By Sally Mbewe, Face Equality At Work Advisor at Changing Faces
Those with psoriasis will know that it can be distractingly itchy, annoyingly high maintenance, confidence-shatteringly noticeable and surprisingly unpredictable. With these factors in mind there is a fair chance that it’s impacted on your working life in some way, at some point. Now, you may never have been fired for constant scratching, or disciplined for skin flakes on your uniform but it is good to keep abreast of your rights in the workplace and how you might be able to alleviate some anxieties around managing your psoriasis alongside your career.
Changing Faces has for 23 years supported and represented people who have conditions, marks or scars that affect their appearance. In that time we have heard it all:
‘You can’t have a job here as you look contagious and mothers might be scared their babies will catch it.’
‘Please can you work in the stock room instead of on the shop floor, as the sleeves you are using to cover your condition don’t fit with our uniform policy.’
‘I know she called you a scabby mutant but swearing at her is gross misconduct, we’ll have to let you go I’m afraid’.
‘I held out my hand at the end of the interview and the interviewer just gawped at it, appalled, I knew that affected my job prospects.’
‘I ended up deciding not to take the job as it meant I would have to show my legs and there is just no way I could do that with my psoriasis.’
These examples span a number of years and a lot has changed in the meantime, not least the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 and the Equality Act in 2010, leading to the implementation of workplace policies that protect members of staff against treatment like this. It does feel (in pockets of the corporate world at least) that employers and staff are becoming more conscious where employee ‘rights’ are concerned.
In response to the wealth of anecdotal evidence, Changing Faces has developed guidance for interviewers and candidates informing them of their rights and handy tips for getting your foot in the door of the workplace and beyond.
So where does my psoriasis fit with all of this?
Is psoriasis covered in the act? Is it a disability?
The Equality Act defines a disability as something that has a substantial, long-term effect on ability to carry out day to day tasks… unless you have what is termed a ‘severe disfigurement’- which qualifies as a disability without having to prove the impact on ability. What is interesting is that ‘severe’ is not defined so there’s room for interpretation. Whilst acknowledging that many people with psoriasis wouldn’t necessarily label themselves as ‘disabled’, we would say that if you have been treated negatively at work or when seeking work because of how your condition looks, then this is arguably ‘severe’ and therefore you should receive protection under the Equality Act.
People sometimes react negatively…how can I avoid this?
Some people don’t deal with the unfamiliar or unexpected very well. Firstly it’s really important that you don’t let their reactions knock your confidence or put you off interviews, for example, altogether. Once you have been offered an interview, if you think you’d feel more at ease giving the interviewer pre-warning about your condition then you could think about a way that you’d feel comfortable doing this.
During the interview you are not obliged to mention your psoriasis, and the interviewer is, by law, only allowed to ask you questions that they ask any other candidate- relating specifically to the skills associated with doing the job. Any questions regarding health conditions (even ones about how it may impact your job) cannot be asked before they’ve made you an offer of employment. Still, if you notice that the interviewer is feeling uncomfortable with your appearance and you think it might affect the outcome of the interview, you may want to give them a brief explanation of your condition in order to defuse the tension and bring the focus back to the interview process.
What if I have specific requirements because of my psoriasis?
Employers are obliged under the Equality Act to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable candidates with a disability to attend interviews and do their jobs effectively. These aren’t always alterations to the physical environment, but can be changes in work pattern or flexibility with timings or uniform. If there are certain things you need as a matter of course, make sure your employer or prospective employer understands why you are requesting the changes and the impact the changes will have on you and your job. In addition, time off for medical reasons relating to psoriasis needs to be recorded separately from other sick leave if your condition is being treated as protected by the Equality Act 2010.
If you’ve been teased at work
If you ever feel that your psoriasis has been the focus of teasing, negative comments or, often less obviously, people avoiding you, keep a log of incidents and ask your manager or HR team for your grievance policy and how to report. Bear in mind that if we consider psoriasis a severe disfigurement, (and let’s face it- if you are being harassed because of it the harasser presumably thinks it is severe enough) and therefore a disability, consequences for both the harasser and the organisation are more severe than if it’s teasing based on a characteristic not protected by the Equality Act.
At the end of the day it’s all about your skills:
Changing Faces’ guide for jobseekers is informed by the information we received from people who have personal experience with psoriasis or other conditions that affect their appearance and almost every response we received highlighted confidence in one’s ability to do the job as being key to professional success. To find out more follow the link below.
As Mark, whose success story is featured in our campaign, says:
Your condition is as much of a barrier as you make it. You need to believe in your abilities and let them do the talking for you when it comes to applying for jobs.
Jill, also featured in our campaign, says:
If you have the confidence that you can do the job it rubs off and what you look like will stop being relevant.
Sally Mbewe is a business psychologist and Changing Faces’ Face Equality At Work Advisor. Email her
The opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the author and not necessarily that of LEO Pharma. Please note, reference to the Act applies to UK law only.
UK/IE 2013b/00074a, Date of prep: October 2015