Having asthma at work

Your asthma symptoms might make it harder to work, and you may need more time off.

This section covers all aspects of working and asthma, from applying for jobs and managing your asthma at work to taking time off.

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.

There are 4.3 million adults with asthma in the UK. In most cases, their asthma isn't caused by work, but there can be things at work that make their asthma symptoms worse, and which can trigger an asthma attack. In fact, 43 percent of people with asthma say that their condition can get in the way of them doing their job.

If you already have asthma and you're thinking about starting work or moving jobs, these are some of the things you might want to consider.

Getting a job

When you're considering what type of job to go for, it's important to think about what you're able to do as well as what you're interested in. There are jobs where you might come across triggers that could cause your asthma symptoms to get worse. For example, if flour dust is one of your triggers, you may want to avoid working in a bakery.

Your employer should make reasonable adjustments to protect you from triggers. However, this may not always be possible and, if these triggers are really affecting you, it might be worth considering 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.

Are there any jobs you can't do?

If you have asthma, there are some jobs you may not be able to do, such as working in the armed forces or for the Fire Brigade. This is because even though you might not have had asthma symptoms for a while, asthma can come back at any time. This could put both you and your colleagues in danger for example, if you had an asthma attack because of breathing in smoke during a rescue operation.

If you've been free from asthma symptoms for more than four years and this is recorded in your medical notes, you can apply to the Army or the Royal Navy, but selection will ultimately depend on an individual assessment by a service medical specialist. The RAF won't consider anyone with a history of asthma for aircrew service but those with a past history of asthma, wheezing or inhaler use may be eligible for service as ground crew following a review of their medical history. More information can be obtained from the following websites:

Police forces and the Fire Brigade assess each applicant individually. Assessment includes a medical examination.

Telling your employer

The Equality Act 2010 says that no one should be treated unfairly just because they have a disability. This means an employer can't refuse to employ you just because you have asthma.

It's up to you whether you tell your employer that you have asthma. Employers will ask you about your health or disability on your application form, so they can make reasonable adjustments for you at the interview stage. You can get advice on reasonable adjustments from the Disability Employment Advisor (DEA) at your local JobCentre Plus office or, if you're in Northern Ireland, the Disability Employment Service.

However, you don't have to tell them about your condition at the interview stage. Once you have passed the interview, and they have offered you the job, the employer may ask you to complete a medical questionnaire with appropriate health-related questions. It's unlikely that you won't get the job just because you have asthma, unless your asthma would make it impossible for you to do the job.

Managing your asthma at work

There are steps that you can take to help you to manage your asthma at work and make sure you're getting the support you need.

  • If you decide to tell your employer about your asthma, they can make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job. This may include finding out what your workplace triggers are and trying to make sure you can avoid them, if possible. Your employer can only make reasonable adjustments if you tell them about your condition.
  • Tell your colleagues about your asthma, and what they need to do if you have 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.
  • Carry your written asthma action plan with you.
  • Your employer should have someone 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.

Asthma as a disability

The Equality Act 2010 (not applicable to Northern Ireland) protects people from being discriminated against because of age, gender, race, religion, or disability.

The definition of disability, which is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, is:

"a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term (i.e. has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months) adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."

The conditions covered by this definition include everything from severe asthma to depression, Down's syndrome to hearing impairment, and multiple sclerosis to epilepsy. If you have a medical condition such as asthma you may not consider yourself to be disabled, but you may need support or special arrangements in your workplace.

More information on the Equality Act 2010 can be found at:

Reasonable adjustments to help you stay in work

To help people with disabilities to work, the Equality Act states that employers must make reasonable adjustments. These can take many different forms and may include:

  • providing equipment
  • allowing time off (for assessment or treatment)
  • making alterations to premises
  • modifying duties
  • adjustments to working environments, for example, controlling dust levels, no perfume policy
  • changing practices, policies and procedures
  • a phased return to work after illness, perhaps working flexible hours or part-time
  • transferring you to a more suitable role

Time off work and sick pay

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.

For more information on benefits, visit direct.gov.uk

If you have to take time off work because of your asthma...

Try to keep in touch with your employer during the time you are away from work. This should help you feel less isolated and lessen any worries you may have about taking time off and/or returning to work.

  • keep in regular contact
  • 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.

Ask your employer to record disability-related sick leave separately from other sick absences. This means your employer won't have to pay sick pay beyond what they normally pay because your time off is disability related. Allowing more days off for disability-related reasons may be counted as a reasonable adjustment. Disability-related leave should not be taken into account when performance, promotion, attendance, or selection for redundancy is being assessed.

Returning to work

Your employer should help you plan your return to work after sickness, creating an agreed programme for your return. This should include a medical report to give advice on the likelihood of returning to work and measures to assist you in doing so. Returning on a part-time basis could be a reasonable adjustment, but only if your doctor recommends it.

Discrimination at work

You may be worried that your employer can dismiss 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 obtain help from your union representative, or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

For more information and support on employment issues here are some useful contacts:

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): The CAB can offer advice and support on employment and benefits issues, including access to legal advice. Go to their website or your local phone book to find out where your local centre is.

Directgov: This website has lots of information about disability rights and employment.

Equality Advisory and Support Service: EASS runs a helpline and can deal with enquiries via live chat or email.

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland: The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland promotes equality and challenges discrimination in Northern Ireland. Tel: 028 9050 0600

Office of Disability Issues: Office for Disability Issues leads the Government's vision of achieving equality for disabled people

Disability Rights UK: Disability Rights UK provides information and advice on disability issues

Last updated July 2016