Work and severe asthma

How to get the support you need to make work life easier

Health advice > Severe asthma > Making life easier with severe asthma

Living with a long-term condition like severe asthma can entitle you to legal rights in the workplace. From protection against discrimination, to taking time off.

On this page:

Disability and severe asthma

Severe asthma can count as a disability. You should speak with your employer to make sure they understand how severe asthma affects your daily life.

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people in England, Scotland, and Wales from discrimination in the workplace and wider society. Northern Ireland is protected by different laws.

The Equality Act 2010 says you’re disabled if:

  • you have a physical or mental condition
  • you’re unable to carry out normal day-to-day activities because of this condition.

If you’re not sure if your severe asthma counts as a disability, Citizens Advice has more information to help you find out.

Having an asthma attack at work

If you’re worried about having an asthma attack at work, you should share your asthma action plan with your colleagues and find out who your first aiders are, that way they will know how to help you in case of an asthma attack. We have more information about asthma at work.

Making reasonable adjustments at work

You might not consider your severe asthma to be a disability, but it could still mean you are entitled to support or special arrangements in the workplace. These special arrangements are known as reasonable adjustments. They make sure you’re not disadvantaged at work.

Under the Equality Act 2010, reasonable adjustments include:

  • allowing time off (for assessment or treatment)
  • making changes to the workplace or the work you do – for example, if you have trouble with stairs
  • changing your duties to ones you can carry out more easily
  • adjustments to working environments – for example, if your symptoms are triggered by perfume, they could put a ‘no perfume’ policy in place
  • a phased return to work after illness, perhaps working flexible hours or part-time
  • moving you to a more suitable role.

It’s a good idea to speak to your employer as soon as possible about how your severe asthma affects you. Making reasonable adjustments will benefit both you and your employer, as you’ll be able to continue doing your job well when you have the right support in place.

If you’re a university student

Making reasonable adjustments also applies when you’re studying at university. Make sure your university tutor understands about your severe asthma and the help you may require. For example, they may be able to make alternative arrangements for work deadlines if fatigue or stress is affecting your learning. Disability Rights UK has lots more information about adjustments for disabled students.

Time off for your asthma

We know that people with asthma are dealing with difficult symptoms, sometimes on a daily basis. You may find you need more time off work for hospital appointments, emergencies, or when your symptoms get worse.

Taking time off for GP or hospital appointments

Your employer may give you time off for hospital and GP appointments, but legally they don’t have to. You may be asked to book these appointments outside of working hours or make up the time later.

Sick leave and statutory sick pay (SSP)

You are entitled to have time off for sickness if you are employed and earn over a certain amount. You are entitled to statutory sick pay after four or more days of being off sick. You cannot get less than the statutory sick pay, but your employment contract might mean you get more than the statutory amount.

SSP is paid for up to 28 weeks. If you are off sick for longer than 28 weeks, you can apply for certain welfare benefits.

Check your employment contract

Make sure to check what your contract says about taking time off and whether you’ll be paid for it. Your contract may give you more rights than the basic legal rights.

If you do not have a written contract, a verbal agreement can still count. Make sure to keep a note of any verbal agreements you make with your employer.

Disability related sick leave

Ask your employer to record disability-related sick leave separately from other sick leave. Disability related sick leave is protected under the Equality Act 2010. Allowing more days off for disability-related reasons may be counted as a reasonable adjustment too.

Don’t work if you’re not well

You know best when you need time off to recover. Explain to your employer that taking time off when you first notice symptoms getting worse will save you having to take more time off in the future. If you continue working while unwell, you could be putting yourself at risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

If you can, it’s a good idea to keep talking to your employer when you’re off sick. It will help them to know what to expect, so that they can put plans in place. It may also ease your worries. You could also ask a family member or friend to keep in touch with your employer if you’re not feeling well enough to.

Citizens Advice and GOV.UK have more information on your rights around taking time off work.

If your child has severe asthma

If your child has severe asthma, you are entitled to time off when there is an emergency, such as an asthma attack or going to A&E. If your child has a medical appointment, then this depends on your employer. We have more information about looking after a child with severe asthma.

Discrimination at work

You are protected against discrimination at work under the Equality Act 2010. An employer should not discriminate against you based on your severe asthma, for example they should not:

  • decide not to employ you
  • vote against you for promotion
  • dismiss you or make you redundant
  • take away training, benefits or pay rise opportunities.

Your employer should make reasonable adjustments first before considering switching you to another job role.

If you think you’ve been treated unfairly because of your severe asthma you can seek legal advice.

If you are in a union, your union representative can help you.

You can find more advice about workplace discrimination at Disability Rights UK and the Equality and Advisory Support Service.

In-work benefits

If you’re still working, but you’re on a low income, you may be eligible for Universal Credit. You may also be eligible for Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

You may also be eligible for support getting to work if your severe asthma means you find it physically hard to get to your place of work. Access to Work grants can help with things like taxi fares if you cannot use public transport. Find out if you’re eligible for an Access to Work grant.

We have more information about other benefits available on our severe asthma and benefits page.

You can call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) to talk to a respiratory specialist healthcare advisor for support with your workplace rights living with severe asthma. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.


Last reviewed: March 2022
Next review due: March 2025

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