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Sunday, 5 April

Cancer Discrimination - a 'Crime' in the Workplace

An estimated 20,000 of those who are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK will face discrimination in their workplace, according to new research released by Macmillan Cancer Support and YouGov at the World Cancer Congress in Paris.

The research, which explores the impact of cancer on working life, found that nearly a fifth of people (18%) who return to work after being diagnosed with cancer say they faced discrimination from their employer or colleagues. In addition, more than a third (35%) report other negative experiences, such as feeling guilty for having to take time off for medical appointments and a loss of confidence in their ability to do their job.

Worryingly, 1 in 7 (15%) say they returned to work ‘before they felt ready4.’ And 14% of people give up work altogether or are made redundant as a result of their diagnosis.

Macmillan Cancer Support warns that employers must offer better support to the growing number of people with cancer in the workplace. With improvements in survival rates for cancer and more people working for longer and retiring later, the number of people with cancer of working age is predicted to reach 1.7 million by 2030.

The charity found that the vast majority (85%) of people in work when they were diagnosed with cancer say that continuing work is important to them. The most common reason for this is ‘to maintain a sense of normality’ (60%) and others include ‘I enjoy my job’ (45%) and ‘I needed the money’ (54%).

Macmillan is calling on employers to make sure that they have appropriate policies in place and that their HR and line managers have the skills to support staff affected by cancer. It is also vital that employers fulfil their legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments which could enable employees with cancer to stay in or return to work if they want to.

Terry Foster, 58, from Southport, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010. After treatment he was dismissed from his job as a refrigeration engineer and successfully sued the company for unfair dismissal and discrimination. “Initially my line manager was supportive when I told him I had cancer – he said they’d continue to pay me and to take any time off I needed. But I’d only been back at work for a couple of weeks after treatment when he informed me they’d have to let me go. He made it clear he was sacking me because I had cancer, saying they didn’t want to hinder my recovery and that by sacking me it would reduce the stress on me. I went into a state of shock. When I told my wife she burst into tears, it was awful, we had a new born baby and it was the most horrible time for both of us. We really struggled financially during this period and the stress and worry of it all impacted on my recovery.”

Liz Egan, Working Through Cancer Programme Lead at Macmillan Cancer Support, who led the discussion on work and cancer at the World Cancer Congress, says: “People living with cancer should know that they have the full support of their employer to return to work, if they want and are able to do so. It’s appalling that, during an already difficult and often stressful time, so many employers are not offering the right support to people with cancer, leaving them with little choice but to leave.

“We know that, for many people living with cancer, work helps them to feel more in control and maintain a sense of normality. Returning to work after cancer can also be an integral part of their recovery, so it is crucial that employers show support and understanding to make this a reality.”

Macmillan is helping thousands of employers to support staff affected by cancer through their Macmillan At Work scheme. As well as offering a free toolkit, resources and advice, the charity gives specialist training sessions for line managers and HR professionals to help make supporting staff as easy and rewarding as possible.

Picture: 1 in 5 people who return to work after cancer face discrimination according to Macmillan Cancer Support


Article written by Cathryn Ellis


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