Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition that is often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 (i.e. prime working years) and is one of the most common causes of disability amongst young adults. MS is a ‘hidden’ illness (i.e. it can be extremely debilitating but the extent of its impact is not visible to others), which can make it very difficult for others to appreciate the day-to-day difficulties faced by those who have been diagnosed with the condition.
The symptoms of MS fluctuate and worsen over time, which can be a challenge at work and can force people to step out of work prematurely unless they are offered support to help them to continue. Because people with MS often require additional support in order to work effectively, they may feel vulnerable at times of economic downturn when there is a real risk of job losses.
Some of the symptoms of the condition can limit a person’s ability to work, including:
- depression and anxiety;
- limitations in mobility;
- reduced dexterity;
- slurred speech;
- urinary and faecal frequency and urgency;
- cognitive impairment causing memory and concentration difficulties.
Whilst there is no cure currently available for MS, there are interventions that can significantly reduce the impact the condition has on people’s lives and their ability to remain in employment.
Where an employee is diagnosed with MS, an employer/line manager will need to begin to understand the condition and how to support the employee. It is important that employers are clear about their duties under the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against people with disabilities. Because the symptoms of MS fluctuate over time, particular consideration needs to be given to creating a flexible working environment and making necessary adjustments to help people with MS to stay in or return to work.
For advice on health conditions and their impact on work, take a look at the Fit for Work online resources, or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235.