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Helping your employees work through cancer

Each year, almost 120,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK, and with survival rates improving and people retiring later, this figure is set to rise. Consequently cancer has become a long term condition, and therefore is rapidly becoming a more regular area for HR & Line managers to manage in the workplace.

For employees with cancer or caring for someone with cancer, staying in or returning to work can be hugely positive. There is strong evidence that good work can have a positive impact on both physical and mental health and wellbeing – and it can even help with recovery. However it can be difficult to know how to support someone with cancer in the workplace, as there are a number of challenges they may face from the moment someone is diagnosed. Employers can tackle some of these challenges by putting in place reasonable adjustments. Often these small changes can make a big difference, and can help support your employee to continue with work if they choose to do so.

What are reasonable adjustments?

By law people with cancer are protected from discrimination (The Equality Act 2010 in England Scotland and Wales, and The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), 1995 in Northern Ireland) Both the Equality Act and the DDA require employers to make reasonable adjustments to make it easier for an employee with a disability to work. These are required to remove any substantial disadvantage they face in the workplace because of their cancer, when compared with others who do not have cancer.

In all circumstances employees have a right to ask for Reasonable Adjustments and employers have to consider them; however that does not mean that a particular requested adjustment has to be put in place if it is not considered to be reasonable. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, including practicality, cost, the extent to which the adjustment will be effective, and the extent to which business may be disrupted.

It is important to remember that what is reasonable for one employee in one company might not be deemed reasonable in another situation, and additionally what is right for one employee might not be the right action for another. Therefore taking time to review the request, and plan the best way forward with that individual is pivotal.

A reasonable adjustment could be anything which helps someone living with cancer do their job and aids them in overcoming the disadvantage they face as a consequence of their disability (cancer). Some examples can include:

– Allowing time off to go to medical appointments or for rehabilitation

– Adjusting  job descriptions to remove tasks that cause problems

– Allowing more flexible hours

– Providing extra breaks

– Moving to light duties for a temporary period

– Changing performance targets to take into account the effect of any sick leave or side effects

– Allocating a different role

– Altering the work location

– Ensuring easy access to the work building if mobility equipment is in use

– Providing computer equipment that might help

– Providing a disabled toilet

– Allowing a gradual return to work after a long period of time off work

In all cases it is important to maintain an open communication channel with your employee. This will allow ongoing opportunity to review the needs of your employee. It may be that over time new or altered adjustments are required as the individual improves or develops a change in side effects during their treatment.

How long do reasonable adjustments need to be considered?

Reasonable adjustments should be considered at all stages of your employee’s journey as the impact of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of treatment can be long lasting.  Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for anyone one who has, or has ever had cancer. This means that employees with cancer who have finished their treatment, but are still experiencing side effects or consequences of their treatment or cancer are still entitled to support.  Therefore it is essential that there is a clear understanding throughout the organisation of how these requirements can be met.

Macmillan at Work

Macmillan knows the amount of awareness raising and training provided on workplace health and wellbeing differs across different organisations. While many recognise the importance of supporting someone living with or beyond cancer, the capability to provide this support varies.

Training or consultancy can help organisations prepare their staff to manage the impact of long term conditions. Macmillan at Work is designed to help workplaces support employees with a cancer diagnosis, or those caring for someone with cancer. To find out about the expert training, guidance and resources Macmillan provides, visit You can also email the team at [email protected] or call 020 7840 4725.

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