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A Guide for Employers: Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace

On 2 August 2023, HMCTS, the Courts and Tribunal services in the UK, became a member of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower network. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard is a simple tool for people to voluntarily share that they have a disability or condition that may not be immediately apparent.  

As an employer, identifying and supporting those with hidden disabilities may present unique and complicated challenges, and so we have put together this guide for employers to aid in this complex area.  

What are hidden disabilities, and why are they significant in the workplace? 

Hidden disabilities, also known as invisible or non-visible disabilities, refer to conditions that are not immediately apparent to others. It is estimated that 70-80% of disabilities are hidden. These disabilities can include mental health disorders, sensory processing difficulties, learning difficulties, chronic conditions, and rare diseases, amongst other conditions that may not be visibly noticeable.  

In the workplace, these hidden disabilities present unique challenges for employees and employers alike, as they may go unnoticed, leading to potential misunderstandings and inadequate support. 

What challenges do employees with hidden disabilities face at work? 

Employees with hidden disabilities often encounter unique challenges in the workplace. As their conditions may not be visible, they may encounter judgment or stigma from colleagues who do not understand their disability and make unhelpful and hurtful comparisons to visible disabilities.  

Some employees might therefore be hesitant to disclose their conditions due to concerns about potential negative repercussions or being treated differently. This silence can hinder employers from being able to provide employees with the necessary support they require, ultimately affecting their performance and well-being.  

Lucy Densham Brown

Solicitor

View profile

+44 118 960 4655

Employees with hidden disabilities often encounter unique challenges in the workplace.

What can employers do to support their employees with hidden disabilities? 

1. Create an inclusive work culture: 

Promote an open and accepting work culture that values diversity and inclusivity. Encourage conversations about disabilities and mental health to reduce stigma and create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their needs. 

2. Provide training for managers and staff: 

Offer training programs that educate managers and staff about hidden disabilities and their impact in the workplace. This will enable them to better understand the challenges faced by their colleagues and ensure they respond with empathy and appropriate support. 

One of the main difficulties for managers can be identifying those with unseen disabilities who may need support. Managers should be appropriately trained in this area, and reminded that they should not try to diagnose someone. The employer should focus on the support they can provide and encourage the person to ask for any adjustments they need. 

3. Implement flexible work policies: 

Recognise that employees with hidden disabilities may require flexibility in their work arrangements. Offer options such as working from home, flexible hours, or job-sharing to allow employees to balance their work and health needs effectively. 

4. Ensure accessibility: 

Ensure that their workplace is physically accessible to all employees, including those with mobility challenges. Provide accessible workstations, ramps, elevators, and other accommodations to create an inclusive environment.  

5. Offer confidentiality: 

Assure employees that any disclosed information about their hidden disabilities will be treated confidentially. This will encourage openness and trust, allowing employees to comfortably discuss their needs with their employers. Consider having a hidden disability champion in the workplace that employees can go to if they need to speak with.  

6. Provide reasonable adjustments: 

Work with employees to identify and implement reasonable adjustments tailored to their specific needs. These might be flexible working arrangements such as those above, but may also include: assistive technologies; modified workspaces; office amendments including space to change, or lie down; colour filters for screens. 

Remember that every employee is different, and what works in one case may not be successful in another. Also remember that the needs of those with hidden disabilities may change over time, so reasonable adjustments should be kept under review and amended as needed. 

By fostering an inclusive work environment and offering support to employees with non-apparent disabilities, employers can enhance productivity, morale, and overall job satisfaction. Embracing hidden disabilities demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusivity, ultimately benefiting both employees and the organisation as a whole.  

If you would like to revisit your diversity and reasonable adjustments policies, or would like some training for your managers on this topic, please contact our employment team who would be happy to help.  

About this article

Disclaimer
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

Lucy Densham Brown

Solicitor

View profile

+44 118 960 4655

About this article

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