Cancer Discrimination - One in Five Patients Face Discrimination at Work | QCS

Cancer Discrimination – One in Five Patients Face Discrimination at Work

November 21, 2016

Cancer Discrimination

New research by Macmillan Cancer Support and Yougov finds that one in five cancer patients face discrimination at work. That’s around 18%. The research was released earlier this month and found that cancer discrimination was coming from both employers and colleagues.

This included employers not making reasonable adjustments to enable them to fulfil their role, being unable to take time off for medical appointments, being threatened with or given a warning for their sickness absence, feeling pressured into reducing their working hours or being demoted without agreement.

Lack of Understanding

A further 35% described other negative experiences such as feeling guilty for taking time off, loosing confidence in their abilities, a deterioration in career prospects, a decline in working relationships and a lack of understanding of their needs by their employer or their colleagues.Remaining in Work is Important

The overwhelming majority of people surveyed (85%) confirmed that remaining in work following their diagnosis was important to them in order to maintain a sense of normality (60%), because they enjoyed their job (45%) or because they need the money (54%). However, 1 in 7 said they felt they had returned to work before they were ready.

Given that the research found that 83% of cancer sufferers who were in employment at the time of diagnosis returned to employment of some form following treatment, and that even more confirmed that remaining in work was important to them, it is crucial for employers to be familiar with the law which surrounds this area.

Deemed a Disability

Cancer is a deemed disability under The Equality Act 2010. This is a very wide ranging piece of legislation which prohibits direct and indirect disability discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, disability harassment and victimisation in the workplace. It covers the recruitment process right through to post-termination processes such as giving references and is applicable to many types of worker from agency workers to directors.

Employers are also obliged to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants whose disabilities place them at a substantial disadvantage. What is reasonable will depend on the precise circumstances of each case and could include altering the employee’s hours of work or place of work, permitting them to work more flexibly or take more breaks, allowing the employee time off to attend treatment or rehabilitation sessions, reducing performance targets and providing additional support where confidence has been affected.


Another consideration for employers is that where one employee discriminates against or harasses another in the workplace. An employer will be liable unless it can demonstrate that it has taken reasonable steps to prevent such conduct occurring. These policies should be reviewed as appropriate. All employees should be aware of the policies and their implications. Managers and supervisors should be trained in equal opportunity and harassment issues. Finally, complaints must be dealt with effectively, including taking appropriate disciplinary action.

Where things go wrong and a job applicant or employee is successful with a disability discrimination claim, an employment tribunal will generally make an award of compensation (including a sum for injury to feelings), with such awards being uncapped.

In addition to the financial penalty there is clear potential for reputational damage and a detrimental impact upon staff morale. Employers should therefore tread carefully where an employee is diagnosed with cancer and seek legal advice as to how to handle the situation compassionately and within the confines of the law, while at the same time ensuring operational efficiency and ultimately that the commercial objectives of the business are met.

Katy Parkinson
Katy Parkinson

Napthens LLP – Employment Law Specialist


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