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.

You're protected against discrimination if an employer:

  • rejects your job application because of cancer
  • uses cancer as a reason to move you to an easier or lower-paid job
  • promotes someone ahead of you with less ability or experience
  • warns you for time off sick, without taking your diagnosis into account
  • gives you unfairly negative performance reviews for not meeting targets due to fatigue
  • selects you for redundancy because of your cancer diagnosis.

Making changes at work

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.

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 things like:

  • how much the adjustment would benefit you
  • the practicality of making the change
  • costs involved
  • the size of your employer and its resources
  • the availability of financial and other support to your employer. 

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

Read more about what support you could expect to get at work and what changes your employer could make to help you.

The law is on your side

The Equality Act in Great Britain 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.

The law in Northern Ireland

The Equality Act 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.

If you're applying for a 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 not want to tell them about your cancer too early in the process, in case it puts you at a disadvantage compared with other applicants.

If you have a Disability Employment Adviser at your job centre, they can carry out an employment assessment for you. This is an in-depth interview to help you find out your skills and experience, and how your cancer, treatment or side effects might affect your work. They can also refer you to a specialist work psychologist, if appropriate.

If you're applying for a new job, here are the rules in place to protect you:

  • A prospective employer is 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 they ask 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.

Contact the Equality Advisory Support Service if you think you’ve been treated unfairly applying for a job, or get in touch with your union if you are a member. 

You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or ACAS for advice on your employment rights.

Where next?

Updated January 2018, next review due 2019.