What does the Equality Act mean for Employers?

Line managers, as the statistics show*, often don’t realise that the Equality Act 2010 (Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Northern Ireland) covers cancer or understand what is meant by ‘reasonable adjustments’. So, for example, after six to eight weeks of a phased return, they typically expect an ‘employee’ recovering from cancer treatment to be ‘back to normal’ and assume that making any adjustments at this stage is somehow too late and not applicable, or now unreasonable from a management perspective. But it’s never too late to allow someone to work from home for a while or work flexibly or take an extra break. In fact any reasonable adjustment can be requested when required and should be properly considered by an employer.

HR professionals might not realise that cancer survivors are covered forever, no matter how well they recover. As I tell many of the people I train, I fully intend to live to be 120 years old and die, fit as a flea running full pelt for a bus. Assuming the law doesn’t change (ok, big assumption given the times we live in) I would still be covered by the Act. So even after someone has returned to work successfully it is important to monitor how things are going and check whether any further support is needed.

Health professionals have commented that ‘surely it doesn’t apply to all forms of cancer? Maybe just to stage four or terminal cases? Well, it applies to all forms of cancer regardless of type, or the form of treatment received, or the side effects experienced as a result of treatment that will be different for each individual.

Last but not least, employees diagnosed with cancer or recovering from treatment rarely see themselves as disabled. Sometimes they don’t believe the legislation applies to them; sometimes they ignore it because they don’t want to give themselves this label although it provides protection in the form of various employment rights and benefits. However, whatever their view, the employer is still legally obliged to be aware of their duties towards those protected by the legislation, and ensure fair treatment under the law.

Carers also have rights and are likewise protected against discrimination by the legislation. For example they are allowed to request flexible working and emergency leave, and they cannot be treated unfairly at work. Do your employees and line managers know this?

Just for the record, one employment firm** has recently commented that in 2014 there was a 77% increase in the amounts awarded for discrimination claims compared with 2013; employers paid out £7.5 million in total. The highest compensatory award for disability discrimination was about £258,000. In other words since tribunal fees have been introduced, discrimination claims that get to tribunal are more actually complex and higher risk from an employer’s point of view.

So given the above, what should you do?

  •  Take time to understand how cancer is covered by the Equality Act 2010 (Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Northern Island)
  • Ensure there is understanding throughout your organisation that people affected by cancer are covered under the above acts forever
  • Take time to consider what reasonable adjustments could be made in your workplace to support someone who is affected by cancer
  • Review what support is currently in place, including communication plans and policies, to ensure the right support is available

In addition further information can be found at Macmillan at Work, which provides training, information and resources to help you manage cancer in the workplace and support your employees. The Managing cancer in the Workplace booklet also contains all the information you may need about legislation surrounding cancer.


Do you have a question about work and cancer? Email us on workandcancer@macmillan.org.uk.

Barbara Wilson is Founder of Working With Cancer. For more information visit workingwithcancer.co.uk


* 2014 You Gov Macmillan survey. 49% of managers knew that cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act/DDA

**Employment Advisor Newsletter (July, 2015) DAC Beachcroft. http://sites.dacb.vuturevx.com/104/2633/july-2015/employment-commercial-adviser-newsletter---july-2015.asp