Posted on 21.8.15 by David Walton
Earlier this week, Victoria Derbyshire announced on Twitter that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that she would be having a mastectomy in a few weeks’ time.
In what is undoubtedly one of the worst scenarios imaginable for her, the BBC broadcaster remained steadfast stating that she intended to continue with the Victoria Derbyshire television programme “as much as possible” in the months ahead whilst receiving treatment. According to the NHS, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK.
Victoria Derbyshire commented that her “family, friends, work and NHS staff are being brilliant”, which demonstrates that the BBC are once again playing their part as a supportive and understanding employer. A spokesman from the BBC said, “We wish Victoria a full and speedy recovery and look forward to having her back full-time on the programme as soon as possible.”
In February this year, another well-known BBC broadcaster, Nick Robinson, was diagnosed with lung cancer. The BBC’s handling of the situation was commendable and as such, Nick was able to return to our screens in May to work as part of the General Election coverage.
It is becoming apparent that more and more people who are diagnosed with cancer are deciding to remain in work throughout their treatment, with approximately half a million people currently working with the disease in the UK. Being diagnosed with cancer does not always have to result in long-term absence from work, although in some circumstances it is unavoidable. For those employees who opt to remain at work during their treatment, more often than not, adjustments to their workplace/work practice are necessary.
What are employers obliged to do?
With such a high-profile diagnosis in perhaps one of the most well-known corporations in the world, you’d expect such high standards in terms of its employment law practice. However, not all employers understand their legal obligations that are owed to their employees.
Where an employee is diagnosed with cancer, they are deemed disabled pursuant to the Equality Act 2010. Once the employer is aware of the employee’s diagnosis, the employer is under a strict legal duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace either to enable employees to remain within the workplace or to enable an already absent employee to return to work. Reasonable adjustments are required by law to alleviate any substantial disadvantage that the employee may suffer because of their cancer diagnosis.
Reasonable adjustments may include such things as, adjusting premises/modifying equipment (physical adjustments), allowing time off for appointments, altering the employee’s working hours including accommodating a late start time/early finish time and adjusting targets. There are no particular limits on what may be considered as a reasonable adjustment in the eyes of the law. Instead, the employer should take such steps as are reasonable to take in all the circumstances to remove any disadvantage.
Additionally, communication between employee and employer is absolutely vital. Having a regular open dialogue, including agreeing a ‘communication plan’ at the outset setting out what the employee and employer have agreed in terms of the most appropriate method of communication, enables either party to raise any issues/concerns they have and also to discuss possible adjustments that can be put in place. It is advised that both parties keep a log of any informal/formal meetings with employees to record that such discussions have taken place and what has been agreed.
Employers might also want to think about the possibility of a phased return back to work for employees and/or whether it is appropriate, in light of the diagnosis, for the employee to return to the same job which the employee had before their diagnosis or the possibility of the employee taking up an entirely new role. A smooth return to work is not only beneficial for the employee but it is also key from the company’s perspective, not least in terms of how the organisation is perceived both internally by its staff and externally. Acting responsibly and within the limits of the law in this regard, can give other staff confidence in their employer which is vital in maintaining high morale within the workplace.