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If you have an employee who has recently disclosed their MS diagnosis to you, we’re here to help you, help them.

MS is the most common neurological condition affecting over 25,600 Australians. Nearly three times as many women than men are affected, and people are typically diagnosed when aged in their 20s and 30s.

MS is a non-infectious and non-contagious disease of the central nervous system including the optic nerve. It can attack multiple areas of the central nervous system therefore symptoms vary, and no two people with MS will have the same experience.

MS may affect mobility and coordination, but many other possible symptoms are invisible including neuropathic pain, visual disturbance, heat sensitivity, bladder urgency, sensory issues such as numbness, and physical and cognitive fatigue. A person may appear the same as usual, yet be experiencing symptoms of MS.

The most common course of the disease is relapsing-remitting MS with symptoms partially or completely disappearing during the remission stage. While there is no cure for MS, the new generation of therapies greatly reduce the frequency and severity of relapses thereby slowing disease progression, meaning the long-held public perception of the disease progression is no longer valid.

Due to its varied nature, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing MS in the workplace. Some people have no need to alter their role or working conditions, while others may benefit greatly from small and reasonable adjustments.

Although many people with MS do not consider themselves as having a disability, the condition meets the criteria of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). This definition applies from the moment a person is diagnosed with MS regardless of how it affects them.

An employer also has a duty of care to protect employees under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

It is unlawful for an employer to treat unfairly, harass, or discriminate against a person, or to allow this to happen, in the workplace. It is also unlawful to discriminate against a potential employee because they have MS.

An employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s work or to their work processes to enable the employee to get the job done, noting the inherent requirements of a position are the essential activities and tasks that are carried out to get a job done and relate to results rather than how this is accomplished.

An employer may also be required to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to accommodate the needs of the employee and may seek advice and financial assistance to do this through the Australian Government’s Employment Assistance Fund.

In most instances, reasonable adjustments to meet an employee’s needs are minor (refer to examples below) and employers are not required to make adjustments that would lead to unjustifiable hardship.

Should an employee with a disability require a workplace adjustment to be able to work or be able to participate equally in aspects of working life, and that adjustment could have been reasonably provided but was not, then this may be considered ‘indirect discrimination’.

A person may be diagnosed with MS at any stage of their working life without impacting their expertise or value to the workplace. It would be prudent for an employer to be open to learning how this employee could best be supported – and thus retained – in the workplace. This is most often best achieved by opening dialogue with the employee by having a ‘can do’ attitude.

For many people with MS, having support from their employer is what enables them to remain, and thrive, in the workforce.

Demonstrating an open, responsible, and productive approach to people with MS (and those with other medical conditions and/or disability) fosters a positive workplace culture for all employees and presents an inclusive and socially responsible organisation to customers.

Have an open conversation:

MS is an individual disease and does not automatically lead to severe disability: the new generation of therapies mean the long-held public perception of the disease progression is no longer valid.

Open a dialogue with the employee to establish what support they need. The support needed will depend on how MS is affecting them, their work role, and their own abilities and coping strategies.

Encouraging healthy lifestyle habits to be utilised in the workplace, for example rest breaks, short walks, and stretches, may be a simple yet effective contribution to the management of symptoms.

Respect the employee’s ability to manage their MS and to determine what they can or cannot do. Trust their self-evaluation and encourage their input into decisions about future roles, responsibilities, and opportunities for professional growth.

Ask questions only related to work; the employee is sharing sensitive information and should not feel compelled to disclose information beyond what is relevant to the workplace.

Ensure any information provided by the employee about their MS remains confidential and if such information is to be shared for example for occupational health and safety reasons, do so in a way that maintains the privacy of the employee.

Talking to an employee with MS will likely be more than a one-off conversation so foster a relationship of trust. Regularly review the need for additional or different support but maintain focus on the employee as an individual rather than on their disability.

Make reasonable workplace adjustments if required:

A reasonable adjustment should respond to the needs of the employee and be determined in consultation with that employee.

Many adjustments cost little or nothing to put in place and may include:

  • Having an ergonomic office chair
  • Using a desk-fan
  • Having access to a refrigerator for cooling products
  • Moving a workstation away from a heat source, or closer to the restrooms
  • Installing a stair chair (funding available through Employment Assistance Fund)
  • Negotiating flexible or reduced work hours
  • Shifting start or finish times
  • Working from home arrangements
  • Having somewhere to rest for short periods during the workday
  • Using a parking space close to the entrance to work.

Contact our Plus Connect team to learn more about how we can help.

Further information

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC)

HREOC has responsibilities for inquiring into alleged infringements under current legislation.

Tel: 1300 369 711


Australian Government: Job Access and the Employment Assistance Fund

Funding applications for workplace tools and equipment can be submitted by an individual, an organisation, or a Disability Employment Service

Tel: 1800 464 800


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