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Being diagnosed with cancer shouldn’t affect your job – so long as both employers and employees know where they stand, a top law firm has declared.

In fact it can even improve career prospects, if Nick Robinson is anything to go by.

The BBC political editor is soon to realise a long held ambition to host Radio 4’s flagship news programme, ‘Today’, despite being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer earlier this year.

It’s a move which specialist employment lawyer Sarah Collier of Gorvins solicitors regards  as a great example of an employer working with the employee to get best outcomes for all.

Yet she stresses that it’s vital for employers and employees to have an open dialogue if absence and return to work isn`t to compromise standing and career prospects.

There are 500,000 people working with cancer in the UK – including the popular broadcaster, who has overseen the ousting of Tony Blair, an ill-tempered coalition and now the first Conservative government in 18 years

Yet a You Gov poll commissioned by Macmillan Cancer support has previously revealed that four in 10 people returning to their jobs after treatment have been unfairly treated – a 50 per cent rise in three years.

This included patients being denied time off for medical appointments, passed over for promotion or feeling abused by their employer or colleagues.

So how did Nick Robinson achieve his aim, and how can others do the same?

It`s likely, says Sarah Collier, that Nick Robinson will have discussed with BBC bosses how to handle his illness. Especially in the light of covering May’s General Election.

“Nick will have taken charge of the situation, communicating honestly and quickly with his bosses, making sure everyone who needed to know knew and they worked out between them a timeframe for management and happily a successful post-op outcome.”

Robinson, who is 51, was diagnosed with a bronchial carcinoid tumour on his lung in February and was treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy.

Despite spending most of the election campaign recuperating, Mr Robinson returned on election night for the results coverage.

So, how can employees protect themselves?

“Not all employers behave like the BBC when presented with news of prolonged absence of an employee in potentially life-threatening circumstances. But employers do have a strict legal obligation to make adjustments. A person suffering from cancer has the same rights as someone with a disability and needs to be accommodated fairly.”

The key things to consider, says Sarah are:

  • Good communication so that everyone can agree what adjustments can be made to accommodate absence, how the person wants to be kept in touch with throughout treatment and who takes responsibility for it.  Keep a log of all the meetings so that there is no confusion.
  • Employers should already have a HR policy on cancer, so that it can be referred to objectively
  • Bosses understanding what a reasonable adjustment looks like is a phased return feasible, is another role possible in the long-term? An employer needs to give proper consideration to all outcomes. If they fail to make adjustments they may well face grievances and potential claims so it’s important to get it right.
  • The effect of the diagnosis on colleagues. Everyone who is affected by the employee’s diagnosis needs to be briefed on the situation and the company’s legal obligations.

“It is possible to overlook people with cancer when they return to work,” says Sarah, “Especially if it’s a long-term battle and someone is away from their job for a year and their capability to do the role is affected.

“Employees are valid members of staff and their talents and capability is much missed while they are absent. A smooth return to work is not only helpful to a recovering cancer patient; it can have huge on-going benefits to the company.”