As outlined by Professor Jane Elliott during the 2015 Future of Ageing conference the most important predictive factor for the development of dementia is age. However, of the over 800,000 people with dementia in the UK, in excess of 40,000 are aged under 65 years1. Consequently, a significant number of working age individuals have dementia. Added to this, moves to encourage and support longer working lives2mean that the potential impact of dementia on the workplace could be substantial.
In this context, employers need to be aware of the legal protection afforded to people with dementia. Research to date suggests that employers are not adequately supporting employees with dementia. Indeed, some employer practices could be described as unlawful. Employees with dementia may find that they are forced to suddenly leave work, which can have significant social and financial impacts3.
As dementia may be considered to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010, the legislation potentially provides a framework for individuals to request that their employer make reasonable adjustments to support them to continue in employment. There is limited reported case-law on disability discrimination and claimants with dementia. But, lessons can be drawn from case-law regarding claimants with mental illness.
This case-law highlights the difficulty of establishing that those with a mental illness fall within the Equality Act’s definition of ‘disability’ and the lack of clarity about types of reasonable adjustments that can be requested from employers. This area of case-law also highlights that individuals with cognitive and memory problems who do not have a diagnosis of dementia could face significant obstacles in establishing themselves as a person with a disability.
Accompanying fears of prejudice, disadvantage and stigmatisation could also severely disadvantage the position of employees with dementia. All this, however, must also be viewed within the international human rights framework, and, particularly, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which potentially reinforce the rights of persons with dementia in the workplace.
While continued employment post diagnosis of dementia is possible and there is legal protection for employees with dementia, we need to know whether employers actually perceive employees with dementia as disabled and therefore falling within the protection of the Equality Act 2010. Moreover, we need to understand whether employers’ perceptions are influenced by a misunderstanding of the law and related human rights, or by a limited definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 and the consequent narrow interpretation adopted by courts and tribunals.
1 Prince, M., Knapp, M., Guerchet, M., McCrone, P., Prina, M., Comas-Herrera, A Wittenberg, R., Adelaja, B., Hu, B., King, D., Rehill, A., and Salimkumar, D., 2014. Dementia UK: Update. London: Alzheimer’s Society.
2 Which are discussed in more depth in the 2015 joint ILC-UK and CIPD report Avoiding the Demographic Crunch: Labour Supply and the Ageing Workforce.
3See for example: Chaplin, R. and Davidson, I., 2014. What are the experiences of people with dementia in employment? Dementia, doi: 10.1177/1471301213519252 ǀ Tolson, D., Ritchie, L., Danson, M., and Banks, P., 2016. Dementia in the Workplace:the potential for continued employment post diagnosis. University of the West of Scotland.
Dr Valerie Egdell
Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University
Professor Jill Stavert
Centre for Mental Health and Incapacity Law Rights and Policy, Edinburgh Napier University