Challenges faced by cancer patients returning to work
Authors: Laura Dillingham
03 May 2013
New research shows almost four in ten people (37%) who return to work after cancer treatment say they experience some kind of discrimination from their employer or colleagues – compared to just under a quarter (23%) in 2010. This rise in the number of people living with cancer experiencing discrimination at work is despite the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010.
The survey by YouGov for Macmillan, reveals that of UK adults who returned to work after cancer treatment found that around one in 10 (9%) felt harassed to the point they felt they could not stay in their job. One in eight (13%) said their employer failed to make reasonable changes to enable them to do their job.
Patients also report being denied time off for medical appointments, passed over for promotion or feeling abused by their employer or colleagues (for example by being given unfair workloads).
Every year, more than 100,000 people of working age in the UK are diagnosed with cancer, and more than 800,000 are currently caring for people with cancer. Almost half of those who are working when diagnosed with cancer have to make changes to their working lives, with around 4 in 10 of those changing jobs or leaving work altogether. And as our population grows and ages, and the retirement age rises, cancer will become an increasingly common issue for employees and their managers.
Cancer and its treatment affect people in a variety of ways: common problems include fatigue, pain, a reduced freedom of movement and depression, as well as practical issues such as the need to take time off work for treatment or check-ups. New and improved treatments are helping more people live with cancer as a long-term, chronic condition. And like many other long-term conditions, cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act. By law, employers must consider requests such as flexible working hours or physical adjustments to the workplace from someone who has cancer. But there are more than just legal reasons to support people with cancer at work. Helping someone with cancer to stay in employment saves time and money by avoiding the need to recruit their replacement, and boosts loyalty and morale. Providing this support is easier than businesses may think.
More than 70% of organisations that make workplace adjustments to support people with disabilities such as cancer find them easy to implement. Many adjustments, such as offering flexible working hours or permitting an employee to work from home, cost nothing. For those that do come with a cost, such as purchasing special equipment or setting up awareness training for colleagues, employees with cancer can apply for grants such as the government’s Access to Work scheme. If employers are not sure where to start, Macmillan’s Essential work and cancer toolkit offers a range of tools and advice that can help them to navigate the available options. Our cancer policy template can also guide HR teams in developing a company policy for managing cancer in the workplace, while our e-learning resources can help occupational health teams brush up on their cancer knowledge.
In addition, Macmillan and The Work Foundation are working together on the issue of how to increase the employment of people with long-term conditions, including cancer. This includes improving access to specialist vocational rehabilitation services for people with complex problems.
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