ACAS has issued new guidance to assist employers in managing staff who have long-term or potentially life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

ACAS has published its guidance in light of projections drawn up by Macmillan Cancer Support in 2013 which estimated that by 2020 47% of the population would be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their life.  With employees continuing to work longer, this issue is likely to become more prevalent for employers.

Employers need to be able to understand the law in relation to life-threatening illnesses and also appropriately manage staff who have these conditions.

The law

The Equality Act  2010 (the Act) prohibits discrimination in employment in respect of disability. The definition of disability in the Act is “a physical or mental impairment” which “has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [that person’s] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Under the Act, there are some medical conditions that are expressly deemed to be disabilities from the point of diagnosis, including cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis. Employees with these conditions are automatically protected against discrimination under the Act.

If an employee suffers from one of these three conditions, or if their condition otherwise falls within the definition of disability, the employer must be careful to avoid:

  • direct discrimination;
  • discrimination arising from a disability;
  • indirect discrimination;
  • failing to comply with their duty to make reasonable adjustments;
  • victimisation; and/or
  • harassment.

Tips for employers

ACAS’s tips for an employer dealing with an employee who has a potentially life-threatening condition include:

  • have an early conversation with the employee to find out whether they want to share their news with colleagues – colleagues may be more understanding about any change in working arrangements if they know what’s happening;
  • discuss the illness with the employee to find out whether there are any reasonable adjustments that could assist them i.e. a change in working hours, type of work or extra time off for medical appointments;
  • meet with the employee regularly to ascertain whether any additional adjustments and/or support is required; and
  • ensure that employees are aware of their workplace rights including sick pay and other benefits that they could be entitled to.

ACAS guidance

To access the ACAS guidance, please click here.

The guidance provides more detailed information on dealing specifically with employees who have cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

For further information please contact Victoria Middleditch.