A damning report looking at workplace discrimination states that 24% of people with MS say their employer has treated them badly as a result of their condition, while 20% say their colleagues have.
And, of the people who say they have faced mistreatment from their employer, a staggering 91% say their employers knew they had MS. Similarly, 85% who faced mistreatment from their work colleagues say their colleagues were aware of their MS.
The report, published yesterday, is from the UK’s Multiple Sclerosis Society’s survey in which, it says, people shared many distressing experiences of mistreatment. These included facing offensive and humiliating comments, feeling bullied and being accused of looking too well to have an illness or disability.
According to the MS Society’s website, people also say they have lost out on promotions, been forced out of work unfairly and had requests for reasonable working adjustments denied.
Andy had been working for a small business for five years when he found out he had MS. The relapse that led to his diagnosis left him with severe mobility and cognitive problems and he was signed off work for several months. At the time, his employer was fantastic and reassured him that his job was secure.
When he returned to work, the atmosphere had completely changed: “They offered me a new contract with fewer hours, no sick pay and on a three-month rolling basis. There was no way I could accept it. I was then asked to attend an occupational health assessment. But I found the assessor had no understanding of MS and hadn’t even seen my medical notes. I was then fired on the grounds of ill health.
“I was devastated. I felt like the decision had been made before the assessment – they thought I couldn’t do my job properly because of my diagnosis. I knew this was wrong, so I took legal action.
“It was a hard battle, but after three years I won my case for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. Since then, I’ve successfully launched my own digital marketing consultancy.”
MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Our survey clearly shows the need for a shift in attitudes to better support people with long-term conditions and disabilities to stay in work. It’s disturbing to hear 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 because of their condition, 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 that people with MS can make.”
Discrimination of any form is both illegal and ugly. Whether it is based on disability, age, race, religion, gender or any other cause, it has no place in reasonable society and needs stamping out. The laws are there to protect us, Like Andy, we need to use them.
50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.