Wednesday, 26 September 2018 10:58

Dementia in the Workplace

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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) this week reported that life expectancy in the UK has stopped improving for the first time since 1982. In other words, for the first time in over 35 years, we cannot say that people are living longer in the UK.

Let’s not be too shocked by one set of figures however. Whilst some claim that the stall is down to poverty, austerity and Government cuts in funding, we can’t really expect to keep living longer and longer. It’s got to end somewhere. Besides, the ONS blames the figures on a particularly bad winter death rate from 2015 to 2017 which coincided with a potent flu season.

Despite these statistics, the workforce in the UK continues to age. The abolition of the Default Retirement Age a few years ago means employees can continue to work into their seventies and eighties if they so wish and are capable.

Whilst we might expect an ageing workforce to skew the number of people in work developing Dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society tells us that there are more than 40,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK who already suffer from Dementia. So regardless of the retirement age, it seems that Dementia is something more and more business will have to deal with.

As a mental health condition, Dementia is a disability and so sufferers are protected by the Equalities Act. This means that employer will need to consider and or make reasonable adjustments in the workplace before they can dismiss on incapability grounds. The problem is, each case will be different as Dementia affects people in different ways and sufferers specific jobs will influence the impact that their dementia has on their capability.

A job as predictable as an office cleaner for example might seem fairly innocuous, but if the role involves handling chemicals, even bleach, there is potential for a catastrophic outcome.

In some cases making reasonable adjustments may be very difficult to do. Employees with a diminished memory may struggle to recall any new instructions or performance measures they are required to undertake. Therefore, a change in routine to minimize risk to an employee’s own self and/or his or her colleagues may simply be forgotten.

We usually recommend intervention from Occupational Health when dealing with cases of disability. But because Dementia, and the extent to which it will affect sufferers, is notoriously difficult to diagnose, employers may need to take more decisive action if they believe anyone’s wellbeing is in jeopardy.

A dismissal on incapability grounds may be an employer’s ultimate course of action but a proper procedure should always be followed. This should include an investigation and may involve a number a witness statements that collude to say the employee in question is not safe to be at work.

Dementia and mental illness in general are high in public awareness at the moment and are conditions for which we can develop some sort of strategy detect and deal with. Creating a culture where employees feel comfortable holding conversations about mental health without it being seen as ‘taboo’ is a good start.

For further help and support managing mental illness in the workplace, call us on 01452 331331 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Read 82 times Last modified on Wednesday, 26 September 2018 11:06

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