Cancer is a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means that people with cancer are protected from discrimination in all areas of life, including employment.
The Equality Act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. Cancer can have a significant impact on a person's physical and mental health, as well as their ability to work. As such, the Equality Act considers a diagnosis of cancer as a disability. This protection continues even if the person is in remission.
As a result of the Equality Act, employers cannot discriminate against employees with cancer in any way. This includes:
- Refusing to hire someone because they have cancer
- Dismissing someone because they have cancer
- Demoting someone because they have cancer
- Treating someone less favourably than other employees because they have cancer
Employers also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with cancer. This means making changes to the workplace or the employee's job duties to help them overcome the effects of their cancer. For example, an employer might need to provide a flexible working arrangement for an employee who is undergoing cancer treatment, or they might need to make changes to the employee's workspace to make it easier for them to get around or be safe for them if they have a compromised immune system.
The Equality Act also protects employees from discrimination arising from cancer. This means that employees cannot be treated badly because of something connected to their cancer, such as having to take time off for medical appointments or needing to use a mobility aid.
Employers who discriminate against employees with cancer can face legal action. This could result in an employment tribunal award, which could include compensation for the employee's losses.
For example, a former NatWest manager who was dismissed after being diagnosed with bowel cancer won their case. An Employment Tribunal found “clear evidence of discriminatory intent” and the employee sought compensation in excess of £2m.1
How the Equality Act impacts on employers
The Equality Act has a number of implications for employers. It is important for employers to be aware of their legal obligations and to take steps to ensure that they are not discriminating against employees with cancer.
Here are some specific things that employers can do to comply with the Equality Act:
- Train their staff on the Equality Act and its implications for cancer discrimination
- Have a clear policy in place on cancer discrimination and make sure that all employees are aware of it
- Make reasonable adjustments for employees with cancer, as needed
- Investigate any complaints of cancer discrimination promptly and fairly
By taking these steps, employers can help to create a workplace that is inclusive and supportive of employees with cancer.
Cancer is a serious illness, but it is not a disability that should prevent people from working if they choose to continue working through cancer, or return to work after treatment. The Equality Act protects employees with cancer from discrimination, and employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for them.
If you are an employer and you have any questions about the Equality Act and cancer discrimination, you should seek legal advice.