The fragile worker: stigma, illness and disability in the contemporary [western] workplace

Research output: Other contribution


Why do some disabled people opt not to disclose their diagnoses or symptoms to their employers and choose not to access workplace support? What lies beneath these choices and what are the workplace implications?

Unruly bodies challenge social order. Perhaps they don’t look, feel or behave like other people’s bodies or we think in unusual ways that are apparent to others. When we think that our bodies, or the bodies of others, do something they should not we are conditioned to feel disgust, shame and humiliation: feelings that are founded on historical prejudices and stereotypes aimed at disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. In the workplace such prejudices can lead employers to assume that disabled people are not capable of high-quality work, that they will frequently be absent, or worse, employers may not believe or accept employee’s health or impairment status. These experiences are increasingly compounded in a workforce defined by precarity and recovering from the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns.

In this talk I will reflect on the fragility of the disabled worker in this context, a fragility that does not relate to their impairment effects or symptoms, but instead, the insecurity of their engagement and progression at work. Developing a contemporary framing of economic fragility and its relationship to societal stigma, I will draw on research focusing on the experiences of workers with long-term conditions and disability (including pain, fatigue, and fluctuation) challenging dated theorising, and examining workplace relations and negotiations of legitimacy, deservingness, and performance.
Original languageEnglish
TypeInvited speaker - UCL research domains annual debate
Media of outputvideo
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2023


  • disabled people
  • stigma
  • long-term health conditions
  • workplace relations


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