7 mins. read

Avoiding workplace discrimination for employees with cancer

Workplace discrimination and cancer Perci Health

Key takeaways

  • Legal safeguards exist: UK laws, including the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995, protect employees with cancer, making discrimination illegal.
  • Prevent and address discrimination: Proactive measures, education and reasonable adjustments, are vital to creating an inclusive workplace.
  • Address incidents of discrimination promptly: Investigate, mediate and provide resources to tackle discrimination effectively, promoting a supportive work environment.

A cancer diagnosis will affect each person differently. For many of working age, staying in work is important for their overall wellbeing and sense of purpose. However, cancer symptoms, and cancer treatment and its side effects, can impact the type of work and how much work an employee can do. Employers must take steps to support employees with cancer to continue working if they wish, which includes avoiding workplace discrimination.

In this article, we discuss workplace discrimination and cancer by outlining relevant legislation, providing examples of discrimination and offering guidance on how to prevent and address it.

Legislation regarding cancer treatment and discrimination in the workplace

When it comes to cancer and working guidelines for employers, there are two key pieces of legislation that protect employees with cancer from discrimination in the workplace in the UK:

  1. The Equality Act 2010
    This is the primary legislation that addresses discrimination in the workplace. Under this act, cancer is considered a disability, and it is illegal to discriminate against employees or job applicants because of their cancer diagnosis. It also stipulates that employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with cancer.
  1. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)
    Although largely superseded by the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales, the DDA still applies to Northern Ireland and contains provisions related to disability discrimination, including cancer.

The Equality Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protect employees with cancer from diagnosis, through treatment and even once in recovery. They also protect cancer caregivers ‘by association’ so it’s important to keep them in mind when supporting a cancer caregiver in the workplace. These pieces of legislation should form the foundations of any workplace guidelines and policies about the treatment of employees with cancer, and cancer caregivers.

Examples of discrimination against employees with cancer

Cancer-related discrimination can happen in many  ways and can be subtle– such as small changes to an employee’s role – or overt, such as derogatory comments. While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some examples of workplace discrimination that employees with cancer can face:

Refusal of reasonable adjustments

Employers refusing to make reasonable adjustments– such as flexible working hours, changes to job duties, or providing additional support, even when these accommodations could help an employee with cancer continue working – is discriminatory.


Colleagues or supervisors engaging in bullying or harassment based on an employee’s cancer diagnosis or treatment, creates a hostile work environment. Behaviour that deliberately seeks to isolate, stigmatise or offend an employee with cancer is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Unequal treatment

Employers may treat an employee with cancer differently when it comes to promotions, raises or job assignments because of their health condition. Unequal treatment also includes employers denying employees with cancer training opportunities, not involving them in decision-making when they previously would have been, and excessive scrutiny.

Termination or demotion

In some cases, employees with cancer may face termination or demotion due to their illness. Employers might argue that their condition makes them unable to perform their jobs, even when reasonable adjustments could accommodate their needs. However, terminating an employee with cancer is unlawful if the sole reason is their diagnosis.

How to prevent discrimination against employees with cancer

Employers should take a proactive approach to prevent workplace discrimination of employees with cancer, ensuring that management understands their responsibilities and that employees follow a robust code of conduct.

Educate employees

Providing training and awareness programmes will help educate all employees about the rights and needs of colleagues with cancer. This can help foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.

Reasonable adjustments

On finding out an employee has been diagnosed with cancer, be open to discussing and implementing reasonable adjustments to accommodate them. Encourage open communication so that employees feel comfortable discussing their needs. Reasonable adjustments for an employee with cancer will be unique to them but can include reducing their hours, providing additional equipment or allowing them to adopt a hybrid working pattern. By law, employers must consider all reasonable requests that will support an employee with cancer to continue working.

Flexible work arrangements

In addition to hybrid working, employers can also offer flexible working arrangements including remote work, flexitime, job sharing, and temporary adjustments to duties to help employees manage their treatment and recovery while staying in employment.

Anti-discrimination policies

Develop and communicate clear anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, using the Equality Act 2010 and/or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as the basis. Ensure that employees are aware of the expectations for how they conduct themselves in the workplace and the reporting procedures for any incidents.

How to address discrimination against employees with cancer

Even with stringent prevention measures in place, employers may still encounter instances of employees with cancer experiencing discrimination in the workplace. Employers may witness discrimination directly, obtain reports from other staff or receive a complaint from an employee with cancer themselves. Regardless of how the discrimination is brought to light, it must be dealt with swiftly as part of a zero-tolerance approach.

Promptly investigate complaints

If an employer receives a report of discrimination or harassment, they should take it seriously, promptly investigate the complaint and take appropriate action. How this is done will depend on the organisation’s policies, the outcome the person making the complaint is seeking and how serious the matter is. For example, if a colleague has made an insensitive comment, an informal approach could involve talking to all parties and issuing a verbal warning to the colleague.


Where the situation is more serious or there has been a formal complaint, employers should consider mediation to resolve conflicts and/or the issues surrounding discrimination. Mediation can help foster understanding and find mutually acceptable solutions. It will usually involve asking each person to share their perspective on the matter before undertaking negotiations and reaching a settlement.

Legal resources

If an employee with cancer does not feel that their employer has resolved the situation fully, or at all, their employer should signpost them to legal advice or assistance from relevant agencies, such as Acas, Citizens Advice, the Equality Advisory Support Service or a trade union representative.  

Continuous monitoring

Employers should also regularly review their workplace policies and practices to ensure they are aligned with anti-discrimination laws. Seeking feedback from employees and keeping abreast of any changes to legislation can help inform necessary improvements.

If you’re an employer who is looking for assistance to support employees with cancer, Perci Health can help. We offer comprehensive cancer support for everyone impacted by cancer through a virtual care clinic. Employees can access more than 20 support types through their digital devices, with quick on-demand appointments. Our platform also supports individuals who can find out more about our cancer specialists and book appointments with them by creating a Perci Health account.


‘Equality Act 2010’, legislation.gov.uk, September 2023, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

‘Disability Discrimination Act’, legislation.gov.uk, September 2023, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/50/contents

‘Carers’ rights at work’, mariecurie.org.uk, September 2023, https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/being-there/support-carers/time-off-emergency#discrimination