As a recognised disability, Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD) is offered the protection of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). As a result, organisations with 15 or more employees have certain duties with which they must comply under the Act. All employers should take account of the needs of all employees working with SCD and, where necessary, make reasonable and practical adjustments. However, individuals with SCD are not a homogeneous group and each individual will be affected in different ways and at different stages during their lives. It is therefore important to speak with employees directly to understand what support they require and when.
Discussing Your Health with an Employer/Employee
Individuals with SCD are advised to inform their HR team or other relevant department about their medical condition and, if necessary, agree an appropriate support plan. If appropriate, team managers or members should also be made aware of the employee’s condition to ensure that help or medical assistance can be provided promptly in the event of illness at work. Allocating a point of contact for employees to speak to in confidence can often be useful for both the employee and employer.
Individuals with SCD should consider their health limitations before pursuing particular types of employment. Effort should be made to avoid (or reduce) excessive stress, temperature changes, dehydration and physical exertion.
Another important issue to consider is potential unavoidable absences from work as a result of hospital appointments, a Sickle Cell crisis or hospitalisation can occur unexpectedly and sometimes with little to no warning signs. There is little predictability in knowing how long any one crisis can last, or how often an individual will experience a crisis. Where Sickle Cell related illnesses or more serious complications arise, prolonged absences from work may be required.
Below is a list of some suggestions for an employer to consider where an employee has SCD. This list is not comprehensive however, and a discussion should be had with the employee to assess what particular needs they may have:
Conducting a health & safety or work station assessment for an employee with SCD can help to provide an environment that will minimise periods of illness. For example, a well heated and draught free working environment, avoiding excessive physical activity, regular rest breaks and access to drinking water to avoid dehydration.
Introducing a more flexible working pattern, permitting working from home, part-time hours or job-share arrangements to suit both the employer and employee and agreeing a plan for managing workloads during periods of illness should also be considered.
Individuals with SCD are valuable members of staff and many people living with the condition lead long and healthy lives with little or somewhat minimal impact on their careers.