Workers who face cancer hit with discrimination


One in five people who return to work after cancer face discrimination in their workplace, a report from Macmillan Cancer Support has found.

The report comes as separate research by Axa PPP Healthcare has found 21 per cent of managers with employees who have had cancer have never spoken to them about their illness.

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

The Macmillan research found that 18 per cent of people who return to work after being diagnosed with cancer say they faced discrimination from their employer or colleagues, with 35 per cent reporting 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. One in seven say they returned to work ‘before they felt ready’, and 14 per cent of people give up work altogether or are made redundant as a result of their diagnosis5.

The charity found that 85 per cent of people in work when they were diagnosed with cancer say that continuing work is important to them.

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.

The Axa research, which surveyed 500 UK managers who manage someone who has or has had cancer, found that 20 per cent said they don’t know how to talk about cancer or other illnesses with employees, and 21 per cent said they don’t feel comfortable speaking about any illness with employees. Of those who have discussed the employee’s cancer with them, a fifth say they’re less comfortable discussing cancer than they are discussing other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Axa’s study also investigated the behaviour of managers towards employees who have returned to work after completing their cancer treatment and found that 64 per cent said that they didn’t change how they managed the employee. Of these, 41 per cent said this was because they worried about the employee’s abilities and therefore decided to manage them softly by taking away all the pressure on them.

Liz Egan, Working Through Cancer Programme Lead at Macmillan Cancer Support 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.”

Axa PPP Healthcare cancer care operations manager Evelyn Wallace says: “Talking about cancer can be hard and the fear of upsetting the employee, despite having the best intentions, can put managers off broaching the topic. Equally, it’s alarming that some managers are sharing details of the employees’ cancer with colleagues without first asking them what they want to share. Having a frank and honest conversation with the affected employee can help managers understand whether or how they want to talk about their cancer and how and what they want the rest of their team to be told. It may sound simple but it can help employees retain control over what is an intensely personal matter and managers must remember that they should respect any request for confidentiality.

“Our research shows that managers could do more to support employees who are living with or beyond cancer, such as talking with them to get a better understanding about what they may be going through and finding out what their organisation may offer to support a phased return or flexible working arrangements as well as information and support available to employees. It’s important for managers to understand that returning to work after cancer can be a very daunting experience. It can take time to recover from any serious illness and each person will want to handle things differently. It’s also likely that their recovery to a new normality will be a rollercoaster – psychologically, emotionally and physically. Therefore, managers should not expect a formulaic return to previous standards. Nor should they expect the same productivity levels straight away but should instead listen to what the employee needs and be flexible in the support they offer.”