Employment law

Your rights when working with cancer

A cancer patient’s rights at work can be difficult to understand amidst a recent diagnosis, but we’re here to help break it down.

11 October 2021

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Receiving a cancer diagnosis, or finding out that a loved one has cancer, can represent the beginning of one of the toughest times for many.

There may be questions that are tough to answer, and some that may come with answers that are hard to hear. Your employment rights should not be something to add to your list of worries.

It may be true that work performance may dwindle after such devastating news. You might find it difficult to concentrate on your tasks or have to take more sick days. It’s understandable too that you may begin to feel that your current role is too demanding, and you may need your employer to help you to adjust.

Is cancer a disability?

Under the Equality Act 2010, a cancer diagnosis automatically protects you from workplace detriment based on disability. The protection prevents you from receiving unfavourable treatment because of your disability. It also compels your employer to make reasonable adjustments to better support your ability to carry out your role.

Should I tell my employer I have cancer?

There’s no legal requirement to tell your employer about your diagnosis, including at a job interview. However, it may be difficult for them to support you if they’re unaware of your condition, and a claim for disability discrimination may not succeed – depending on the facts.

To trigger an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments, they must know of your disability either as a matter of fact (e.g., because you have told them), or because they’re reasonably expected to know.

You may have a loved one who’s been diagnosed with cancer. It’s understandable that you may not feel comfortable telling your employer about this, but when it comes to disabilities like cancer, an employment right you should be aware of is that you should not be treated less favourably as a result.

This type of less favourable treatment is known as discrimination by association.

Am I obligated to tell my new employer I have cancer if it’s terminal?

You’re not obligated to tell your employer about a cancer diagnosis, even if it’s terminal. However, it may be helpful for both you and the business to talk through your options.

Keep in mind that whether your cancer is terminal or not, your employer will be acting unlawfully if they dismiss you after hearing the news without following a proper procedure, and if there wasn’t a fair reason for them to have done so.

What reasonable adjustments am I entitled to?

Employers need only make adjustments if they’re “reasonable”. There are a number of factors that can influence what a tribunal may find to be reasonable, and this will be case specific.

Whether or not an adjustment is reasonable may depend on:

  • How do-able the changes are for your employer
  • How much resource will need to go into making the changes and if this is feasible for your employer
  • If the changes you suggest are already in place

This can seem daunting, but don’t worry, your employer should consider things like:

  • Making sure you’re permitted a reasonable amount of time off to attend medical appointments – this may be paid or unpaid depending on your employment contract. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and/or contractual sick pay may be triggered if you’re unable to work and are eligible
  • Modifying your day-to-day tasks to ensure you can carry them out successfully
  • How flexibility can help you with working with a cancer diagnosis, e.g., homeworking measures
  • Meeting health and safety obligations by conducting risk assessments
  • Whether you’ve told them you wish to stop working altogether

Ultimately, the type of reasonable adjustments you require when working with cancer will depend on your specific needs and there’s no average time off work with cancer stipulated in law.

If you’re not a cancer patient, you have the option to request time off for dependants if your spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or anyone who depends on you for care, has an emergency.

Your employer shouldn’t unreasonably refuse your request for time off if you’re eligible; however, they don’t have to pay you for the time you’re off.

What actions can I take if I think I’m not being treated fairly?

The Equality Act covers all areas of employment, and you may be able to bring a disability discrimination claim to a tribunal if you feel you’re eligible. For example, if you’ve been treated less favourable during:

  • A recruitment process
  • Training and development
  • Opportunities for promotion
  • A redundancy process

Discrimination can be direct or indirect, associative or perceptive. Regardless of where you are in your journey, either as a patient or a loved one, no one should make you feel less favoured in any way.

If you have concerns about your treatment at work and would like to seek specific legal advice, or would like more information about cancer discrimination cases and how we can support you, contact us via our online form or web chat.

If you prefer, you can call us on 0330 041 5869.

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