Employment: A guide for employees

Last reviewed: June 2022

Next review date: June 2025


We know that living with Crohn’s or Colitis can have an impact on your working life. You might have questions about what support you can get at work or whether you should tell your employer about your Crohn’s or Colitis. This guide will answer some of those questions and help you understand your options and rights at work or while looking for a job.

 

This guide covers the Equality Act 2010, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in Northern Ireland, this guide should still be helpful but please be aware that the Equality Act does not apply to you. The main anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). Visit nidirect for information on the DDA and employment rights in Northern Ireland.

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  • Key facts about employment
    • You do not have to tell your employer about your Crohn’s or Colitis, but it can help you feel more supported at work.
    • The Equality Act 2010 defines when someone is considered to be disabled and is protected from being treated unfairly. Although Crohn’s and Colitis aren’t automatically classed as a disability under the Equality Act, they are conditions which might be classed as a disability depending on the effect on your daily life.
    • If your employer knows about your Crohn’s or Colitis, they can make changes to your workplace to help you do your job. These are called reasonable adjustments.
    • You may find that your condition still makes it difficult to work, even with changes in place. Remember that you have options and keep a positive mindset, looking at what you are good at and enjoy doing.
  • Telling people about your Crohn’s or Colitis

    While looking for a job

    It can be tricky to decide whether you tell the employer that you have Crohn’s or Colitis when looking for a job. You may be worried that you will be treated differently if you say you have Crohn’s or Colitis.

    The Equality Act 2010 is a law that bans unfair treatment (discrimination). The Equality Act stops employers from asking questions about your health, including previous sickness absences, before offering you a job. The law applies to questions on an application form and questions asked during an interview.

    There are a few exceptions to this. For details, see the Government Equalities Office Quick start guide.

    You might find it helpful to speak to a careers advisor when looking for a job. The National Careers Service can advise you on job-hunting and applications.


    When you’ve received a job offer

    Some job offers may have conditions that you need to meet before you are given the job. These conditions can include references and medical checks. Once you have received a conditional job offer, your employer can ask questions about your health. A conditional job offer can be withdrawn for medical reasons, but only if the employer can show that you would not be able to do the job once reasonable adjustments have been made.

    If you have had a conditional job offer withdrawn because of your health or medical history but feel that you would have been able to do the job with reasonable adjustments, you can make a complaint to an employment tribunal. An employment tribunal is a panel of three experts who make decisions on employment disputes.

    If you decide to tell an employer about your Crohn’s or Colitis, you may find it helpful to write a list of questions you want to ask. You can ask about their policy on things such as storing medication, taking phone calls from your IBD team and going to medical appointments. You might also find it useful to show them the information in Employment: a guide for employers. This guide can help your employer learn more about Crohn’s and Colitis and what is involved in employing someone with a long-term health condition.

    I have told my employer about my Crohn’s. It has allowed me to be open about going to appointments and getting the time I need to go to the hospital. It helps to know I have the support of my manager.


    Pamela

    Living with Crohn’s


    In your current job

    If you are diagnosed with Crohn’s or Colitis when you are already working, or if your condition gets worse, you may wonder whether to tell your employer about it. It is a personal decision to tell your employer or not. It might help to talk to someone such as a family member or someone from your IBD team before you make this decision.

    Some people with Crohn’s or Colitis decide not to tell their employer about their condition. However, it can help to have the understanding and support from people around you. Telling your employer can allow them to understand your needs and help you feel more supported and productive at work.

    Once you have made your employer aware of your needs, you can talk to them about making reasonable adjustments for you.

    If you feel nervous or want support when you tell your employer, you could ask someone else to be with you, such as a colleague or friend. Many people find that their employers are supportive, but they may have questions, especially if they don’t know much about Crohn’s or Colitis. It may help to write a list of things you want to talk about.



    Telling colleagues

    I told my team about my condition. I felt happier that they knew why I’ve had to take sick days.


    Gari

    Living with Colitis

    You don’t have to tell the people you work with about your Crohn’s or Colitis. But there can be benefits in letting others know. If your colleagues know that you have a long-term condition and what it means, they are more likely to give you the support you need, helping to create a better working environment.

    Being open with your colleagues can help you talk about your symptoms, such as fatigue or stomach pain, if they start to affect you at work.

    We have many other resources and information, such as All About Crohn’s and Colitis and Living with Crohn’s or Colitis that you could show your manager and colleagues.

    I have told the colleagues I thought needed to know about my Crohn’s. They have been really supportive, and it has been such a fantastic help in coping with my diagnosis, appointments and any absences I have had to take.


    Pamela

    Living with Crohn’s

    It takes guts
    to talk about Crohn's and Colitis

    Crohn’s and Colitis can be difficult conditions to talk about and are sometimes misunderstood. We have created a campaign called It Takes Guts to help you find the confidence and support you need to talk to other people about Crohn’s or Colitis. Visit the It Takes Guts website to find tools such as our Talking Toolkit to support you to start the conversation with your colleagues.

  • What are my employment rights?

    You are entitled to certain legal rights whether you are an employee, worker, self-employed or an agency worker. The Government website has information about the rights for each category. You may also have extra rights in your employment contract, such as being allowed to take time off for appointments. Have a look at your contract and speak to your employer to see what you are entitled to.

    You can get more information about employment rights from Acas, Citizens Advice and trade union representatives.

    You may be worried about your rights at work for reasons relating to your condition. The level of protection from the law depends on whether you qualify as disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

  • When is Crohn's or Colitis a disability?

    The Equality Act 2010 defines when someone is considered to be disabled and is protected from discrimination in the workplace. Anyone with an ongoing illness may qualify for protection against discrimination.

    You are disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities such as walking, driving, cooking or eating, using public transport, writing and carrying things.

    • An impairment is when your physical or mental abilities are reduced in some way. This may include when your abilities at work are reduced because of symptoms caused by Crohn’s or Colitis, such as pain, fatigue and diarrhoea.
    • Substantial means more than minor. For example, bowel incontinence is substantial and negative if it is unpredictable and leads to accidents, even if it doesn’t happen frequently. Minor but frequent loss of bowel control may also be seen as substantial and negative.
    • Long-term means the effect has lasted or is likely to last at least a year.

    Living with Crohn’s or Colitis isn’t automatically classed as a disability under the Equality Act. However, they are conditions which might be classed as a disability depending on the effect they have on your daily life. You may not personally see yourself as being ‘disabled’ but be considered disabled under the legal definition in the Equality Act.

    If you’re not sure if you are considered to be disabled under the Equality Act, get advice from your GP, IBD team or the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS).

    Your rights will not be affected because your Crohn’s or Colitis symptoms fluctuate (change over time). For example, you may have periods when you have few or no symptoms and times when your symptoms are active (such as during a flare-up). The Equality Act covers fluctuating conditions; the main point is that the overall effect is long-term.

    In most cases, treatment for a health condition is not considered when deciding if someone is disabled under the law. This means that you may still benefit from the protection of the Equality Act even if your symptoms are controlled by medication.

    If you think you fit the criteria of disability under the Equality Act and feel able to speak to your employer, talk to them to see how they can support you. If you have an Occupational Health (OH) department at your workplace, they may be able to provide support and guidance to both you and your employer.

    Find out more about What counts as disability on the Citizens Advice website.

  • What protection do I have under the Equality Act as an employee?

    The Equality Act is in place to protect people against discrimination at work if they have a disability. This includes people who are:

    • Working full or part time
    • Working on a casual basis
    • On zero-hours contracts
    • Trainees
    • Self-employed, in some situations

    See Citizens Advice for information if you are an agency worker or self-employed.

    The Equality Act covers all aspects of employment from job interviews, job offers, pay, training, promotion, dismissal and redundancy.

    Discrimination can happen in different forms. It is discrimination when:

    • You are treated less favourably than a person who is not disabled for a reason related to your disability.
    • Reasonable adjustments are not made to help you do your job.
    • You are being bullied or harassed at work for a reason related to your disability.
    • You are treated unfairly because you have complained about discrimination or harassment.
    • If your employer decides to end your contract (dismissal) because of your disability, this may be unlawful discrimination, and you may be able to make a claim for disability discrimination.

    If you feel that you have experienced discrimination at work, read the section “What can I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?“

    Under the Equality Act, an employer can take positive action to help employees or job applicants who are disabled. You may see a ‘Disability Confident’ symbol on a job advertisement, which means that an employer has committed to employ, keep and develop the abilities of disabled staff. The Government website has more information on the ‘Disability Confident’ policy.

  • What are reasonable adjustments?

    If your employer knows about your Crohn’s or Colitis, they can make changes to your workplace to help you do your job. These are called adjustments. You can ask your employer for reasonable adjustments when any aspect of your working arrangements, including the building or place of work or your working hours, puts you at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person doing your job.

    Employers have a legal duty to consider making adjustments for employees with a disability.

    An employer must consider making adjustments when:

    • They know an employee is disabled
    • They could reasonably be expected to know an employee has a disability
    • The employee with a disability has asked them for adjustments to be made
    • The employee with a disability is having difficulty with any part of their job
    • Either the employee’s sickness record or delay in returning to work is linked to their disability.

    When I had a bad flare up around six years ago, I saw an occupational therapist who recommended a number of workplace adjustments. I went through them with my employer and was amazed at how supportive they were - providing a specialist keyboard and mouse, for example, and even an automatic stapler because the pain in my joints made it very difficult to use a standard one.”


    Alun

    Living with Crohn's

    There is no exact definition of what is reasonable. An adjustment is likely to be reasonable if it is affordable and easy to do. This can depend on the type and size of the business.

    Some examples of adjustments include:

    • Allowing time off for medical appointments or treatment.
    • Flexible working arrangements, such as shorter or different hours.
    • Unlimited toilet breaks.
    • Moving your workstation close to a toilet.
    • Providing a car parking space close to the entrance to work.
    • Offering another place of work or working from home.
    • Providing you with relevant training, for example, if you take on new tasks that are more suited to your needs.

    Providing a fan or heater to keep you comfortable. During previous times when I have had flare-ups and, most recently, after I had surgery, I was offered the opportunity to work reduced and flexible hours. This really helped me with coping with my Crohn’s and the pressures of work and daily life


    Carl

    Living with Crohn’s

    Adjustments such as easy access to toilets or time off for medical appointments can make a big difference while you are working or looking for work. These adjustments can help you at work and boost your wellbeing. When you talk to your employer, it may be useful to have some suggestions ready of changes that would help you.

    If adjustments are expensive, such as installing separate toilet facilities, a scheme called Access to Work may be able to help.

    If you have talked about adjustments with your employer and find that you cannot reach an agreement, you could raise a formal written complaint. This is sometimes called a grievance (See “What can I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?”). Contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) for more detailed guidance on your rights.

  • Access to Work

    Access to Work is a scheme to help people with a disability overcome difficulties that may stop them from working. If you are on a permanent or temporary contract, you can apply to the scheme, but it does not cover voluntary work. The scheme can also help if you are self-employed or unemployed and looking for work.

    Access to Work can give your employer money to pay for support you may need. The money can pay for things like installing toilet facilities or covering the costs of travelling to work in a taxi if you are unable to use public transport.

    You can contact Access to Work to apply. There is the option to apply for an Access to Work grant online.

  • Living with a stoma or J-pouch at work

    If you have a stoma or J-pouch, you may be finding it difficult to manage at work or when travelling to and from work.

    Colostomy UK provide information and support on living with a stoma and the Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association can provide support for people living with a stoma or J-pouch.

    You may also find our information on Living with a Stoma helpful.

  • Travelling to work

    Many people with Crohn’s or Colitis tell us that it is difficult to travel to work or do jobs that include lots of travelling. We know that planning your journey to work may take longer, or you may find the mornings more difficult with symptoms. Speak to your employer if you find that starting work at a certain time in the morning is stressful for you.

    You may find it helpful to get a RADAR key for public toilets for disabled people. You can get a RADAR key by becoming a Crohn’s & Colitis UK member or from the Disability Rights UK Online Store. The Disability Rights UK Store can provide a Region List of National Key Scheme (NKS) toilets in your area for a small donation to the purchase cost of the key. You may also be able to purchase a RADAR key from your local council.

    I told my employer about my condition when I began my job, as I was struggling with the work environment and the lengthy journey to get there. They kindly agreed to let me work from home when I needed to, which has really helped.


    Gillian

    Living with Crohn’s

    You may get help with travel costs from Access to Work.

    Online resources such as the Great British Public Toilet Map can be useful in locating your nearest public toilet on your journey to work. It covers most of the UK, including toilets in tube and rail stations. There are also apps available to download onto your mobile phone to help you find nearby toilets or changing facilities.

  • Time off work

    Having Crohn’s or Colitis may mean that you need to take time off work for a number of reasons. This includes time off (absence) due to sickness, such as when you are having a flare-up, or to attend medical appointments. Each workplace will deal with absence differently.


    Sickness Absence

    Sickness absence is usually an unplanned period where you do not feel well enough to work. Some workplaces will have a sickness policy, and you may be entitled to sick leave. This policy usually outlines

    • Who to let know if you are taking sick leave.
    • How to keep in touch while you are absent from work.
    • How much sick pay you are entitled to, and for how long.
    • How your employer will keep track of and record absences.
    • If having repeated sickness absence will trigger a review process.

    If you are eligible, you may be able to ask your employer for reasonable adjustments around time off work. An example is your employer not counting the time you have had off work because of your Crohn’s or Colitis when they add up how much sick leave you have had.

    Ask your employer if they have a disability leave policy that they can follow. Disability leave is when you need to take time off work because of a reason relating to your disability.


    Time off due to medical appointments

    You may need to attend appointments because of your Crohn’s or Colitis, such as having an infusion at hospital, during work hours. There is no legal right for your employer to give you time off for these appointments. They may ask you to make the time up or use your annual leave entitlement. Many workplaces have a medical appointments policy which will outline if you are entitled to time off for appointments, if you will be paid for this time off, and how much time you are entitled to.

    If you are eligible, you may be able to ask for reasonable adjustments relating to time off for appointments. An example is your employer agreeing to change your working hours so you can go to medical appointments.

  • Returning to work after a long absence

    If you have been off work for several weeks or longer because of your Crohn’s or Colitis, you may feel anxious about returning to work.

    When you feel ready to think about going back to work, it is a good idea to arrange a meeting with your employer by phone, video call or face-to-face.

    You can have a chat to make sure you are ready to return to work, and your employer can let you know any updates that happened while you were off. If you have any recommendations from your doctor or IBD team on how to support your return to work, you can let your employer know what these recommendations are and anything else that you think will make going back to work easier.

    My employer was very understanding during a long period of absence and recovery from surgery. I was referred to Occupational Health and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge of IBD the team had and how supportive they were. 


    Glenda
    Living with Crohn's

    See the Acas website for more information on returning to work after an absence.

    If you are absent for more than a week, you will need to get a ‘fit note’ (‘statement of fitness for work’) from your GP (or hospital doctor if you are in hospital). It allows your doctor to suggest that you would benefit from additional support or adjustments, such as building up slowly to your normal hours and duties. This is called a ‘phased’ return to work.

    An example of a phased return is if you start working only a few hours each day and gradually increase your hours over time. Or you may want to ask for a reduced workload or lighter duties, to begin with.

    Your employer can ask for a doctor’s report about your health if they need to:

    • Check that you are fit to carry out your work
    • Prevent health and safety risks
    • Prevent disability discrimination

    When I felt up to it [during my sickness absence] I read up on things I couldn’t usually have the time to. By the time I returned to work, I had done useful research, come up with some new ideas and was familiar with that boring safety manual I had previously put to one side!


    Linda

    Living with Crohn’s

    You will need to give permission for your doctor to give the report to your employer. You can also ask to see the report before it is sent to your employer. Any information that you do choose to share with your employer must be kept confidential.

    They will then be able to make reasonable adjustments to help you return to work.


    Can I be dismissed because of long period of absence?

    Dismissal is when your employer ends your contract, meaning you no longer work for them. It is sometimes called being sacked or fired.

    There may be times when your employer has made reasonable adjustments, but you are having a lot of absences or are struggling to return to work because of your Crohn’s or Colitis. Dismissal should be a last resort after your employer has tried other ways to support you and help you get back to work. Your employer might put a performance management procedure in place to help you to do your job. Your workplace may have this procedure written in a capability or performance policy which your employer should follow before deciding on dismissal. Read more about capability procedures at Acas.

    If your employer does dismiss you or you feel like you have been treated unfairly for taking time off, see “What can I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?“ or talk to a Citizens Advice advisor.

  • What can I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?

    If you feel that you are not being treated fairly at work because of your Crohn’s or Colitis, there are steps you can take to help resolve the problem.

    If you are not sure where to start, have a look at How to raise a problem at work on the Acas website.


    Have an informal chat

    It is usually a good idea to talk informally to your employer or manager about your concerns as a first step.

    If you do not feel comfortable talking to your manager, try speaking to someone from:

    • Human Resources (HR): the HR department manage things such as recruitment, pay, annual leave, sick pay and policies.
    • Occupational Health (OH): OH teams help keep employees well at work, both physically and mentally.
    • If your workplace doesn’t have a HR or OH team, they may have health and wellbeing advisors or a mental health first aider that you could talk to.

    Things can often be resolved by talking them through. It can also be helpful to keep notes of conversations or meetings just in case you need to take the matter further.


    Raise the issue formally

    If the situation does not improve, you could make a formal complaint through your employer’s grievance procedure. You should raise the issue as soon as you can. You can download a grievance letter template from Acas at the link below.

    Your employer then has to arrange a meeting with you to discuss the problem. You have a legal right to bring a colleague or trade union representative with you if you ask your employer beforehand. Depending on the company’s policy, you may be able to ask a family member or friend to accompany you. Acas have a helpful guide to raising a formal grievance.

    If you are not happy with the result of this meeting, you can make an appeal to your employer.


    Making a claim to an employment tribunal

    If the problem is still not resolved after raising a formal grievance, you might be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. An employment tribunal is a panel of three experts who make decisions on employment disputes. An employment tribunal claim can take a lot of time and energy for everyone involved so it is usually seen as a last resort if no other agreement can be reached.

    An employment tribunal can only deal with certain types of claims, including issues with pay, unfair dismissal and discrimination. A claim to an employment tribunal usually has to be submitted within three months (minus one day) after the discrimination took place.

    If you want advice about making a claim to an employment tribunal, see Acas or Citizens Advice.

    When you make a discrimination claim, you need to provide the employment tribunal with evidence that discrimination has happened. Then, the employer needs to show that discrimination has not happened. There is more information about this on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.

    If you find it difficult to make a complaint or are still not happy with the outcome, you might want to contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS), Acas or other similar organisations to explore your options.

  • What can I do if I am finding it difficult to continue working?

    Firstly, if you are struggling, it can help to speak to someone. You may prefer to speak to a trusted friend or family member before you speak to your employer or someone else at work, such as a Human Resources or Occupational Health advisor. Your workplace may have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place. The EAP can provide you with support and practical advice for work-related and personal issues, including mental health and wellbeing. You may also want to have a look at our mental health and wellbeing information.

    Occasionally, you may find that your condition still makes it difficult to work, even with changes in place. In this case, it is not unusual to feel angry or upset at the impact of Crohn’s or Colitis on your working life or career. Deciding to leave your job or stop working is a big decision that should be given a lot of thought. Speak to family and friends if possible and consider weighing up different factors, such as your reasons for working and your financial situation.

    There are different options you could consider, including:

    • Self-employment – you may feel nervous at the thought of setting up your own business or worry that you would miss socialising at work. You can often work the hours to suit your energy levels. Also, if you can work from home, reduce the fear or possibility of having an ‘accident’ in public.
    • You can get help and advice about self-employment from several organisations, including Money Helper UK and Access to Work.
    • Re-training – you may find that another kind of job makes it possible for you to work more effectively. Several organisations offer training, such as the Shaw Trust, Ability Net, Leonard Cheshire, and Share Community.
    • Ill health retirement or early retirement– you can check your pension position and get information about pensions from the Money & Pensions Service. It may be helpful to get financial advice, including information on how your pension could affect entitlement to other benefits you are claiming.
    • Volunteering – if a financial income is not essential to you, volunteering can be a rewarding experience and help to learn new skills. It could provide a challenge while allowing you to give something to others. See our list of other organisations for volunteering opportunities. Crohn’s & Colitis UK also has volunteering opportunities. For further information, contact our Volunteering Team on 01727 734472 or email us.
    • Benefits – if you are unable to work due to your Crohn’s or Colitis, you may be entitled to claim benefits to help support yourself financially. Read our information on disability benefits.
  • What financial help is available?

    If you have care or mobility needs caused by your Crohn’s or Colitis, you may be eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), whether or not you are working. See our information on Claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP). In Scotland, a new benefit called Adult Disability Payment is replacing Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2022. You can find information on Adult Disability Payment on Citizens Advice Scotland or Social Security Scotland - Benefits.

    If you are in employment, your employer should pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you are too ill to work. Statutory Sick Pay starts after you have been off sick for four days in a row. SSP can be paid for up to 28 weeks. If you are not well enough to return to work after this time, or if your employment has ended, you may qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

    Some employers may make additional payments through their sick pay scheme. This will depend on your terms and conditions of employment. For more information, contact Jobcentre Plus or see www.gov.uk.

    If your income has dropped or changed, you can use an online benefit check to see if you are entitled to claim any benefits.

    Read more in our Finances information.

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Helpline service

Helpline
Service

We know it can be difficult to live with, or support someone living with these conditions. But you’re not alone. We provide up-to-date, evidence-based information and can support you to live well with Crohn’s or Colitis.

Our helpline team can provide information on a range of subjects including:

  • Managing Symptoms
  • Disability benefits
  • Medication
  • Diet
  • Test and diagnosis
  • Wellbeing
  • Employment
  • Help to find support from others living with the condition

Please contact us via telephone, email or LiveChat - 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (except English bank holidays).

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If you need specific medical advice about your condition, your GP or IBD team will be best placed to help.