology can be associated with CRPS including overwhelming fatigue, lethargy and mood disorders.
Many employees with CRPS are confused as to what employment protection the law offers them.
Depending on the severity of the CRPS, an employee may qualify as having a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on their ability to carry out normal daily activities.
This is usually assessed by a vocational occupational therapist appointed by the employer in circumstances where the employee reports difficulties in performing their job or is taking frequent or prolonged sick leave. Therefore it may be beneficial to discuss any healthcare issues you are experiencing with your human resources team or alternatively directly with your employer. This will provide an opportunity for the employer to arrange an assessment from an occupational therapist, or possibly simply to discuss with you directly the extent of your capabilities and restrictions and how these can reasonably be accommodated in the context of your specific work duties and role. Not all employers will use occupational health services and this is usually dependent upon the size and resources of the business. Some employers may simply rely on the recommendations of your medical advisers and what you say about your capabilities.
If discussing your health condition with your employer’s occupational health provider, it is a good approach to disclose your challenges in a positive way, being open about your strengths and limitations. It is also important to consider your functional abilities and limitations with regard to your specific job.
Guidance regarding the Equality Act 2010 can be found here.
Equality law recognises that bringing about equality for disabled people may mean changing the way in which employment is structured, the removal of physical barriers and/or providing extra support for disabled individuals in the workplace.
Under equality law, there is a duty for the employer to make what are called reasonable adjustments. This duty will involve the employer taking proactive steps to remove or reduce or prevent obstacles that an individual may face in the workplace as a result of their condition.
What is a reasonable adjustment will depend on your condition, your workplace, and your role, and therefore differs hugely from one individual to another. Some examples of reasonable adjustments are as follows:
- altered start and finish times;
- amended duties;
- task rotation;
- ergonomic adaptations;
- flexibility of breaks and additional break times;
- avoidance of certain work tasks;
- alteration of physical barriers;
- policy changes;
- providing additional equipment or modifying existing equipment;
- authorised absence.
It should not be taken as a given that all employers will make the above reasonable adjustments, as what would be deemed reasonable and operationally viable for one employer may not necessarily be reasonable and operationally viable for another.
What if you do not qualify under the Equality Act?
Even if you do not qualify as disabled under the Equality Act, you may still be entitled to submit a Flexible Working Request; request to work flexi-time or seek a contract variation; or seek paid or unpaid leave according to your contract of employment or the employer’s policies. Remember to ensure that you are familiar with your employer’s policies and procedures relating to sickness absence, flexible working requests, unpaid leave, and any other policies affecting you.
Further Sources of Support
You may wish to discuss any issues associated with your disability and employment with a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). DEA’s are located in all major Job Centre Plus offices.
You can gain further help, advice and support through the following links:
The Equality and Human Rights Commission
This is a non-departmental public body which provides advice, support and advocacy for individuals with disabilities in the workplace.
The Business Disability Forum
This is a not-for-profit organisation with extensive experience of supporting individuals with disabilities to access employment within both the private and public sectors. The organisation provides support by sharing expertise, giving advice, providing training and facilitating networking opportunities.
Access to Work
An access to work grant can pay for practical support if an individual has a disability to help the individual remain at work.
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
One to one telephone guidance as to workplace issues.
Jennifer Renney-Butland is an experienced Solicitor who runs a successful law firm specialising in employment law. For further information please see her website. If you seek advice on specific issues arising from your health condition please contact Jennifer via the ‘Contact us‘ page on her website or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Ford is a Health Professions Council Registered Occupational Therapist with a breadth of vocational rehabilitation expertise in the areas of brain injury, long-term neurological conditions, mental health, chronic and complex pain as well as major orthopaedic injury. He has gained experience of assessing client’s vocational needs within the NHS, voluntary sector, occupational health, rehabilitation and personal injury as well as the life and health sectors. He has experience of assessing the demands of an employment role, assessing an employee’s capacity to meet those demands and liaising with employers to subsequently recommend and implement reasonable adjustments within the workplace.