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Supporting employees after a cancer diagnosis

Published 10 January 2022

The likelihood is we know someone affected by cancer, and if it is not yourself it could be a family member, friend or work colleague.

For an employee who receives such a devastating diagnosis meaningful support from their employer is crucial.

The physical effects of cancer can continue for weeks, months and even years after treatment has ended.

Even the most compassionate of businesses can find it difficult to know how best to support a worker with a cancer.

It affects individuals differently, and some employees will still be able to attend work and perform their duties.

Being able to work, and supported to do so, can often help a worker with the disease to retain an important routine that also provides a sense of normality.

But it can put an employer in a difficult position, and one in which it wants to help and be supportive but is not too sure what to do for the best.

A recent employment tribunal case highlights how employers can get it badly wrong and the cost of doing so.

A cancer sufferer who was told by his boss to ‘grow up’ and not ‘be  a baby’ because he wanted weekends off after his treatment won more than £40,000 for unfair dismissal [1 cited 10/01/22]

The employee was a general manager who underwent a 'traumatic' and 'brutal' treatment regime. During this time his managers continually complained about his performance.

He was found to have been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on grounds of disability and was awarded £42,228.65 in compensation from the employer.

Under the Equality Act 2010 anyone diagnosed with cancer automatically qualifies as disabled from the moment of diagnosis [2 cited 10/01/22]A worker whose cancer is in remission is still covered by the Act

It is unlawful to treat a person less favourably for a reason related to their cancer.

Most recent figures published by Macmillan Cancer Support show nearly three million people living with cancer in the UK in 2020 [3 cited 10/01/22]

The number is predicted to rise to nearly three-and-a-half million by 2025 and four million by 2030.

The statistics show around 385,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year, in the UK. And on average someone receives such a diagnosis every 90 seconds.

It makes it highly likely that at some stage an employer will have to manage an employee diagnosed with cancer.

Employers have a responsibility to support an employee after diagnosis, and to ensure they are treated fairly and appropriately in the workplace.

Ideally an employer should have up-to-date and effective policies and procedures in place for managing the physical, emotional and practical impact for an employee with cancer.

Key in any supportive measures will be making reasonable adjustments [4 cited 10/1/22]

Such adjustments can include time off to attend medical appointments, flexible working hours, amended duties or working from home.

Reasonable adjustments can allow an employee to return to work, or stay in work, after a cancer diagnosis.

Given the prevalent nature of cancer an employer may also encounter a situation in which an employee has caring responsibilities for someone diagnosed with cancer.

An employer should also be as supportive as possible in such situations by acting reasonably in allowing a worker to meet their caring responsibilities. Failing to do so can be found to be discriminatory.

There are different types of discrimination such as direct discrimination, which includes ‘discrimination by association’ [5 cited 10/1/22]

Discrimination by association can include a situation in which an employee does not have a disability, but can bring a discrimination claim based on the protected characteristic of another person.

Being informed for the first time of an employee’s cancer diagnosis or need to care for someone who has received one, can be daunting for any employer. So it is always advisable for employers to seek expert advice about how best to manage the situation.






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