Terry on work and cancer

Terry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010. After taking some time off work due to his illness, he returned and shortly after was told that he would lose his job, to avoid 'hindering his recovery'. 

Upon learning from Macmillan resources that he had a case for unfair dismissal, he successfully sued the company for discrimination and was awarded a sum in damages.

Terry on work and cancer

Six years ago, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Following my diagnosis I had a meeting with my line manager and informed him of my wish to continue working through the treatment.

Initially my line manager was supportive, he said they’d continue to pay me and to take any time off I needed. But I’d only been back at work for a couple of weeks after treatment when he informed me they’d have to let me go. He made it clear he was sacking me because I had cancer, saying they didn’t want to hinder my recovery and that by sacking me it would reduce the stress on me.

I went into a state of shock. When I told my wife she burst into tears, it was awful, we had a new born baby and it was the most horrible time for both of us. We really struggled financially during this period and the stress and worry of it all impacted on my recovery.

That month’s edition of a Macmillan newsletter had an article on the changes in employment law and people with cancer’s rights at work, and it made it clear in the Macmillan booklet that it could be unfair dismissal. After further consideration, we decided that we would sue the company for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. I was awarded a sum because of the unfair procedure that was used to sack me.

What had happened made me even more determined to prove that I was in the right and I still look back on my tribunal success with a sense of pride. Pride that my old employer will never be able to do that to someone else and that I stood up for what was right. 

Following the case, when applying for jobs you have to declare your reason for leaving. I had to say I’d been dismissed and they’d ask why. I was very good at what I did, but I was now stigmatised because I’d taken a company to court and because I’d had cancer. I was going for jobs where I’d be the most experienced person there, but when I asked for feedback afterwards I was told the reason I hadn’t got the job was ‘lack of experience’. That hurt.

I decided to turn everything on its head. I am now a mature student studying photography in Preston which has been really good for me. I am in my element. I lost a lot of my confidence after cancer and this has helped me climb back. I suppose photography has been my therapy and it’s cancer I have to thank for where I am now. It has given me a fresh start.  I wouldn’t have gone to university at this age if I hadn’t had cancer.

Comment from Macmillan

If you are struggling at work, then speaking to your employer about the support and possible reasonable adjustments that might help you could be a first step. If your employer doesn’t act on this, please seek further advice. It is better to resolve issues before they become tribunal cases, as this can become a costly and emotionally draining experience. Visit macmillan.org.uk/rightsatwork for more information to learn about your rights at work. Other sources of employment include: Citizens Advice Bureau, ACAS, the Equality Advisory and Support Service or your trade union (if you are a member). You can also contact the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 0000, lines are open 9am – 8pm, Monday to Friday.

Unfortunately not all employers understand the legal obligations placed on them by the Equality Act. Under the Act cancer is legally defined as a disability. This means that employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments which can include measures such as altering workloads, tasks, hours of work, however there is no fixed definition of what is considered 'reasonable'. Your employer should take the time to review your needs, and assess what reasonable adjustments could be made to best support you. For more information please download our guide on reasonable adjustments. To raise awareness of this, Macmillan has developed a range of expert training, consultancy and resources, to help employers support employees affected by cancer. Find out more at macmillan.org.uk/atwork.