Under employment law, employees have a right to fair and reasonable treatment at work. The Disabilty Discrimination Act (1995) makes it unlawful to unjusifiably discriminate against people with disabilities.
Disability Discrimination Act
If your latex allergy is a problem at work you should know that your employer has a duty under Health and Safety law to protect your health as far as they reasonably can. Your employer may also have obligations to you under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 if your latex allergy affects you more than trivially in your day to day life e.g. if because of your symptoms you have to be especially careful what items you are in day to day contact with outside of work. The employer’s duty is to make a reasonable accommodation (i.e. an adjustment) to the items you work with or the way you work.
The act affords protection in a number of ways by outlawing discrimination in the following areas of employment:
- Recruitment and Selection
- Contractual Terms
Duty of Care
All employers owe all employees certain general duties of care. These include a duty to ensure that each employee (a) works with safe equipment, (b) works in a safe place, (c) has a safe system of work in place. An employer is under an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent employees from being injured and this includes the development of workplace allergies.
The incidence of latex allergy in the workplace amongst healthcare employees is one that is clearly addressed in a number of specific areas of Health and Safety legislation.
If you suffer from a latex allergy, which prevents you from doing your job or certain parts of your job, then your employer has a responsibility and a legal obligation to consider reasonable adjustments to enable you to work.
For example, this may include:
- Provision of alternative equipment
- Reorganisation of duties
- Alternative employment
You will need to ascertain whether your employer has a formal procedure for dealing with your health condition. It is usual for employers to have a procedure for dealing with sickness absence/illness, and if you are working in a unionised environment it may well be that such a procedure has been jointly agreed with the Trade Union(s) concerned.
You should wherever practicable, seek to ensure the Personnel Department is also involved in dealing with your situation. They will be able to provide advice, guidance and practical assistance.
Before any action is taken to dismiss an employee for sickness related reasons, the employer is legally obliged to:
- Thoroughly consider all the facts of the case, which is likely to include obtaining evidence about the condition
- Undertake a Risk Assessment
- Ensure an appropriate way in which the employee is given the opportunity to state their case
- Give time for improvement (i.e. where appropriate to the illness)
- Consider whether suitable alternative employment or adaptations to the job/environment are available
- To act reasonably in all of the circumstances
Where the decision is made to dismiss, the normal conditions for giving notice will apply, even though you may be unable to work the notice. You should be advised about your organisation’s procedure for appeal against dismissal if you have not been fairly treated.
Also, if you have two years service with the employer,you may take your case to an Industrial Tribunal. Under the DDA, the two-year qualifying does not apply. Therefore, if you feel you have not been dealt with fairly, or unjustifiably discriminated against because of your health condition, you may have a claim under the DDA.
Sources of advice and assistance
- Personnel Department (if applicable)
- Occupational Health Department
- Trade Union Representative (if applicable)
- Department of Employment/Placing, Assessment and Counselling Team (PACT)
Important caution: This information is for guidance only. We recommend that you also seek appropriate help from relevant individuals e.g. your GP, occupational health physician/nurse, personnel officer, professional organisation, trade union etc.