Managing Employees with Cancer

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There are currently over 2.5 million people living with cancer, 700,000 of them are of working age and each year 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer. Many may need or will want to continue working during their treatment but this can prove challenging for some employers who are unsure how to handle such a sensitive issue. Under the Equality Act 2010, all cancers are classified as a “disability” which means no employer can discriminate against a cancer sufferer because of the cancer and have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments so that their employees can continue working. In addition, this protection against discrimination continues when there is no longer any evidence of cancer, for example when the treatment has been successful. Each case will be different and needs to be dealt with depending on the individual circumstances. It is vital that employers discuss the situation with their employee and also possibly their medical specialist with their consent to identify their needs and what reasonable adjustments might help. These may include:

  • Allowing flexible working hours to accommodate medical appointments or fatigue
  • Making adjustments to any performance targets to take into account the effect of absence from work on sick leave and fatigue
  • Allowing a phased return to work
Discussions with employees about their condition can be challenging. Some employees will happily talk openly about their condition and the treatment they are receiving whilst others prefer to keep this information to themselves. A female employee may be comfortable talking about their condition with another female but would not want to speak to a male employee and cultural differences can also come into play. Compliance with legal obligations is essential else an employer could face a disability discrimination claim which could lead to an unlimited award for compensation in a tribunal. MacMillan has helpfully issued specific guidance, free of charge, to employers containing comprehensive information on their legal duties and also includes a chapter on how to discuss cancer which can be downloaded from their website. They also have a helpline offering assistance – 0808 808 0000.

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