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Research has shown that most employers do not discriminate against employees who are diagnosed with cancer and are having treatment.
Your employer should provide help and support to enable you to do your job. There are laws protecting the rights of workers who suffer from illnesses like cancer.
The Equality Act 2010| has replaced discrimination laws in England, Scotland and Wales - including the Disability Discrimination Act| - bringing them together under one piece of legislation.
The Disability Discrimination Act still protects people with a disability in Northern Ireland. You can find out more about it by downloading our working through cancer information [PDF file, 267kb]|.
Under the Equality Act, it’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person because of their disability. Everyone with cancer is classed as disabled under the act.
The Equality Act protects anyone who has, or has had, cancer. Even if a person who had cancer in the past has been successfully treated and is now ‘cured’, they will still be covered by the act. This means their employer must not discriminate against them for a reason relating to their past cancer.
Your employer has a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments’ to your workplace and working practices to ensure that you aren’t at a disadvantage compared to others.
What is considered a ‘reasonable adjustment’ depends on things such as:
Some examples of a ‘reasonable adjustment’ include:
The Equality Act covers all aspects of employment including the recruitment process; the terms, conditions and benefits of employment; and opportunities for promotion and training. It also covers unfair treatment compared to other workers, such as dismissal and harassment and victimisation.
If you want to know how the Equality Act can help you, phone the Equality and Human Rights Commission helplines|, contact Citizens Advice| or call the Macmillan Support Line|.
Despite these laws, discrimination may still occur if your employer doesn’t take your situation into account. For example, this can include:
Some problems may happen because of misunderstandings about your cancer. Your employer may assume that you can no longer do the same job, that you may be less committed to work because of your illness or that the stress of having cancer makes you a poor candidate for promotion.
Your colleagues may also think that they will need to do extra work because you can’t do your job. Any of these attitudes towards people with cancer can lead to subtle or obvious discrimination in the workplace.
Under disability rights law, victimisation is when a disabled employee is treated less favourably than other employees as a result of their attempt to assert their rights as a disabled person.
An example of this would be if an employee’s manager is awkward about a request for time off for a chemotherapy appointment. The employee reports the problem to the human resources department. The human resources manager tells the manager that they must let the employee have the time off. The manager is angry that the employee went ‘over their head’ to the human resources department. As a result, the manager doesn’t allow the employee to go on a training course and gives them a poor appraisal. So, victimisation occurs when an employer takes revenge on an employee for trying to assert their disability rights.
The law also protects people from being victimised if they have supported a disabled employee in making a complaint and are treated badly as a result.
If you feel that you are being discriminated against, you can work with your supervisor, manager or human resources department to resolve the problem informally.
Talking openly to your manager about your needs and their needs may help to resolve the situation.
If you feel unable to talk to your manager, you can ask someone in the human resources department or an occupational health adviser for help. If you belong to a trade union, you can get help and support from a union representative.
It’s not possible to go into all the possible discrimination or victimisation problems that may occur here. It’s also not possible to explain your rights in each situation. However, the suggestions below may help you if you feel that you are being victimised or treated unfairly. Think carefully about your goals and the possible outcomes before taking any action.
Be aware of the financial effects of legal action. Legal cases can be extremely expensive. Some solicitors take cases on a no-win, no-fee basis. This should mean that you only pay the solicitor if they win your case, but check with them to see if there are any hidden charges.
A small number of solicitors will take on disability discrimination claims under the government’s Legal Help scheme, which is means-tested. The scheme provides free legal assistance to prepare the case, but doesn’t cover legal representation at a tribunal hearing. Contact Community Legal Advice| for more information.
If you’re a member of a union, the union may be prepared to take your case to tribunal on your behalf, with their own legal experts.
Some specialist insurers can insure you against losing the case and having to pay both your own legal costs and your opponent’s. The insurer will look at your case and assess your chances of success. The amount of your premium is then based upon your chances. The insurance only covers one specific case and is not general legal insurance.
Content last reviewed: 1 May 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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