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How to handle cancer in the workplace?

I am a HR Manager, and have recently been informed that one of our employees unfortunately has cancer. What should I do to support our employee in the workplace?

People with cancer have legal protection under the Equality Act from the point of first diagnoses of their cancer. Consequently, employers must put in place “reasonable adjustments”.

Typical examples of reasonable adjustments may include some of the following:

  • Allowing the employee time off for medical appointments without it having to be taken as holiday or sick leave;
  • Moving the employees desk or office e.g. to a ground floor if they have difficulty using stairs;
  • Offering free workplace counselling;
  • Providing a private area for the employee to take medication or rest;
  • Offering additional sickness leave depending on the employee’s treatment requirements;
  • Creating additional flexibility in working hours;
  • Changing a person’s duties to take away tasks that might be physically challenging;
  • Allowing the employee to carry out some or all work from home;
  • Allowing additional breaks to cope with tiredness;
  • Assistance with a phased return to work..

An employer’s duty to make adjustments only extends to what is reasonable.  In certain circumstances the employer might be able to refuse to make an adjustment  because it just isn´t reasonable, based on cost, effectiveness and practicality.

Employers should also ensure that a record of communications regarding the employee’s health are well documented and always conducted in a confidential and sensitive way.

Finally, another important, yet commonly overlooked consideration, is the rights of carers.  Employees with at least 26 weeks service with their employer are eligible to make  flexible working requests.  A request to work flexibly could include, for example, a request to change working hours or a request to work from home.