ms in occupational health

MS and work with occupational health

Rebecca Armstrong looks at what it means if you’ve been asked to go to occupational health

Over the past few months I have noticed an increase in the amount of times I have been asked about occupational health (OH) and what it’s all about. It’s fair to say that when your employer requests that you attend a medical-based appointment, the results of which they will see, it can be anxiety-inducing and for many raises a fear that this might be the start of the process to being ‘managed out’.

The feeling that you are no longer wanted or that there is a perception that you are no longer valued in your role feels like a punch to the stomach for most people and it can bring up lots of fear and anxiety. The term ‘managing out’ also feels like you are no longer in control and this, too, can be destabilising for many.

What it means

The first thing to say is that the invitation to OH, in the majority of cases, is not a bad thing. The core purpose of it is to build understanding of your condition and needs with a view that, through adjustments, these can be met. OH are there to support you and can advocate to get you the support you need. It’s worth remembering that unless you have MS it is very hard to imagine what it is like. OH can help bridge that gap and to help the employer understand the condition and what you need. In my experience this is particularly useful when we consider the variable nature of MS for some which can be challenging to understand and make sense of.

Adjustments to work

It is however true that an OH report can also be the start of exploring your capability to continue in your role. In this context an employer might be considering whether adjustments can be made to support you to be at work and to achieve a reasonable level of performance. On the back of OH, there can be conversations about adjustments, redeployment and even capability moving forward, which can lead to medical retirement. I am not going to sugar coat it – it can be a hard place to be particularly when you believe you can continue.

The number one piece of advice I can give anyone in this situation is to be active in the discussion. Whilst you might feel like you want to hide and hope it goes away, if there is an elephant in the room, name it, try to engage in discussion to help your employer see your perspective and to try and find a way forward. Taking back control shifts it from being ‘managed out’ to your voice being a key part of the conversation.

Ask for what you need

Reflect on what you think you need to enable you to continue to be at work and write it down, so you are clear first and foremost. Use that to articulate this to your employer using the various channels available to you, which are informal one-to-one meetings, the grievance process, and flexible working requests. Putting it in writing can help to dissipate some of the anxiety. Make sure you have support around you from friends and family as well as some outside support. The MS-UK helpline can provide you with support and information – call 0800 783 0518. You can also find support at my MS & Work Facebook group – just search Facebook for ‘MS & Work’.