Most people with asthma can work with no issues - but 43 per cent say their condition can get in the way of them doing their job. Taking some simple steps can help you get more from your working life without having to worry about your asthma symptoms.
If you're looking for information about occupational asthma, its causes, how to prevent it, what employers need to do, how it is diagnosed and where you can go for more help have a look at our occupational asthma page.
Is asthma a disability?
Usually, only severe asthma is classed as a disability. Our page on working with severe asthma has lots more info on this and other issues that can come up for people with severe asthma in the workplace.
Although most people with asthma can do most jobs without any issues, there are some jobs you may not be able to do, such as working in the armed forces or for the Fire Brigade. You can get more information from the following websites:
Plus, there are some jobs where you might come across triggers that could cause your asthma symptoms to get worse. It may sound obvious, but if flour dust is one of your triggers, you may want to avoid working in a bakery. Of if pollen is one of your triggers, you may want to avoid working in a garden centre. That’s why it’s crucial to work out what your own individual list of triggers is. You can find tips to work out your asthma triggers and ideas to manage them here.
These simple steps can help make your working life easier.
- Talk to your employer
You’re not obliged to tell them you have asthma but your employer will only know what you need if you’re open about your condition. For example, if you need time off for appointments or because you’re unwell with your asthma, you might find they’re more understanding if they know you have a long-term condition.
- Get rid of workplace triggers
If you tell your line manager or someone in Human Resources (HR) you have asthma, they can make what are known as ‘reasonable adjustments’ to protect you from triggers. This means making any changes possible to help you get on with your work. For example, if you work in a dusty area that triggers your asthma symptoms, they might move you to a different part of the office. Or if you know that certain air-fresheners can set off your symptoms, they can ban them in your workplace.
Some workplace triggers, though, are not possible to get rid of – for example, fumes or smoke in a factory, dust in a warehouse or air conditioning in an office. If these or any other triggers are really affecting you, it might be worth considering looking for another job.
In the short term, you can talk to your GP or asthma nurse about changes you can make to your medicines to help you carry on working until you find another job.
- Tell your colleagues about your asthma
If you feel comfortable, talk to your colleagues about asthma and explain what they need to do if you have an asthma attack. You might find it helpful to get them to read our Understanding asthma section and our page about Supporting a friend or colleague with asthma so they can understand what it’s like to have asthma a bit better.
- Be prepared for an asthma attack
Make sure you always have your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at work, and that it's easy to get hold of when you need it.
Give a photocopy or text a photo of your asthma action plan to a couple of colleagues so they know what to do in an emergency.
- Get to know the first aiders
Your employer should have at least one person with a first aid qualification on site. Make sure you know who they are, and that they know what to do if you have an asthma attack.
If you have to take time off work because of your asthma, you can ‘self-certify’ that you’re unwell for up to one working week. This means all you need to do is tell your line-manager or Human Resources (HR) manager that you can’t come in.
If you are off work for longer than seven days then you will need to contact your GP to get a certificate.
When you’re off, it will help you feel less isolated and ease any worries you may have about taking time off and/or returning to work if you:
- keep in regular contact with your boss and/or colleagues
- ask to be kept up to date with what's happening at work
- ask for reassurance that details about your illness or disability remain confidential, if that's what you want.
When it’s time to return to work, your employer and GP can help you plan the best way to do it:
- Your GP can issue a ‘fit to work note’ which can suggest the employer allows an adjustment in hours or your role for a fixed length of time to allow you to get back to do some work.
- You and your employer you can decide what’s practical and do-able and create an agreed programme for your return. For example, returning on a part-time basis could be a reasonable adjustment. And working from home is another option that may be worth discussing – even if it’s on a temporary basis until you’re fully recovered.
The law automatically gives you the right to take time off work for sickness and hospital appointments - but this may not always be paid time off. Most workplaces have a policy covering this so find out what it says and check your contract so that you know what your rights are. When you're ill, make sure you get medical attention and keep your employer informed about what's happening. You may need to show evidence of appointments and provide a sickness certificate.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
If you're unable to work because of an illness or disability, you may be able to get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
SSP is paid by your employer and can be paid for up to 28 weeks. To get SSP you must tell your employer you are sick and provide medical evidence in the form of a sick note.
If you're still unable to work after 28 weeks, or you can't get SSP, you can apply for Employment and Support Allowance.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Employment and Support Allowance offers you personalised support and financial help so you can do appropriate work if you're able to.
Employment and Support Allowance requires a medical assessment called the Work Capability Assessment. This assesses what you can do, rather than what you can't, and identifies the health-related support you might need.
You can find more information about benefits and financial support when you have asthma here.
You may be worried that your employer can dimiss you because of your asthma. A termination of employment by an employer for whatever reason, in law, is a dismissal. Employers need to have considered what reasonable adjustments could be made to help your asthma and have taken steps to avoid needing to make a dismissal. If no further reasonable adjustments can be made which would allow you to perform well or to continue in your role, your employer has to consider moving you to a more suitable job as an alternative to dismissal.
If you think you've been discriminated against at work, or that you might have been turned down for a job or dismissed because of your asthma, you will need to seek legal advice. If you are in a union, you can get help from your union representative, or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
Last updated November 2016
Next review due November 2019