- The law protects employees with cancer: The Equality Act 2010 considers cancer a disability. This means employers must make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for employees with cancer that reduce or remove disadvantages..
- Reasonable adjustments cover all areas of work: They can include changes to working arrangements or the working environment, finding different ways to do things and providing equipment or specialist support.
- Reasonable adjustments are individual: You should make changes according to each person and their needs after consultation with them.It follows that not all businesses will be able to make the same reasonable adjustments.
Finding out an employee has been diagnosed with cancer is never easy. You’ll likely feel a range of emotions, such as sympathy for what they are going through, and worry about the impact the diagnosis will have on them and their family.
There are also business implications to consider. An employee with cancer may be too poorly to continue working, which can mean you need to find temporary workers or rearrange existing staff. However, many people still work when they have cancer, and if your employee is one of these people, you have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for them.
Whether you are supporting someone going through treatment or helping an employee plan their return to work, this guide explains allowances employers must make for employees with cancer and provides actionable examples you can make.
What are reasonable adjustments?
When it comes to cancer and employment law, the Equality Act 2010 considers any employee who receives a cancer diagnosis as having a disability. While they don’t have to label themselves ‘disabled’, it gives them protection against discrimination in the workplace due to their health.
This protection means that employees diagnosed with cancer, even once in remission, can negotiate reasonable adjustments to their work or workplace. Reasonable adjustments include any changes that an employer can make that diminish or eliminate barriers they may face while doing their job.
How are reasonable adjustments made?
As an employer, you should anticipate needing to make reasonable adjustments for an employee with cancer. Therefore, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss their needs and how you can best support them.
They can choose how much information to share with you and can request someone else attend the meeting with them, such as a colleague or trade union representative. Once you and your employee agree on what reasonable adjustments to make, you, as employer, will be responsible for any costs associated with implementing them.
An employer can legally refuse adjustments, but they must have grounds for doing so. Examples of legitimate reasons for refusal include an adjustment being unaffordable for the company, putting the health and safety of others at risk or causing significant disruption to the business.
Examples of reasonable adjustments
Many reasonable adjustments are straightforward and affordable. Below are some of the most common reasonable adjustments for employees with cancer, however, these suggestions are not exhaustive. Any adjustments should come from a conversation with the employee to ensure they meet their requirements.
If an employee is off sick with cancer but is planning to come back to work, they may request a phased return, especially if they are still dealing with pain, fatigue and/or side effects from treatment.
A phased return can take on many different forms and will depend on the nature of the organisation and the role the employee has. For example, they may start with two days or a week or just work in the mornings. Phased returns can also relate to duties, whereby an employee undertakes lighter tasks for a period.
Flexible working hours
Flexible hours can help an employee handle their work responsibilities while managing their energy levels and other commitments, such as follow-up appointments. Flexible working encompasses a broad range of working formats, including remote working, annualised hours, flexitime, job sharing and compressed hours.
Coping with tiredness after cancer treatment is something that many people experience, and managing it effectively is important for overall wellbeing, including mental health.
Reasonable adjustments that help an employee with tiredness can, therefore, be beneficial. Allowing an employee to take extra breaks is one such adjustment, and you can also provide the employee with somewhere quiet and comfortable to rest during these breaks.
Amendments to duties
The type of cancer, the stage of cancer and the type and duration of treatment may impact an employee’s ability to maintain the same pace, output or kind of work. For example, a worker whose role usually involves manual lifting may request a temporary change to desk-based tasks. Or, if they are a supervisor, a reasonable adjustment may be sharing some of their higher-level responsibilities among other team members.
Changes to performance targets
It’s common for people with cancer to experience a change in their performance at work, due to fatigue, the emotional impact of the experience or even changes to cognitive function as a result of treatment. As an employer, understanding and making allowances for this is a reasonable adjustment. If, for instance, your employee receives a commission-based bonus, you could change the parameters for them. Or you could lower the number of customer enquiries you expect them to respond to each day if they work in a support-based role.
Equipment can make a difference to employees with cancer, so it’s a good idea to ask them if there are any items they feel could assist them in doing their job more effectively. For example, a desk chair with neck support may provide comfort and help with pain management, or voice-activated software may enable them to continue their work if they struggle to type.
Working environment and accessibility
An employee may ask for adjustments to their physical workspace and accessibility to it. It will be up to you, as their employer, to decide whether such requests are reasonable. For example, if an employee with cancer works on the second floor of an office building and has difficulty climbing the stairs, they could ask for the installation of a lift. While this might not be feasible, financially or logistically, you should offer a viable alternative, such as moving their desk to the ground floor.
Other reasonable adjustments to the working environment and accessibility include providing a designated parking space close to the building, moving furniture further apart to create ample room to manoeuvre a wheelchair and making sure an employee can get to the bathroom easily.
Additional support or access to services can also constitute reasonable adjustments for an employee with cancer, but it will be different for each individual. For example, one employee might value monthly supervision where they can discuss their workload and receive advice on managing priorities. Another might need changes to how you give them information, for instance, an interpreter or audio files instead of written text.
Alongside reasonable adjustments, you can further support an employee with cancer by facilitating access to tailored cancer services. You could give them the details of local cancer support groups or remind them of their Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) entitlements.
You could also connect them to cancer specialists through Perci Health. Our innovative virtual clinic offers an on-demand service that anyone affected by cancer can use from the comfort of their own home. Find out more about how we work with employers to support their workforce.
‘Equality Act 2010’, legislation.gov.uk, April 2023, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
‘Reasonable adjustments at work’, younglivesvscancer.org.uk, April 2023, https://www.younglivesvscancer.org.uk/life-with-cancer/i-have-cancer/work/reasonable-adjustments-at-work/