Dementia Awareness Week 30 May to 5 June 2022
Dementia is often mistaken as something which happens when we get older, but it’s important to understand that there is a distinction between age related memory difficulties and dementia. Although dementia is more common in older people, it can also affect younger people, including those contributing to the working population. Over 90,000 people in Scotland have dementia, which is an umbrella term for various diseases with symptoms including memory loss, difficulty with simple tasks, problem solving and language.
Dementia affects everyone differently and so many people may continue to work for some time after being diagnosed. Those still working with early stages of dementia may make uncharacteristic mistakes like finding simple tasks more difficult, they may have difficulties with remembering information, concentrating on their work and communicating. Employer’s may mistake these symptoms to be a performance related issue and commence a performance improvement plan (“PIP”). This could even lead to an employee being dismissed if sufficient improvement is not made during the course of their PIP. It is therefore incredibly important to understand the root of the issue, but employers must handle this in a sensitive manner as employees with dementia may feel scared or embarrassed to discuss their diagnosis with their employer.
If an employee has been diagnosed with dementia, then they will be protected by the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act protects people from being treated unfairly at work for various reasons, including having a disability. It also enforces the duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to ensure employees with a disability are not disadvantaged in their working life. For example, this could mean changing working hours, allowing the employer to work from home or to work in a quieter area. Whether an adjustment is considered “reasonable” depends on the specific circumstances, with consideration being given to the cost of the adjustments and their practicality, as well as the size and resources of the employer. However, employers can only make these adjustments if they are aware of an employee’s diagnosis, or if they reasonably ought to be aware of it.
Employers may not have experience supporting employees with dementia and may feel uncomfortable raising the issue. If an employer suspects there is potentially an underlying health concern, they should ask the employee whether they think there could be something else going on which is contributing to any performance related issues they have identified. This provides the employee the opportunity to raise any concerns they have, but employers should be careful not to push employees into disclosing anything they do not wish to. Employees may prefer to have someone they trust attend a meeting with them and their employer to explain, such as a colleague or a family member.
When an employee informs their employer about a diagnosis of dementia, this should be taken seriously and the employee should be referred for an occupational health assessment. This also gives the employer the opportunity to identify any reasonable adjustment(s) required.
As well as occupational health advice there is also expert help out there from organisations like Alzheimer’s Scotland https://www.alzscot.org/ who have specific experience in supporting carers, families and employers who are meeting the challenge of having a loved one or an employee who is coming to terms with dementia.
If you have questions as an employer about someone you work with who may be affected by dementia, get in touch with a member of our team on 03330 430350.