Macmillan wants to educate employers on obligations to employees with cancer

Efforts made to educate organisations and employees on measures to avoid disability discrimination

A recent study conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support has highlighted employees lack of awareness regarding their organisation’s requirement to provide support to cancer patients. More than half (53%) of participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with cancer, did not know that their organisation had a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for them.

It is believed this lack of knowledge is a contributing factor to the existence of workplace discrimination, with around one-fifth (18%) of people who returned to work after their diagnosis claiming to have been the victims of discrimination by their employer. In response, the charity is urging employers to consider more support in the form of flexible working opportunities and allowing time off for medical appointments.

Under the Equality Act 2010, individuals are automatically protected from disability discrimination from the point of cancer diagnosis. Organisations have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure the individual does not suffer any less favourable treatment on account of their condition. Organisations failing to protect employees could face a potentially expensive tribunal claim.

Through their supporting campaign, “Cancer isn’t fair but your boss has to be”, Macmillan seeks to educate employees in their rights should they be diagnosed with the illness. The campaign also looks to support organisations by giving managers and HR professionals access to resources which can help them provide the appropriate support.

Communication is key if an organisation is to protect against disability discrimination. To provide appropriate support to employees who have cancer line managers should be trained with the necessary soft skills. Initially discussing the diagnosis is often a highly emotive experience for the employee and managers are encouraged to be understanding and professional.

Organisations should not make any assumptions on an individual’s ability to complete tasks on account of their condition, as symptoms can vary. Therefore, discussions should take place between the employee and his/her manager to determine what adjustments need to be made so that the employee is able to remain in his/her job. Employees suffering from cancer may benefit from flexible working adjustments including reduced hours or a transfer to home working. Organisations should also accommodate for time off to attend hospital appointments and consider any changes that may need to be made to the working environment.

As well as the guidance available through Macmillan, organisations may want to consider the Acas guide “Disability discrimination: key points for the workplace”. This guide provides further contextual understanding of the effects of various disabilities as well as advice on implementing reasonable adjustments to guard against workplace discrimination.

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