This information is designed to help you if a job applicant or member of staff tells you they've been diagnosed with cancer.
The impact of cancer on a young person and their ability to work can vary widely. This is a summary of some common symptoms and side effects of treatment, as well as information about ways that you can help an employee manage this challenging and sometimes traumatic experience.
Supporting young people in this situation enables you to retain the widest possible pool of talent. You also have legal responsibilities in relation to employees and job applicants. This means you can't discriminate against people with cancer. Within reason, you also have to make changes to help them do their job or stay in work.
The impact of cancer
There are many different types of cancer and treatment, affecting each individual differently. Tiredness, weight loss, breathlessness and pain are just a few of the symptoms.
The main treatments for cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. All of these can potentially impact on the employee through side effects including:
- feeling and being sick
- tiredness and fatigue
- changes in mood
- eating difficulties
- reduced resistance to infection
- hair loss
- other changes in physical appearance, such as changes in weight and swollen hands, face, ankles or feet.
In some cases, an employee may return to work having had a limb amputated or with scars from surgery.
Talk to your employee
All experiences are different and it's best to talk to your employee directly to understand how cancer is affecting them.
Consider the potential impact of a cancer diagnosis or treatment on their self-esteem. Some young people may become anxious about their work prospects. They may lack the confidence to talk about their cancer and may have had bad experiences with previous employers misunderstanding their needs.
Fulfilling your legal duties
People with cancer automatically meet the definition of 'disabled' under the Equality Act (England, Wales and Scotland) and the Disability Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland). Employers have a duty not to discriminate against job applicants or employees. This includes apprentices and all paid staff. All areas of employment are covered including:
- recruitment and advertising
- employment contracts
- pay and benefits
- promotion and training
- dismissal and redundancy.
This means you cannot discriminate against people with cancer by for example:
- rejecting their job application for cancer-related reasons
- using cancer as a reason to move them to an easier or lower-paid job
- selecting them for redundancy because of their diagnosis.
Discrimination can include 'discrimination arising from disability' such as:
- penalising them for time off sick, without taking their cancer into account.
- giving unfairly negative appraisals for not meeting targets e.g. due to fatigue
It's important to realise you have a legal duty to support staff with cancer. Where reasonable, you should make changes to help them do their job during and after treatment. Failure to make 'reasonable adjustments' is a form of discrimination.
Support and reasonable adjustments
Employees need to tell you about their diagnosis before you can put adjustments in place. You could then suggest a meeting to discuss support options and ask if they'd prefer to meet with someone other than their line manager. You could also ask if they'd like anyone else at the meeting such as a colleague, trade union rep, family member or friend.
It can be helpful for the employee, and may encourage them to be more open with you, if you also show awareness that:
- their treatment will likely mean taking time off, for which you may already have a policy on flexible working or returning after sick leave
- it's up to them how much information about their cancer is shared with others or kept confidential
- they have a right to be protected against discrimination because of having cancer.
What's considered a reasonable adjustment always depends on individual circumstances e.g. if they have chemotherapy treatment it will likely reduce their resistance to infection. In this case, it might be reasonable to allow them to commute to work outside of rush hour if they use public transport.
Other potential adjustments
Other potential adjustments for staff with a cancer diagnosis might include:
- allowing time off for treatment and check-ups
- changing parts of the job description so they spend less time on tasks that cause extra discomfort
- letting them work flexible hours, including working from home
- allowing extra breaks if they have fatigue
- organising the workplace to make it accessible if they need a wheelchair or crutches
- a designated parking space if they drive to work
- improving ventilation in the workplace if heat makes them feel especially tired or sick
- clear communication and offering the option of update conversations with their line manager and human resources, especially during any periods they're away
- a phased return to work after treatment, helping them to gradually build up their stamina and confidence again.
When working out what is reasonable, some factors which might be taken into account include:
- effectiveness of making the adjustment and whether it is practical to do so
- size and type of employer
- financial resources of the employer
- availability of financial assistance such as the Access to Work scheme.
It's important not to assume an employee has recovered just because their hair has grown back or they're no longer receiving hospital treatment as an inpatient. Young people may have late effects from treatment. For some employees this can mean muscle pain, dips in energy and lethargy.
Last reviewed: November 2015
Next planned review: December 2016