Supporting employees with inflammatory bowel disease

Information and guidance for employers on supporting employees who have inflammatory bowel disease including legal obligations

​These pages give more information on the specific condition. They should be read in conjunction with our Supporting employees with long-term health conditions pages to help you understand how a workplace can assist in helping an employee return to and remain at work.

The term Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is used mainly to describe two conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These are long-term conditions that involve inflammation of the gut.

Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (the large intestine) whereas Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.

People of any age can get IBD, but it is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40.

Symptoms of IBD include:

  • pain, cramps or swelling in the tummy
  • recurring or bloody diarrhoea
  • weight loss
  • extreme tiredness

Symptoms of IBD can come and go and not everyone will have all of the symptoms above, some may have additional symptoms, including fever, vomiting and anaemia. There may be times when the symptoms are severe (flare-ups), followed by long periods when there are few or no symptoms at all (remission).

It is also important to note that the common condition of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not the same as IBD.

How to support employees in the workplace

You may find employees with a diagnosis of IBD may have increased levels of sickness absence or they may need to attend the GP or their specialist more frequently than those without the health condition.

Authorised absence, out with the normal organisation sickness absence triggers, should be considered an appropriate adjustment under the Equality Act 2010. This would be identified within your Supporting Staff Attendance policy.

If you feel your policy doesn’t include this, you can get support from our Supporting staff attendance pages.

Other areas that you can consider when supporting an employee with IBD may include:

  • ensuring that they have access to a toilet at all times, and are able to go when needed
  • ensuring they have storage facilities for their own food if necessary to comply with dietary requirements
  • fluctuating health and stamina levels which may affect them more if they do shift work or full-time hours
  • consider the nature of the work they do
    • is it physically demanding for them?
    • can they be redeployed or their duties amended to allow them to continue to work?
  • review the risk assessments for the job they do. Consider if your employee became unwell during his working day and how it would affect them and their colleagues
  • do you have contingency plans in place if your employee becomes unwell and is unable to remain at work?
  • review your first aid arrangements

Key sources of support

Key sources of support for both the employer and employee include:

Healthy Working Lives can help you to develop supportive and inclusive workplace policies and offer support both online and on the telephone. You can contact the free and confidential advice line on 0800 019 2211 for more advice.


Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), there may be further support required for your employee who has a health condition due to inflammatory bowel disease.

They may be in the category identified by the Scottish Government at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. To protect themselves, they have been issued with a letter informing them of shielding (external site) and what this means for them.

Within this shielding letter, there is lots of information on support for them. They can also use this to provide evidence to you as their employer that they cannot work outside their own home.

If they have not received a letter requesting them to follow shielding protocol, you may find that they still fall into a category of higher risk. This can be identified by the fact they get offered the flu vaccine by their GP. They do not need to accept this offer, but they need to have been classified by their GP as needing it because of their health condition.