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To coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which begins today (Thursday) and lasts throughout October, the TUC has issued guidance for union representatives, employees, line managers and employers for how best to support colleagues with cancer at work.

date: 30 September 2015
embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 1 October 2015

To coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which begins today (Thursday) and lasts throughout October, the TUC has issued guidance for union representatives, employees, line managers and employers for how best to support colleagues with cancer at work.

More than 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer across the UK. As survival rates improve and people retire later, many people will continue to work after – or even during – their treatment for cancer.

The TUC believes that getting back to work at the right time and with the right support can provide psychological and financial benefits to workers with cancer. However, some employers struggle to provide the right support for their staff and this is where guidance from unions can be crucial.

The TUC advice – put together by TUC Education and Macmillan Cancer Support – says:

• 1. Confidentiality. Trust, honesty and confidentiality are vital in supporting staff with cancer. Employees who talk to their bosses about their illness and difficulties in coping with work must not be penalised, downgraded or even made redundant as a result. Employers should be patient, discrete and understanding and arrange for alternative or comparable employment, or suitable retraining if necessary.

• 2. Flexibility. Everyone with cancer is classed as disabled under the Equality Act, so employers need to make reasonable adjustments to a member of staff’s working arrangements when they are diagnosed and treated for cancer. Union reps can help employers with changes that might include allowing an employee time off to attend doctors’ appointments, allowing more flexibility in working hours, allowing extra breaks to help cope with tiredness, allowing more working from home and allowing a phased return to work after extended sick leave.

• 3. Keeping in touch. Union reps should keep in touch with sick employees while they are off as well as when they are in the workplace to help make sure they still feel involved, valued and part of the team, to ensure early referral for medical checks, to be alert to disability issues and to involve all levels of management in rehabilitation – including line managers and HR staff.

• 4. Return to work. When it is time for a member of staff to return to work there should be a clear policy in place – that is not linked with any disciplinary procedure – and the advice of the employee’s GP or medical specialist should be followed. A range of options should be open to the returning staff member and where appropriate there should be alterations of work stations, retraining offered, changes to working times and patterns, and a review of transport arrangements to and from work.

• 5. Wider support. Union reps can also work with staff who will have to become carers for partners, children or relatives who have been diagnosed with cancer, and help employees ensure they are getting all the financial support they are entitled to including statutory sick pay, carer’s allowance, housing benefit and tax credits. Unions can also help negotiate paid carers' leave.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone dreads a cancer diagnosis. It now affects one in three people, and each year in the UK there are approximately 90,000 people of working age who find out that they have cancer. The chances are that one of your colleagues or someone in your business will be affected – either directly through being ill themselves or through a close relative having the disease.

“People with cancer can experience considerable prejudice from both managers and colleagues and may hide aspects of their illness from bosses. There is enormous scope for union reps to ensure employers support their staff effectively, and everyone should be in a trade union to get their voice heard and their interests represented at work.”

Case study one: Deborah Sander, a part-time teacher on a one-year fixed-term contract did not have her contract renewed after taking time off for breast cancer treatment. She was employed for the academic year beginning September 1998. In the Autumn term she arranged treatment to be on her days off but in December she had to go into hospital for surgery, followed by scans and radiotherapy through to Summer 1999. Her contract was not renewed.

Case study two: Mr McLauchlan, a senior loss prevention manager, was diagnosed with throat cancer in May 1997. He was dismissed in July 1998 for “perceived lack of performance”. His salary had been £60,000 a year. He had taken 40 days off work for cancer treatment but otherwise had continued working while undergoing treatment – albeit with reduced responsibilities – before he was in remission.

- Cancer in the Workplace: A workbook for union representatives is available at…
- The materials were originally developed by Macmillan Cancer Support and TUC Education and since then hundreds of workplace reps, safety reps and union tutors have used them to consider how they can support people affected by cancer in the workplace.
- All TUC press releases can be found at
- Follow the TUC on Twitter: @The_TUC and follow the TUC press team @tucnews
Media enquiries:
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