Q&A: Tread carefully when it comes to ill health in the workplace

Q&A: Tread carefully when it comes to ill health in the workplace

Q. It has come to light that one of my new employees has covered up a health condition, what steps should I take?

A. Employers generally rely on staff to inform them of any medical conditions. Therefore, if you discover an employee has not disclosed a significant health issue you could be left with a difficult choice.

You should first speak with the individual to clarify the situation, understand the extent of the health condition and ask why this was not previously disclosed. This discussion should not turn into an interrogation and you should remember that staff are actually under no obligation to disclose any existing medical conditions to their employers.

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Following this discussion, you may find that reasonable adjustments need to be made or, in extreme circumstances, disciplinary action may be taken. However, you should tread carefully and take a measured approach.

Some staff may attempt to cover up a medical condition because of stigma. Many fear they will be dismissed or overlooked for a role if they reveal they have a health condition, regardless of whether this impacts their ability to complete the job.

In this instance you should reassure the individual this is not the case and that they are entitled to reasonable adjustments if they qualify as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. It would also be advisable to allow flexible provisions for those whose health conditions do not necessarily meet the definition of a disability under the Act to reaffirm your commitment to ensuring employee safety at work.

But there are certain instances where you may consider disciplinary action: for example, if they have knowingly put the health and safety of colleagues or the general public at risk by failing to disclose their health condition, or if you feel there has been a sufficient breach of the duty of mutual trust and confidence.

However, it will generally be ill-advised to discipline or dismiss employees as this could lead to substantial claims of disability discrimination.

If you have experienced issues with staff covering up health issues you could take preventive measures to ensure full disclosure in the future. While it is not advisable to ask individuals questions about their health prior to joining, being supportive towards instances of ill health during their employment and offering enhanced occupational sick pay will make staff more inclined to confide in you.

While the onus is on the employee to inform you of any ongoing medical issues, it is also advisable to avoid taking rash disciplinary action unless you are confident this can be justified in the face of disability discrimination claims.

Peter Done is the managing director of Peninsula