Employees with Sickle Cell Disease- Information for Employers

Sickle Cell Disease /Disorder

Sickle cell disease is a collective term given to a group of related, inherited blood conditions that can cause severe pain, anaemia and long term organ damage. It is more prevalent in people who originate from Africa, The Caribbean, Middle East, India and The Mediterranean though it can be found in other ethnic groups too. Approximately 15,000 people in the UK have the condition.

For employees who have the genetic, life-long blood condition of sickle cell disorder (SCD) there are certain issues employers or any policy should take account of and / or cater for. However, individuals with SCD are not a homogeneous group and the severity of the disorder could vary tremendously between individual to individual and indeed within the same individual. Sickle Cell Anaemia is usually the most severe form of the disorder and there are also ‘milder’ forms of the disorder such as SC Disease. For someone with SCD an important problem is the question of absence from work, as they might sometimes be hospitalized. However, an individual with SCD must understand their limitations before taking on particular types of employment. If the job is suitable, absence from work is often no more frequent than any other member of the work force. Heavy manual work, jobs that cannot be interrupted to take fluids, jobs that involve extreme changes of temperature or jobs involving lowered oxygen concentration are unsuitable for people with SCD. The equality policy should consider:

-Flexible working hours (allowing home working if necessary)
-Part-time hours or job-share
-Well heated working environment
-Provision of Water Filter and or other fluids
-Employee should be allowed to sit down (leg ulcers is a common symptom)
-Allowed time off for hospital appointments etc (some people might be on
dialysis 3 times a week)
-Provision of a lift so employee does not have to climb stairs
-Some allowance should be made for the occasional ‘lateness’ if the employee has leg ulcers as this will interfere with walking pace. Anaemia also means they are short of oxygen and can get more breathless.

SCD is a condition that can be exacerbated by stress, temperature changes, dehydration, exertion and infection so any policy should seek to reduce this and create a suitable working environment. Some employees are hesitant to inform their employer about their illness for fear of being penalized or refused the job in the first place. We advise clients to always inform their HR about their medical condition and plan collaboratively with their employer to see how they can best be supported. The Regional Care Advisors at the Sickle Cell Society are usually available to talk to employers about the condition and the kind of support they can give to their employees.
By Iyamide Thomas (Ms)

Sickle Cell Society

Updated March 2015