Discrimination at work

The Equality Act makes it illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because of your cancer or treatment. So don't be afraid to ask your employer to make any changes you need to continue working.

Making changes

You may not think of yourself as being disabled, but as someone diagnosed with cancer you are classed as disabled under the Equality Act, which means you are protected by it.

Disability Employment Advisers are based at job centres and Jobcentre Plus. They can carry out an employment assessment for you. This is an in-depth interview to help you find out how your cancer, treatment or side effects might affect your work.

Your employer has a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to features of your workplace and/or working practices which place you at a substantial disadvantage to people who are not disabled.

What is considered reasonable will depend on many different things, including:

  • The extent to which the adjustment would benefit you
  • The feasibility of making the adjustment
  • The costs involved
  • The extent of your employer's financial and other resources
  • The availability to your employer of financial and other assistance
  • The disruption to your employer's activities
  • The nature of your employer's activities and its size

Reasonable adjustments could involve allowing extra time off if you need it because of your cancer, including:

  • Predictable short-term absences, such as regular weekly time off for treatment or counselling if you can't arrange appointments outside working hours
  • Unpredictable short-term absences
  • Predictable long-term absences
  • Unpredictable long-term absences

The law in Northern Ireland

The Equality Act applies to England, Scotland and Wales (Great Britain) and does not apply to Northern Ireland (apart from a few exceptions).

Employment rights for employees with disabilities fall under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). For free advice and guidance on discrimination at work you can contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on 028 90 500 600.

You can find out more by visiting NI Direct.

The law is on your side

The Equality Act also covers promotion, transfer, unfair treatment compared to others, harassment and victimisation, and unfair dismissal. If you think you've been treated unfairly in any way when you're trying to get back to work, it's there to protect you.

If you feel you've been unfairly treated when you apply for a job, you should first contact your union if you are a union member. If not, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for advice on your employment rights.

If you're applying for a brand new job

Of course, you may not simply be returning to your old employers. You might have decided to apply for a completely new job at an organisation where you're not known.

If so, you may prefer not to tell them about your cancer too early in the process, in case it puts you at a disadvantage compared with other applicants.

Rules to protect you - and your potential employers

  • They are not allowed to ask you any health-related questions before an offer of employment, unless it specifically relates to your ability to do the job
  • If your prospective employer asks whether you have a health condition you don't need to tell them about your cancer, but you do need to tell them about any condition relating to it, such as an amputation if it is relevant to your ability to do the job
  • Even though you may not think of yourself as disabled, anyone with cancer is protected by the Equality Act. So if you're asked whether you are 'disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act' you can answer yes
  • Don't lie or try to avoid questions about a health condition relating to your cancer. If you give wrong or misleading information and you're found out later, your employer could have the right to dismiss you
  • If your potential employer asks how much sick leave you've taken, you should reply truthfully. However, you don't need to say how much was because of the health condition relating to your cancer, unless you're asked directly. And remember that employers are not allowed to ask questions relating to your previous sickness absence, except in very restricted circumstances.

Last reviewed: November 2015
Next planned review: December 2016

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