Our team is often contacted by people struggling to adapt to life with vitiligo, and finding that this adversely affects their ability to do their job. Whilst many people thrive with vitiligo and have encouraging and supportive employers, for others it may feel like employers are reluctant to understand the impact that vitiligo might have on a person’s ability to carry out their work duties. You might be feeling that your employer could do more to make the adjustments you need.
There can be no doubt that for many people vitiligo has a considerable impact on their life and confidence to carryout everyday activities. This could include:
- An inability to work outside for long periods of time in the sun
- A requirement to undergo treatment throughout the working week
- Adjusting to the reaction of people to a visible difference
- Feelings of anxiety, self-consciousness or depression
Here is our list of 5 things you might consider working through if you believe vitiligo is affecting your ability to do your job:
1) Get a formal diagnosis and understand the treatment and support options available to you
The first thing we suggest (if you have not done so already) is get your vitiligo diagnosed by a GP. Your GP should be able to have a discussion on the treatment options that may be available for you. These options should include support with both the physical and psychological impact that vitiligo may have.
2) Keep a diary about how vitiligo is affecting you
Whilst you’re waiting for you GP appointment and diagnosis confirmation, we suggest that you begin writing about your routine and how vitiligo affects it. Note down what you do in your workplace, what you find difficult, and why. This might make it clearer how much your vitiligo is affecting your normal day-to-day activities. Your friends and family might also be able to help you think of ways you’re affected. This will help your GP understand the support you might need and also help you to communicate to others how your condition affects you.
3) Ask the vitiligo community for advice
The vitiligo community is incredibly supportive, and its unlikely you are the only person who is facing challenges. Reach out to other people and ask them to share what has and hasn’t worked for them. Can they offer examples of adjustments that their employers have made that you could approach your employer with?
4) Talk to your employer about how your vitiligo is affecting you at work
Remember everyone’s experience of the physical and psychological effects of vitiligo is unique. Your employer may have met someone with vitiligo before who had a very different experience to you. Be clear about the impact it is having, and try to work with your employer to come up with solutions to help you manage your vitiligo and thrive in your work environment. If you have an HR or union representative it might be useful to involve them in the discussion.
5) If vitiligo continues to have a major effect on your ability to perform your job
When someone is struggling with their vitiligo at work, they often contact us to ask if vitiligo is considered a disability. This is relevant because Disability is a protected characteristic in the workplace. This means you a protected under the Equality Act of 2010 from being treated less favourably because of your condition. It also means employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to carry out your job.
Skin conditions such as vitiligo are not automatically classified as a disability, but can be categorised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a major long-term effect on a person’s normal day-to-day activity. A ‘long-term effect’ means something that has affected you or is likely to affect you for at least a year; a ‘substantial effect on your day-to-day activities’ means one that’s more than minor or trivial.
If you have not been able to resolve your concerns in a more informal way with your employer, then this is a route you may wish to consider. In deciding if you think vitiligo meets the criteria of a disability you should then seek another conversation with your GP. As well as advising on any other treatment options, your GP is also best placed to help you prove if your skin condition is causing the impact required to meet the criteria to be considered a disability.
In short, it means that your employer would need to (has a legal requirement to) take into account how vitiligo is affecting your role and take reasonable measures to adapt your working environment to overcome the barriers that your condition is causing.
The Citizens Advice Bureau will also be able to give you independent advice and guidance on this process, which can be challenging.