Cancer In The Workplace

07th May 2019

Understandably, if you’re diagnosed with cancer it can be a very distressing time, and it will undoubtedly upset various aspects of your life. Currently, there are 2.5 million people in the UK living with cancer and it’s predicted that 1 in 2 people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some sort of cancer during their lifetime. This means that unfortunately, cancer is more commonplace in our lives than we’d like, and therefore reasonable adjustments must be made in the workplace to accommodate those going through the turbulence of cancer. We understand that as an employee, or employer, it is difficult to know how cancer affects those at work. Use this post to gain some advice on how to broach the subject, and more importantly ensure that everyone suffering from cancer is being treated fairly, and has the right support in place to get through this difficult time.

Taking Time Off Work

It’s often the case that when a person has been diagnosed with cancer, they’ll need to take time off work, whether it’s for treatment or due to feeling unwell. Employers are legally obligated to provide time off work for this, as individuals are protected against discrimination by the Equality Act 2010, something we’ll go into detail on a little later in this post.

If you’re suffering from cancer, or one of your employees is, it’s important to have a conversation so that the right support can be put in place throughout the course of the treatment, and when returning to work. This support can be given in various ways, whether it’s through workplace adjustments, sick pay or time off work. Depending on how long an individual is off work for, they may need an absence management plan in order to plan their return to work post-treatment.

What Is An Absence Management Plan?

There are 2 types of absence management plans that are provided as part of a sickness management service:

Proactive Absence Management Plan

Generally, putting a proactive absence management plan is the most effective way of dealing with time off work. It helps to manage expectations around when a person will be absent from work, planning for this time off and then ensuring their return to work is as smooth as possible.

Reactive Absence Management Plan

A reactive absence management plan is drawn up if a person suddenly has to go off work, perhaps to start treatment immediately. This type of plan is solely focussed on arranging when that person will be fit to return to work.

Discrimination And Cancer At Work

Shockingly, Macmillan has estimated that around 25% of people in the UK face poor health or disability after treatment for cancer. Which naturally, has a large effect on how that person feels and performs within the workplace.

The 4 key types of discrimination an individual could face are:

  • Direct discrimination – This is where a person is treated differently, or not as well as others due to their disability.
  • Indirect discrimination – Where workplace procedures that are applied to all employees put those who are disabled at a disadvantage.
  • Victimisation – Where a person is treated unfairly because they have made or complaint about disability discrimination.
  • Harassment – Distressing, humiliating or offensive behaviour towards a person due to their disability.

All workers in England and Wales with cancer are protected from discrimination in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010. This ensures that those with cancer are protected from being treated less fairly than other employees. To ensure that employees with cancer are being treated fairly, and in other words not being discriminated against, employers should make reasonable adjustments to ensure the wellbeing of their workers.

What Are Reasonable Adjustments?

Making reasonable adjustments is all about making the necessary changes within the workplace to enable workers to remain at work. The adjustments required should be assessed on a case by case basis, as it will depend on the place of work, and an individual’s job role and their responsibilities.

Some of the adjustments you could make are:

  • Providing time off for medical appointments
  • Changing the tasks the individual is required to do to better accommodate them
  • Introducing more flexible working hours, or more regular breaks
  • Allowing them to work from home
  • Changing performance targets in line with time off work/state of mind
  • Providing computer equipment that might help, such as voice-activated software if they can’t type
  • Making sure there is a disabled toilet if required

The adjustments you make should be right for the individual, so it’s important to have a discussion with them to work out how best to do this.

Help Employees To Return To Work Easily

According to Macmillan, 18% of people returning to work after being diagnosed with cancer say they face discrimination in the workplace. What’s more, 35% report further bad experiences, such as being made to feel guilty for taking time off or being made to feel less confident in their own ability.

In many patients, returning to work can help give them regain a sense of normality and purpose which can be lost when suffering from cancer. Others say it is their need for money, or simply they just enjoy their job. To help employees return to work as easily as possible you should work on the following areas:

  • Open culture – Encourage employees to talk to you whenever they need to, and make them feel comfortable enough to say if their workload is too much, or require further adjustments to be made.
  • Awareness – Make all employees well aware of your procedure and policies around a person’s cancer diagnosis, what they can expect, and how you’ll do your best to support them through the process.
  • Proactive absence management plan – Encourage these to help people know how and when they can expect to return to work. This will help to eliminate the fear of not knowing what will happen with their job, or that they won’t be able to cope when they return.

If you require further support from DBOCC health on managing cancer in the workplace or putting the right procedures in place to protect your team get in touch. We’re passionate about keeping employees happy and productive both inside and outside of the workplace.

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