Asthma and Work

As a severe asthmatic I consider myself quite fortunate in the fact that I still manage to work full time. Many severe asthmatics have had pack work in due to their condition while others have lost their job as a result of poor attendance due to their asthma.

I myself have had issues over the years because of my attendance and though it is not appropriate to go into details of what happened between me and my employer what I will say is that it would now seem to be resolved and I now have a greater knowledge of an employees rights and what we are entitled to.

The main 2 points really are whether an employee can terminate your employment because of your asthma / attendance and the short answer is yes they, however it is not necessarily straight forward. This mainly revolves around the 2nd point which is the Equality Act 2010. If your condition is considered serious enough it is likely to be defined as a disability, the definition actually reads as:

“You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.”

Therefore in most cases severe asthma would be considered as a disability which in short helps the employee and sets out guidelines for your employer. An employer must carry out / make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a disabled job applicant or employee. Acas advise that:

“Employers should ensure they have rules in place to prevent disability discrimination in:

recruitment and selection

determining pay, terms and conditions

sickness absence

training and development




If a workplace feature or practice puts an employee with a disability at a disadvantage, an employer should look to see what ‘reasonable adjustments’ it can make and meet with them to discuss what can be done to help them. For example, this could be as simple as supplying a special chair or power-assisted piece of equipment. Reasonable adjustments might also include changing some of the employee’s duties, but an employer does not have to change functions essential to the role. ”

It is at this stage where things start to become a little bit complicated but basically what the Equality Act states is that an employer must look at what it can do to help you to do your job and not just sack you. It maybe that something within your workplace or job is a major trigger for your asthma, if an employer can easily remove this trigger from where you work then they are expected to do that. What can be classed as a “reasonable adjustment” is open to interpretation and for somebody who employs a severe asthmatic they can’t discriminate against you because of your condition but it may not be easy to make reasonable adjustments. If for example the employee was in a wheelchair then clearly disabled access, ramps, disabled toilets etc would be obvious adjustments to make, for an asthmatic adjustments may not be as obvious or easy to make. Things that they may consider are things such as allowing an asthmatic to work from home, flexi hours, change of roll etc. Depending on the job and the employer this may not be an option.

Ultimately if an employer can prove that they have made reasonable adjustments but the employee is still unable to carry out their job properly or are always absent, eventually they may have no choice but to let you go.

The main bits of advice that I can give anybody who is a severe asthmatic and is having issues with their employer are as below:

1) Be open and honest about your condition.

2) Discuss your condition / needs with your manager, Human Resources and Occupation Health. Find out what your triggers are and if something at work is causing your asthma to become worse. It maybe that you Occupational Asthma.

3) Read your terms or employment and company policies so you are aware of your entitlements to things such as sick pay and sickness / attendance policies. Also check what company policy is regarding you attending appointments. It is unreasonable for an employer to refuse you time off for medical appointments but it may not be policy to pay you while you are attending these appointments.

4) If possible join a union, they can offer great support and advice, if not speak to Citizens Advice or Acas.

5) Do as your employer tells you, if they want so send you to a company doctor or speak to your consultant let them!

6) Log everything, absences, appointments, any correspondence relating to you, your illness etc.

7) Ensure that your colleagues and first aiders are aware of your condition and what they should do if you were to have an attack.

8) If you are sent to see Occupational health or a company doctor always ask for a copy of the report, usually these reports will advise whether in their opinion you would be classed as disabled under the Equality Act.

9) Always follow medical advice, only return to work when advised to do so, returning to work too early when you are not well is likely to increase the risk of another flare up. Where required get a sick note.

10) Discuss with your doctor and employer as to whether a return to work on light duties or a phased return is an option or would be benificial.

There is plenty of advice out there, use it, and try to stay in a job as long as your health allows.

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