2 May 2013
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 Support1.
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 20102.
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.
The charity is also calling on the Government to address the lack of specialist back-to-work services for cancer patients in the UK such as counselling, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
Employers can order a free toolkit to help them manage people living with cancer, and their carers, from www.macmillan.org.uk/worktoolkit . Employers and employees can call Macmillan’s Support Line on freephone 0808 808 00 00 or go to www.macmillan.org.uk/work for information and support.
To read Macmillan’s recent report, Making the Shift: providing specialist work support to people with cancer, visit: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Documents/GetInvolved/Campaigns/WorkingThroughCancer/Making-the-shift-specialist-work-support-for-people-with-cancer.pdf
For further information, please contact:
Rebecca Openshaw, Media & PR Officer, Macmillan Cancer Support
0207 840 4699 (out of hours 07801 307068)
Notes to Editors:
* Name and location changed to conceal Paul’s identity. Paul is willing to be interviewed on the proviso his pseudonym is used.
About the research:
Macmillan Cancer Support/YouGov online survey of 2,142 UK adults living with cancer. Fieldwork took place 26 November – 14 December 2012. Survey results are not weighted.
Figures presented in this release are based on the 168 respondents who had returned to work after treatment (and had completed treatment within the last 5 years).
Respondents were asked whether they had faced any of the below issues upon returning to work, with 37% selecting at least one issue. When asked the same question in 2010, 23% of people selected at least one issue.
Q. Have you experienced any of the below upon returning to work as a result of your cancer diagnosis? Please tick all that apply.
Question asked of: All those completing treatment within the last five years who returned to work after their cancer treatment (168)
Your employer not making reasonable changes to enable you to do your job (e.g. to cope with fatigue) 13%
Had an unfavourable appraisal or performance review linked to your cancer (for example, if you have had a lot of sick leave or tiredness and have not met targets or objectives as a result of this) 11%
Feeling harassed by your employer so you feel you cannot stay in your job 9%
Found it difficult or not been able to take time off work for medical appointments 8%
Been passed over for promotion in favour of someone with less experience or ability to do the job 8%
Feeling abused by employers or colleagues (for example, being given unfair workloads) 8%
Your employer implying or suggesting that you would be better off not continuing to work 7%
Had your entitlement to sick pay disrupted by your employer 7%
Felt pressured into reducing your working hours 4%
Been demoted to a lower-paid or less demanding job 3%
None of these 63%
2 Macmillan Cancer Support/YouGov online survey of 1,740 UK adults living with cancer. Fieldwork took place between 26 July-9 August 2010. Survey results are unweighted.
3 Office for National Statistics. Cancer Statistics Registration England. 2009. Information Services Division Scotland. Cancer Incidence Scotland. 2009. Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit. Cancer Incidence Wales. 2004–2008. Northern Ireland Cancer Registry. Cancer Incidence Northern Ireland. 2009.
4 Macmillan Cancer Support/YouGov online survey of 2,142 UK adults living with cancer. Fieldwork took place 26 November – 14 December 2012. Survey results are not weighted.
The Equality Act in relation to cancer:
Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against disabled people because of their disability, in all aspects of employment, unless this can be justified. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, they are automatically classified as disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act, right from the point of diagnosis. The Equality Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability e.g. allocating some work to another employee, making adjustments to work buildings, being flexible about hours, and providing training or retraining for someone who can no longer do their job.
Resource for employers:
Employers and line managers can order Macmillan’s free toolkit to help them support people with cancer, and their carers, in the workplace. The Essential Work and Cancer Toolkit, which was developed with the help of some of Macmillan’s corporate partners, can be ordered from
About Macmillan Cancer Support:
More than one in three of us will get cancer. For most of us it will be the toughest fight we ever face. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make it even harder.
But you don’t have to go through it alone. The Macmillan team is with you every step of the way.
We are the nurses and therapists helping you through treatment. The experts on the end of the phone. The advisers telling you which benefits you’re entitled to. The volunteers giving you a hand with the everyday things. The campaigners improving cancer care. The community there for you online, any time. The supporters who make it all possible.
Together, we are all Macmillan Cancer Support