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Last week was Dementia Awareness Week and it is worth reflecting on what it means for employers.

The issue

Ten years ago employers hardly need worry about deterioration in old age. Employees could be retired (whether they liked it or not) at 65 and for the most part deteriorating mental abilities were of little concern to employers. Not any more …

Retirement has gone and to add to the conundrum the Equality Act requires “reasonable adjustments” for disabilities in employees. It might be argued that, currently, such adjustments are only required where there is a substantial adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities. Whether or not an employer would be able to dismiss for poor performance (safely) before normal day-to-day activities are affected is open to some debate.

Regardless of disability, the Equality Act protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of age and this can include bullying and harassment. Employers need to be careful that those who may be developing dementia (even if not a disability at that stage) are not subject to abuse, however mild, on account of it. The Alzheimer’s Society highlights the fact that employees have reported negative reactions when they share their diagnosis of dementia.

With the increase in numbers of people surviving into their eighties, nineties and beyond the likelihood of employees needing to care for elderly relatives is bound to increase too. Where carers are employees those employees are protected too under the Equality Act too. They also have an additional right, that is to request flexible working. As employers we need to be aware of that likelihood arising.

What employers might do

  1. Review performance regularly

Making decisions as to whether someone’s performance needs attention is crucial if employees are to be treated fairly. That means performance reviews for all employees every year. Dismissing an older employee for performance where there is no baseline, and other younger employees could also be performing poorly, could leave you seriously exposed. If older employees (for whatever reason) have performance levels that the business cannot sustain then sound, objective measures of performance are invaluable. Employer Solutions is experienced to consult on suitable measures.

  1. Consider reasonable adjustments

What is “reasonable” is always open to debate (or at least to reasoning). Employers need to consider the cost to the business of the adjustment compared to other costs such as recruiting a replacement, training them and the risk of poor “cultural fit” in a new employee. Testing your view of reasonableness with an experienced third party view would be a good start.

  1. Be sympathetic to flexible working as it can pay off.

Supporting carers so they can continue working, or have less need to reduce hours, can reduce the potential cost to businesses substantially, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

  1. Work to reduce stigma.

Bullying or harassment is more likely to be brought to your attention by a workers’ colleagues, who see it going on. The worker is less likely to raise it themselves for obvious reasons. Making it clear that such matters will be taken seriously would be a step forward. Sign up to become a Dementia Friend, or encourage employees to sign up.