What should employers consider when appraising an employee affected by cancer, including carers?

As you know individuals who have cancer are covered by the 2010 Equality Act (or the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act if living in Northern Ireland) from the point of diagnosis. As part of this, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments if existing working arrangements put the affected person at a substantial disadvantage compared with others. 

Let’s be clear, returning to work after a period of cancer treatment can be immensely daunting and stressful; the individual will often be dealing with significant physical changes affecting, for some time at least and sometimes permanently, their appearance or bodily functions. It is also now well documented that the physical and mental shock of having a life-threatening disease, of receiving treatment for cancer, and living with repeated threats to one's body and life are traumatic experiences for many cancer patients. On top of all this, it is highly likely that during the individual’s absence from work there will have been a number of changes– to processes, systems, colleagues, and sometimes a change in line manager.

In practice, reasonable adjustments might include a number of agreed temporary or permanent changes in working hours or practices, or even to the job itself. But even if these changes aren’t made, one important adjustment is to performance targets – to take into account the effect of things like sick leave or fatigue. So, one of the things you should be doing as part of the return to work planning process is discussing with the line manager, as well as the individual affected by cancer, the fact that any previous performance targets will be placed on hold.  This means during their recovery, they will have a revised set of targets based on what now seems reasonable and achievable. Doing this will help to relieve at least some of the stress of returning to work.

But what about carers who are not covered in the same way? Should you adjust their targets – which may not actually be mentioned in your carers’ policy (assuming you have one)? Well, legally, you are not required to adjust a carer’s targets or appraise them differently. But depending on an individual’s circumstances I believe it is only good practice to help known working carers by making what reasonable adjustments you can, adjusting their performance targets accordingly, and then appraising them against these. This may have to be done on a case-by-case basis but to me it seems only sensible, practical and humane.

Macmillan has produced guidance and advice on making reasonable adjustments and supporting employees affected by cancer, including carers. Find out more here.

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