Employers Still Discriminating Against Workers With Cancer Despite New Legal Protection

Armen Hareyan's picture

Job Environment and Workers with Cancer

Despite changes in the law aimed at protecting workers with cancer from unfair treatment, a survey by the Disability Rights Commission has revealed that employers are still showing women with breast cancer the door rather than making adjustments that could keep them in work.

Before the legal change, employers could dismiss workers with cancer or long-term health conditions because their condition did not affect their ability to carry out normal activities. However an amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 meant that from December 2005 people with these conditions received legal protection from the point of diagnosis.

But figures from the Disability Rights Commission's (DRC's) helpline show that since December 2005 the Commission has taken on average 2 calls a week from women with breast cancer complaining of unfair treatment at work.


In total, more than 70 women with breast cancer and 103 people with other forms of cancer have called the DRC Helpline complaining of problems with their employers.

Examples of the experiences that women with breast cancer have related to the DRC include:

  • a woman working for a major high street retailer dismissed because she was not able to give a date to return to work after her radiotherapy treatment finished;

  • a care assistant in a residential home wanting to return to work after having breast cancer but instead being asked to resign and subsequently receiving her P45 in the post;

  • a woman who worked for a security firm for 19 years being told she was a "bad investment" because she needed more time off for reconstructive surgery.

Among callers with other cancers, the overwhelming majority (82%) cited employers failing to make reasonable adjustments that would keep them in work. Nearly one in five callers reported having been dismissed.