Employee’s guide to facial palsy and the workplace

If you have been diagnosed with facial palsy you may be concerned about returning to an existing job, returning to work after a break or looking for work for the first time.

This guide is intended to help you to answer your questions about returning to work or starting work. It can be read in conjunction with our Employers guide to facial palsy.

It is not intended to replace advice and guidance already available about returning to work after a long-term illness.

Deciding whether to disclose your facial palsy

……during recruitment

People sometimes wonder whether they should talk about their facial palsy in an application form or at an interview. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to ask questions about your health before making a job offer. This applies to questions on an application form, during an interview or questions about any previous sickness absence.

Your facial palsy may be obvious and you may feel more comfortable if you explain it at interview but you do not need to. Further questions should only be asked about it if your symptoms might pose a risk to yourself or others whilst you are at work.

Employers should consider whether or not you can do the job rather than ruling you out because of your health condition. Reasonable adjustments can be made to support you.

…..when you have been offered the job

Sometimes a new employer will make you a conditional job offer. This is usually based on satisfactory references. Your current or previous employer doesn’t have to include the number of sick days you’ve taken throughout your employment (and should never include the cause). However, your next employer might ask them to include absence in the reference, and your current employer can then choose whether to relay this information or not.

Your current employer must stick to the facts or they’ll be at risk of legal action. However, if you have taken long periods of absences due to illness, it’s a good idea to let your potential new employer know. It’s preferable, and more professional, for them to hear this from you rather than on your job reference.

If a condition is attached to a job offer and the condition is not met, the job offer would no longer be in place. An example of a condition might be a satisfactory medical check. However if a reference is “unsatisfactory” based only on sickness absence details, there is still a risk of disability discrimination.

A conditional offer should only be withdrawn on medical grounds at this stage if it can be shown that you would not be able to do the job once reasonable adjustments have been made. Under the equality act 2010 “Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.” This could, for example, mean physical changes to the workplace or modified equipment.

See https://www.gov.uk/reasonable-adjustments-for-disabled-workers.

Returning to work

Recovery can be slow and unpredictable and the length of time needed can depend on the cause and extent of the facial nerve damage and any related symptoms. It can be hard to return to work after a long break and you may need to plan for this with your employer so that you can manage the readjustment. Your employer will be likely to schedule a return to work interview with you. Be as honest and realistic as possible about your current situation but be willing to accept that things may change as time goes on.

Discuss all of the options available to make your return to work easier and help you to feel valued and supported. Try to think about your goals and the help that you will need to achieve them.
For example, you may want to return to work full-time but are sometimes exhausted. A reasonable adjustment in this case would be a phased return to build up your hours over an agreed period of time. Both you and your employer would need to agree targets and consider the impact on your well-being, pay and the business.

You may need to attend regular hospital appointments when you return to work. The absence policy for your organisation may say something about this, but if possible ask about time off for appointments when you discuss your return to work schedule. This will reduce stress on you and make it clear to your employer that you are thinking about the impact on work and productivity.

Will facial palsy affect your ability to do the job?

This is dependent on the type of work that you do and how big an impact facial palsy has on you physically and mentally. You may feel apprehensive about getting it right from the beginning but adjustments can be made at any point.

Your employer has a legal duty to consider making reasonable adjustments to support you and to involve you in this discussion. The employer must do this if she/he: becomes aware that you have a disability; could reasonably be expected to know that you have a disability or has been asked by you for adjustments to be made. This applies to all workers, including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners.

Employer’s Legal responsibilities

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination, harassment and victimisation, because of disability.  An employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that workplace requirements or practices do not disadvantage employees or potential employees with a disability.  Adjustments have to be reasonable, and need not be excessive.

Mental health

It is not unusual to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed talking about your face. It is important to understand that facial palsy is not a cosmetic issue and that being unhappy about the limitations of your face is not vain.
Distress is caused by the loss of facial function which can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. This can cause a loss of identity and can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loss of confidence, isolation and loneliness.

The level of distress is not always in line with the change that can be seen, so if you feel that you are not coping with life as well as usual don’t be afraid to ask for help. In some cases this may be a disability in itself – for which reasonable adjustments must be made by the employer. You can talk to your GP, occupational health service or a counsellor. Facial Palsy UK can also support you by phone or e-mail.

Summary

Whether this is a new job or a return to an existing job you have rights if you feel that you are not being treated fairly.

Your employer should try to understand your circumstances and offer you support and reasonable adjustments to enable you to return to work without risk.

If you have an Occupational Health department, they are usually able to discuss any worries that you have about returning to work and can help to resolve any problems or issues if they arise.

Your needs may change over time, so be willing to review your arrangements with your employer and try to keep an honest two-way conversation going. Our patient guides can provide a starting point to help you to explain some of the problems that you may have.

https://www.facialpalsy.org.uk/support/patient-guides/

For further information and advice:

https://www.facialpalsy.org.uk/support/work/employers-guide-to-facial-palsy/
To help employers and managers to understand facial palsy.

https://fitforwork.org/
Free, expert and impartial advice around health and work for people living in England and Wales.

https://www.healthyworkinglives.scot
Free advice on health, safety and well-being for people living in Scotland.

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk
Free help and guidance for people living in Northern Ireland.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/thriving-at-work-a-review-of-mental-health-and-employers

https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010
Equality Act 2010: Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability

http://www.acas.org.uk
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

https://www.hse.gov.uk
Health and safety Executive. Industry related health and safety guidance.

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com

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Last reviewed: 30-01-2019    ||    Next review due: 30-01-2022