There are over 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK, which is predicted to rise to 4 million by 2030 (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2017). With 32 million people in work in the UK (Office for National Statistics, 2017), roughly 7.8% of the workforce could be living with cancer. Employers need to be aware of their responsibilities and how best to support their workforce, whilst balancing this with the needs of the business.
Many people living with cancer will continue to work during and after their treatment for a variety of reasons including restoring normality, stability, social contact and income. You need to ensure your Managers are prepared for the challenges ahead including recognising the needs of the wider team.
Equality Act 2010
As soon as an employee is diagnosed with cancer, they are automatically protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. There is no qualifying period and the protection continues even if their cancer is in remission. Damages in disability discrimination claims are uncapped. Combine this with the abolishment of the tribunal fees, its more important than ever to get it right, first time.
The Equality Act states that reasonable adjustments have to be made for employees with cancer in order to remove any substantial disadvantages employees may face because they have cancer. It may be that one or two changes is enough to keep the employee at work – keep them fully consulted and in the loop with your ideas, they are likely to have some suggestions of their own. Reasonable adjustments could include:
- Allowing time off to go to medical appointments
- Temporarily altering their duties
- Allowing extra breaks
- Making sure the building is fully accessible
- Allowing a phased return to work
When you find out that an employee has cancer, you should encourage them to speak to their Line Manager, HR Manager and/or Occupational Health Advisor. Let the employee lead the conversation and describe what has happened from their perspective. Be prepared for the meeting to overrun and allow them to display any emotion but look to end the meeting if you feel the employee is becoming too distressed. It’s important not to be too quick to offer advice and try not to share stories about people you know who have cancer as this takes the focus away from your employee.
You should also let them know their options for time off, as well as discuss possibilities of flexible working and other reasonable adjustments. You need to also reassure them that communication will stay open should they need to speak to you.
Line Managers are instrumental in supporting employees with cancer. Its important that they are fully trained and supported to manage someone diagnosed with cancer. They are responsible for the day-to-day management as well as facilitating a phased return and provide valuable insight when considering reasonable adjustments.
Guidance for Line Managers:
- Communication is key: Its fine to ask questions and important to keep in touch whilst they are on sick leave.
- Be sensitive to your employee’s needs: Every person has different experiences so make sure you understand what your employee needs.
- Respect their right to privacy: Your employee may not want everyone knowing they have cancer.
- Be prepared to make adjustments: You may need to legally make adjustments so make sure you communicate with your employee and HR to find out how best to support the employee.
- Check guidelines and policies: Are there policies on long term sick or medical appointments?
- Find out about financial support: Check to see whether there is any sick pay.
- Respect carers’ rights at work: Carers may need time off to care for a loved one so perhaps flexible working would be a good option.
- Discuss a return to work plan: Keep in touch when your employee is off and consider a phased return.
- Recognise the impact on your team: Perhaps consider introducing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to allow employees to access confidential counselling on a range of issues.
To further support your employee, you may need to engage with an Occupational Health Specialist. Gain your employee’s express consent to ask an expert some detailed questions to better understand the person’s health and abilities. The specialist should also make recommendations into reasonable adjustments.
A supportive employer can make all the difference to an employee who faces the huge challenge of living with cancer. For further advice and guidance on how to manage an employee with cancer please contact us.