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Most UK managers feel unable to offer adjustments for cancer

Under the Equality Act 2010 cancer is classed as a disability as soon as it is diagnosed

Under half (47%) of line managers said they would be able to offer support to colleagues with cancer with reasonable adjustments in their workplace, according to a new study exclusive to HR magazine.

The study, from health service Working to Wellbeing, found just one in four (23%) of UK line managers would proactively explain to a colleague with cancer’s rights at work to them. 

According to the Equality Act 2010, progressive conditions, such as cancer, are classed as a disability as soon as they are diagnosed, even if an individual is currently able to carry out normal day-to-day activities. 

Employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability and these adjustments must be considered with a specific individual and their specific role in mind. 

Read more: Cancer patients unaware of their rights at work

Julie Denning, managing director at Working To Wellbeing and Chair of the Vocational Rehabilitation said employers cannot afford to ignore the needs of workers who have cancer.

She told HR magazine: “The growing incidence of cancer in the workforce is a risk that employers can not afford to ignore or they will be faced with reduced productivity, low retention, poor morale and increased costs. 

“As well as making business-sense to take the front-foot, employers have a legal obligation via the Equality Act 2010 to support employees with disabilities, including those diagnosed with cancer, ensuring reasonable adjustments are made for them at work.” 

The study found one in three (36%) of workers who have or had cancer in the workplace have been satisfied with the adjustments they received. 

This number is lower for women (33%) and those aged over 55 (25%).

People were most satisfied with the flexible working offered (42%), followed by job redesign (34%) and physical workplace modification (29%).

Macmillan estimates that there are 890,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK. 

Read more: Working with Cancer: a guidebook for HR

Denning said most people with cancer want to work but need physical and psychological support, such as return to work plans with line managers and health coaching to help them manage their symptoms.

She said: “In our decade-long experience as a back-to-work rehabilitation specialist, we’ve found that most people with cancer want and need to be in work. Being diagnosed with cancer can be one of the most difficult situations that anyone has to face, causing both physical and mental health symptoms

“We believe that good work is an important part of the recovery pathway and is an outcome that we work towards.” 

The research was conducted from 8-12 September 2023 among 566 UK line managers and 112 people who have or have had cancer in the workplace.