POSTED: March 28 2018
Cancer – and employer responsibilities

Cancer – and employer responsibilities

As the number of working age people living with cancer shoots up 10% in five years too many cancer patients are left in the dark about their employer’s legal obligations.

The number of working age people living with cancer in the UK increased by almost 10%[i] between 2010 and 2015, according to a new estimate from Macmillan Cancer Support.

Around 80,000i more people aged 16–65 were living with cancer in 2015, than in 2010, with the overall number estimated to sit at 890,000i. The number has risen sharply from the previous estimate of 810,000i for 2010.

The charity says working-age people now make up 1/3 (36%)i of people living with a cancer diagnosis.

With getting a new cancer diagnosis as common a milestone as getting married[ii], Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on employers to properly prepare for the eventuality of supporting staff through cancer.

Macmillan’s ongoing campaign ‘Cancer isn’t fair but your boss has to be’ also aims to raise awareness amongst people with cancer of their rights at work.

Worryingly, over half (53%)[iii] of people with cancer who are in employment when diagnosed do not know their employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for them, such as flexible working hours and time off for medical appointments.

Around one fifth (18%) [iv] of people living with cancer who returned to work also report facing discrimination in the workplace due to their illness.

Anthony Lloyd Weston, 56, from Cheshire was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in 2014 and has reported experiencing this type of discrimination. He says:

I disclosed my cancer diagnosis fully as I wanted to be upfront about the support I needed, but it quickly became obvious the company wasn’t interested in supporting me.

“It was initially agreed that I could work from home at least two days a week to help with my recovery, but in practice they made it difficult for me to do this. There were often important meetings scheduled on my days off or I was told I needed to be at head office to meet clients. It was exhausting.

“A few months later, on a day off for further cancer treatment, I was told the company was being restructured and my role was no longer needed. I was devastated.”

Liz Egan, Working Through Cancer Programme Lead at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“Such a significant rise means more people than ever are facing the gruelling task of juggling their cancer, their jobs, and their financial commitments.

“Staying in work is important to the majority of people as it helps to retain a sense of normality that is essential to their emotional and physical wellbeing during cancer. Employers must be aware of their legal obligations under the Equality Act and ensure that there are appropriate policies and processes in place to best support their staff.

“We know, however, that employers cannot face this challenge alone, and the government must include the needs of people with cancer in their policies on health and work.”

Macmillan is committed to helping employers with its ‘Macmillan at Work’ programme. This is specifically designed for line managers and HR professionals to help them feel confident and equipped in supporting employees affected by cancer. Employers can access a range of resources including the Macmillan Essential Work and Cancer Toolkit. They can also book specialist workplace training.

Anyone affected by cancer can contact the Macmillan Support Line to discuss their worries, talk through their options, or just have a chat on 0808 808 00 00, or they can visit Macmillan’s Online Community for advice and peer support. For more information visit



[i] Estimated total prevalence of cancer among people in the UK aged 16 to 65. Based on UK complete prevalence of those aged 0 to 64 in 2010 and 2015 derived from Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. Br J Cancer 2012; 107: 1195-1202. (Projections scenario 1).

[ii] In 2015 in the UK there were 283,559 marriages and 359,734 cancers diagnosed (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).  This includes 245,513 marriages registered in England and Wales – (Office for National Statistics)

[iii] Figures from Yougov Plc survey of 1009 adults with a previous cancer diagnosis who were employed at the time of diagnosis.

[iv] Figures from Yougov Plc (above). People living with cancer who were employed at the time of diagnosis and who had returned to work after their diagnosis were asked whether they had experienced any of the following upon returning to work:

You can view the MacMillan Press release and further details here.