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Injustice to cancer patients at work

According to disability experts, some cancer patients are experiencing unjust dismissal and discrimination at work place in spite of the new legislation to protect their rights//.

The Disability Discrimination Act came into effect from the end of last year has provided effective protection at work to people with severe illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis etc. However, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has reported that 200 cancer patients had called up its helpline this year complaining of difficulties at work.

According to the commission this is just a small part of a huge problem with several seriously ill patients still unaware of their rights. As per the new laws, employers should make alterations in such people’s working arrangements like giving time off for treatment or reducing the working hours. These alterations known as ‘reasonable adjustments’ will make sure that cancer patients can come back to work.

However, several cancer patients say that they were not given this opportunity. A care assistant in a residential home who wanted to return to work after having breast cancer revealed that she was instead asked to resign and had later got her P45 in the post.

Some of the other cases the DRC dealt with include a woman working for a major high street retailer who was dismissed as she was not able to give a date of return to work after her radiotherapy treatment. Another woman who had a mastectomy was told that break due to illness or disability was a disciplinary matter and anyone having more than four sickness periods a year would be dismissed.

In another case, a woman who had breast cancer and worked for a security firm for 19 years was told she was a "bad investment" as she needed more time off for reconstructive surgery. But the most awful of all incidents is the one in which, a woman had a job offer withdrawn by a cancer charity after it was found that she had had breast cancer 6 years ago.

Agnes Fletcher, from the DRC, said, "We are shocked at the extent of the discrimination. "Sometimes employers think a person who's had cancer shouldn't be in work, but it can be very important for people to have the social contact and the income. "We've had instances of people saying they want to go back to work and employers saying 'I don't want you because you're too much of a risk'. I think that's very sad."

The DRC's helpline has also received several calls from employers asking for clarification about the law. A DRC spokesman said: "Direct discrimination and failures to make adjustments is turning the world of work into a very hostile environment for workers with these disabilities. "We cannot tolerate people with cancer and long-term health conditions being prevented from making their contribution to the workplace."

According to the DRC, employers should be more aware of the new laws and their obligations towards staff identified with a serious illness. A spokeswoman for Cancerbackup said: "We know from people calling our helpline and our report last year that this is an issue for cancer patients. Although the DDA amendment came into force last year many employers are not aware of it.

"A lot of people feel unable to return to work even though they want to. Employers need to be more flexible."
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