Cancer can be devastating for all those affected by it.

The majority of us will know someone who has been affected by cancer. It may be a close family member, a friend, a neighbour, someone at the gym or a colleague.

For any person who has received a cancer diagnosis, they will not only be worrying about their health but also their jobs. When your employees have cancer, the workplace will have to change. Employers may feel ill-equipped to manage this challenge, so we set out the law and give you some top tips to help you understand what to do when your employee has cancer.

The Equality Act

When an employee is diagnosed with cancer, they will be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and as such, they have additional legal protection. A disabled worker is entitled not to be treated less favourably because of a disability or receive unfavourable treatment because of something arising out of their disability.

Employers must also make reasonable adjustments to the worker’s working practices, policies and procedures if they can. Suitable reasonable adjustments for those with cancer may include giving them time off to attend medical appointments, allowing them to work at home or modifying certain tasks that they are struggling with. Remember that people may need different types of support throughout their cancer journey.

The law also protects those employees who are treated less favourably because of their association with a third party, such as a spouse, partner, sibling or child, who has a protected characteristic as laid down in the Equality Act. This is ‘associative discrimination’ or ‘discrimination by association’.

For example, an employee is refused a promotion when the employer finds out they have a daughter who has cancer who requires intense care and attention because they are worried that the employee will not be able to dedicate enough time to their job. This could constitute discrimination because even though the applicant is not disabled, she is associated with someone who is.

If an employee requires time off to care for someone with cancer, they may be able to take time off for dependants. It is important to note that the right to this time off is to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters, not to attend events that the employee knew about, for example, a hospital appointment that has been booked many months in advance.

How can employers support employees with cancer? 

Evidently, you will need to think about reasonable adjustments, but there are some key points to consider:

  • Agree on what you will tell their colleagues – Sensitively ask them what information they wish to share and what they wish to remain private and confidential.
  • Make sure there are clear communication channels – Keep in contact while they are away from the workplace and when they return to work. Encourage them to speak to you if they are struggling and discuss different options of support that is available.
  • Look at your employee benefits – you may be offering healthcare or counselling services, so make sure they are aware of your policies as these could be a great help to them at this time.
  • Think about their return to work – If they have been away for an extended period, returning to work may be daunting. They may not maintain much contact with their colleagues, there may have been changes in the workplace or they may have lost confidence. You could consider offering them a phased return to work to get them back into work gradually.
  • Consider the reasons for absences – Try and ensure that the employee does not suffer detriment for cancer related absences.

To discuss this further, contact your Employment Law Adviser. Who can give you advice and guidance

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Call us on 0345 226 8393.

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