Fish Insurance
Speak to one of our experts 0333 331 3770

Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace

According to national statistics provided by Scope, 13.9 million people with disabilities are currently living in the UK. A huge 19% of working-age adults are disabled.

Many of these disabilities wouldn’t be immediately obvious to others, which means that unless told by the person, you wouldn’t know of their existence.

People often feel worried about disclosing their disabilities in the workplace for fear of discrimination. It’s an employer’s responsibility to encourage these people to reveal their needs, so they can feel fully supported by in their roles.

What qualifies as an invisible disability?

Invisible disabilities are so-called because they aren’t always obvious. Also known as hidden illnesses or disabilities, they can affect a person’s ability to perform in work environments as well as in life. Although a hidden illness can significantly affect the person who has it and how they perform in everyday life, it makes it difficult for other people to recognise or understand it.

This lack of understanding crucially leads many people to keep quiet about their disability.

Types of hidden disability

Some examples of hidden disabilities include:

  • Autism
  • Brain injuries
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Insomnia
  • Learning disabilities
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Visual and auditory disabilities
Auditory issues can be classed as hidden disabilities in the workplace
Auditory issues can be classed as hidden disabilities in the workplace

Regulations employers should follow regarding disability

Having any kind of disability can affect a person’s ability to carry out normal activities. This may relate to a physical disability, certain medical conditions, as well as mental illness. Discriminating against disability has been illegal in the UK since 1995, and most recently under the comprehensive Equality Act 2010.

A workplace that provides the right support and makes it more comfortable for someone to disclose their conditions and receive the support they need should be the goal for all employers. Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s an employer’s responsibility as an employer to support disabled employees and to have reasonable adjustments put in place for both visible and hidden disabilities.

Having a hidden illness in the workplace can cause distress, especially if employers do not provide any adjustments to accommodate such disabilities, including a supportive and inclusive culture amongst staff and management.

What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?

Reasonable adjustments are any measures taken by an employer to ensure a disabled person can carry out their duties with confidence and dignity.

Here are some examples of actions that can be taken to provide support for employees with disabilities:

  • adapting a disabled employee’s working pattern
  • providing training or mentoring
  • making alterations to premises
  • providing appropriate formats for information sharing
  • carrying out desk and chair assessments and implementing resulting adjustments
  • allowing extra time during performance ‘tests’

By law, an employee with a disability is entitled to tell you what adjustments they need, and you must accommodate the request. However, these adjustments can be difficult to implement if the employee does not make the employer aware of their disability needs.

For more information on what constitutes reasonable adjustments visit the Gov UK website.

Employers should make it clear to anybody requiring adjustments to their working method or environment that they will always be happy to accommodate any such changes. A great way to introduce the practice is to add it to new starters’ inductions and display the information clearly in common areas. Employers should also ensure they make disabled staff aware of any flexitime opportunities, such as for hospital appointments or to facilitate employees’ essential morning preparations before they come into work.

Additionally, if an employee has placed a request, for example, a standing desk to help with their back problems, they should ensure that they fulfil this request in good time. These behaviours will demonstrate that employers have strong procedures in place to facilitate employees with a disability.

Learning disabilities such as Down's Syndrome could be classed as hidden disabilities
Learning disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome could be classed
as hidden disabilities

Provide staff training and celebrate disability awareness days

In order to have a truly tolerant workplace, all members of staff must understand what different disabilities involve and that not every disability is visible. Therefore, sensitivity training is a must to ensure the right peer support is provided.

It can be a good idea for workplaces to celebrate awareness days and weeks by planning lots of activities. This could encourage disabled employees to share their experiences and ideas, promoting open discussion of disability.

Can you claim benefits if you’re sick or have a disability?

You might be able to claim benefits if:

  • everyday tasks are difficult for you or you find it hard to get around
  • you are unable to work due to your disability or illness
  • you’re on low or no income

For more information on what benefits you or your staff could claim, contact the Department of Work and Pensions or your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Please note that this content was correct at time of publication (20.01.2023). From time to time, changes in regulation may impact the accuracy of the information provided.

For help, speak
to one of our team
call 0333 331 3770

A photo of a customer service employee.