Asking about MS

Hi guys n gals

I’m not an MS sufferer but a manager with a concern for one of my staff.

Recently, a colleague informed me that a member of staff had mentioned that they had a form of MS, my colleage mentioned this to me and told me that they had informed the staff member that they should speak to me. That has not happened.

My dilema is that I cannot make any adjustments if I don’t know what is needed and I don’t want to appear patronising. Should I bring this up with my staff member or wait for them to request help?

Any thoughts or relevant advice accepted as it’s a minefield of legislation!



Hi Prop,

A member of staff who has MS is under no obligation to inform their employer of the fact, so unless the colleague they DID tell was an “official channel”, so to speak (e.g. HR), then technically, you have heard what you should not, and I’m not sure the person who told you was within their rights to do so, though doubtless they had the best of intentions.

Without knowing more about the context, it’s difficult to say. But an employee who hasn’t chosen to approach you, despite being advised to (whether officially, or unofficially, I don’t know) presumably doesn’t want/need any adjustments at the moment?

It’s not automatic that having MS always means adjustments are needed. People can sometimes be OK for months or even years, so if they are managing fine, they may choose not to do or say anything that draws attention to their diagnosis - ironically, for fear of discrimination. So, whilst you and the colleague who told you may think it would help and protect the employee, they may fear such “help and protection” would itself be discriminatory - e.g. that you might “shelter” them from promotion, for fear it could prove too much - whether or not they’d expressed any such reservations themselves.

I do think you’ve been placed in an unfortunate position. If it’s HR that has told you, I do think that counts as “official”, and you should seek their advice about how to play it.

But if it was a mutual colleague, then, unless the employee comes to you themselves, it’s really no more than office tittle-tattle. Has the intermediary breached a confidence by telling you? If it was something said privately to a friend, then presumably, the employee would not have expected it to be repeated straight to you?

I agree you now have to tread carefully, because you cannot unknow what you know, regardless whether you were supposed to hear it or not. So you have to be mindful of your legal obligations. But equally, you cannot foist adjustments on someone who has not requested any, and may not even have wished to disclose their illness.

Of course, now, you are always going to be looking for signs they’re ill or struggling, which might have been exactly what they were hoping to avoid! I really think you’re going to have to leave the ball in their court on this one. I don’t really see how you can go to them, and say: “I’ve heard you might have MS, is this true?” Their health status is private, unless they choose to share it, so even asking the question could be viewed as intrusive and irrelevant.

Being pragmatic about it, how likely is it the employee would bring a claim over failure to make adjustments for a condition they’d never told you about? Unless they told the third party with the full intention it should “get back”, or it became a sort of open secret that everybody knew, why would they be expecting you to do anything about it? It doesn’t seem very logical that somebody would choose NOT to approach you about any needs, but then complain they weren’t met! The law doesn’t require employers to be psychic.


Well said Tina, I agree with you.

Unless the person comes forward then you can’t say or do anything.

If I was strugging I would ask for help, I’m sure your employee would too…


PS If the employee tells you then there are some good leaflets about employment on this site. MS support, publications.


Totally agree with the comments above, wait until the person concerned mentions it to you, if they do. One other thing to mention is that language around MS and other conditions has changed and the word ‘sufferer’ isn’t a description that tends to be used these days. Some people, myself included and perhaps your colleague, don’t regard themselves as suffering. Ok it might happen one day, but not yet :slight_smile:

I don’t mean to offend, just trying to bring you up to date. Glad to hear you are trying to do the best for your employee.


Perhaps he/she does not want “support & concern”, and that is the whole reason they’ve chosen not to disclose?

Being confronted about it by my boss, when I’d purposely chosen not to involve them, wouldn’t give me confidence - quite the reverse. I’d find it outrageous that he/she was questioning me about a private matter, based on office hearsay.

It would also destroy whatever relationship I might have had with whoever “snitched” - I’d never trust them with anything ever again, but by then it would be too late.

And I am someone who disclosed even before I was formally diagnosed. However, I absolutely respect someone’s right not to, and don’t see how a considerate boss can confront them with it, against their will. It may well be discrimination in itself to single them out for a discussion about their health, if they’ve not initiated it, and there are no evident performance issues.

What if it wasn’t MS, but AIDS? Would it be OK to go to the employee, and say: “I’ve heard you’ve got AIDS. I just want you to know my door is always open…”?

My first thought would be: “Who told you?”, and then: “What the heck business is it of yours?” (but slightly different words than this).


I totally agree with Tina. There was another thread recently about how hurtful it was to find that someone you thought was your friend and who knew about your MS in confidence was betraying that confidence and discussing it with others who you didn’t wish to know about it. It is up to the individual to decide who knows and when and certainly not for the employer to reveal that it has been discussed behind their back. If that had have happened to me, I would have completely lost trust in all my colleagues and would have been even less likely to ask for adjustments if any had been needed.

On the other hand, shortly after my first attack, when MS was first suspected (and nobody at work was aware), I was present at a meeting where the Equality Act was discussed in general and how we could ensure all students and employees would be protected under it. This gave me the confidence to inform my employers a few months laters when I received an official diagnosis.

Tracey x

Hi, whilst I do think it is very good of you to show to tell us of your concerns, the person with MS may not agree.

It is a really difficult spot you find yourself in. If you approach the person and offer help, it could go 2 ways…as you suspect.

it would probably be better to wait until they approach you.


I would be upset if my boss told me they knew about my MS before I bought it up. I will tell people when I am ready, and if it isn’t affecting me, then I would be double cross. I would feel like I was being talked about behind my back. I would say nothing and wait for this person to come to you. You sound like a nice boss, and I am sure, if the time comes, they will tell you. Until then, forget it and say nothing! :))

I agree with Amanda. I have confided in friends/colleagues at work but would be horrified if they had told my manager. I like to eep my MS to myself until or unless it impacts on my performance and only then will I reveal it. I don’t want to be identified by my MS so keep it quiet unless I actually need to reveal it. I wish all bosses were like propw4sh; unfortunatley they’re not and have a tendency to judge our disablility based on whatthey’ve seen on Holby! I’m in a new job and won’t say anything to my new manager until I feel my performance is being compromised by my condition.

But Pat, the person with MS has not officially come forward. Surely you would be over stepping the mark by discussing it. I am sorry, but if you were my manager and I found out, my trust in you would be lost. It is a private matter that has not been disclosed in person to you. Surely that should be the end of the matter until the person wants to disclose it.

I fully agree with Pat on this one, if you approach it in a sympathtic manner your employee will feel less threatend knowing that you had approacghed them. I presume you are in the private sector, I worked in local government and reciweved advice from occupational health…unsure if that wouild bde open to both you ass an employer and your staff member as employee.

Oops for Pat read Spud…sorry Spud to late at night.

Perhaps the person concerned would not like to be considered a “vulnerable adult” and many thousands of people with MS would not describe themselves as disabled.

Lol… it seems we are split on this subject Propw4sh :slight_smile: I am sure, as you seem to have your employees welfare in mind, whatever decision you make will be the right one xx

A difficult one, there is a difference between a friend and a manager being told these things in breach of confidence.

The manager has no choice but to seek the advice of HR. They know this information, how they found out is irrelevant, and are bound to respond to it in the official way.

You sound like a caring and supportive manager and I am sure you will deal with the situation as sensitvely as possible.

By all means discuss it with HR and seek their advice but I would say do not approach the member of staff, at least, not until HR have given you their advice.

What if the member of staff who told you this information has misunderstood or it is simply not true? Stranger things have happened where I used to work …!!

Tracey x


Completely agree. The information didn’t come from the employee, or their doctor (with their permission), and therefore is inherently unreliable. You can’t approach someone, OR flag their HR file, with information that isn’t verified, and might be based on a complete misunderstanding.

Even discussing it with HR would have to be in the broadest and most general of terms, without naming the individual.

I’m in no way equating MS with having done a crime, but what if a parallel situation arose: an employee goes to the manager, and reports they’ve heard X has criminal convictions they haven’t disclosed, or even that X admitted it? Can the manager accept this as fact, and proceed to question X about it, or escalate to HR? I would argue no. If it turns out to be a load of tosh, or even if there was a grain of truth, but it wasn’t something X was legally or contractually required to declare, X has a grievance. Their rights have been trampled right over.


Thanks for all the responses everybody.

Wish I hadn’t asked really - and that’s not me being ungrateful; simply the divided opinion makes a decision even more difficult!!

My employee has no visible signs of struggling in the workplace, they do find it hard to learn new tasks but so do I and so I am sympathetic to that aspect and give additional training without thinking. They have not asked for any accommodations to be made. I am tempted, nae decided, not to ask. I just hope it doesn’t bite me in the arse.

Thanks again


Hi Prop

Sorry, - as you can see it is a very emotive subject and has even divided those of us who live with the condition. However, I do think this is the right decision. All you can do is continue to be the considerate manager that you appear to be. I am sure that your employee will open up to you if he/she feels the time is right and if he/she feels they need any adjustments or protection under the Equality Act.

Tracey x

One thing that is very important and I have not seen it mentioned is that under Equality act MS and 2 other conditions are listed as protected characteristics and that is a mind field you dont want to get stuck in.

However on flipside it does not stop the worry as a manager. There are ways you can make sure you are covering yourself without mentioning MS. As an employer you have a duty of care and you can use that to arrange a desk assesment to make sure the work space is suitable. but suggest you have a few people done so not to arouse any suspicion.

Most people I know in a working enviroment with MS do a personal risk assesment and often will eventually say if something is a problem when it becomes hard. It may be this person has no problems.