There has been a rise in the number of people living with cancer experiencing discrimination at work – despite the introduction of the Equality Act, according to Macmillan Cancer Support. New research shows almost four in ten people (37%) who return to work after cancer treatment say they experience some kind of discrimination from their employer or colleagues – compared to just under a quarter (23%) in 2010.
The YouGov survey of UK adults who returned to work after cancer treatment found that around one in 10 (9%) felt harassed to the point they felt they could not stay in their job. One in eight (13%) said their employer failed to make reasonable changes to enable them to do their job.
Patients also report being denied time off for medical appointments, passed over for promotion or feeling abused by their employer or colleagues (for example by being given unfair workloads).
Paul Ware, 46, from London*, was diagnosed with a blood cancer in 2010. He said:
“When I told my employer that I’d been diagnosed with cancer and asked to have some time off for treatment, I was given the sack. They said they couldn’t employ someone who was not a hundred per cent committed. It was a shock as I had a very successful career, and a fulfilling life.
“I took them to an employment tribunal through a solicitor. But it was costing so much I had no money left to fight for my legal rights. I was paid a financial settlement. It wasn’t a lot, and it’s gone just trying to keep the bills paid. It’s been a most soul destroying experience and I have never felt more alone than now, trying to regain my place in society with a new job.”
Over 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK3, and for those in employment, returning to work can be a huge issue. Almost half of those who are working when diagnosed with cancer have to make changes to their working lives after cancer, with around four in ten changing jobs or leaving work altogether4
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
“Employers are risking prosecution by flouting their legal responsibility to protect people living with cancer from unfair treatment and stigma at work.
“There needs to be far more understanding of cancer and how the effects of treatment may impact on people returning to work. Going back to work after treatment can be very isolating especially if someone has been off for a while and has lost confidence or contact with colleagues.
“As our population grows and ages, and the retirement age rises, cancer will become an increasingly common issue for employees and their managers. It’s vital they are equipped to help people with cancer stay in work. It isn’t difficult and it is likely to be cheaper and easier than recruiting a replacement or defending a discrimination claim.”
Macmillan Cancer Support is calling for employers to fulfil their obligations to people returning to work after cancer treatment under the Equality Act 2010. These could include making reasonable changes to their work environment or hours and ensuring they have a back to work plan.