5th October 2016

Handling life threatening conditions in the workplace

ACAS have published a new guide to help employers whose employees who may have life threatening or long term illnesses.  It is hoped this guidance will be useful to employers bearing in mind the number of employees who suffer from cancer, with estimations that by 2020 almost 1 in 2 people will get cancer at some point in their lives.  Employers find it difficult enough to deal with long term illnesses in the work place, but when this is coupled with it being life threatening it is necessary for employers to tread even more sensitively.

Whenever employers are faced with an employee with a long term illness, they need to be considering whether that person is disabled under the Equality Act and therefore entitled to extra protection against discrimination because of that illness.  It is important to note that as soon as anyone is diagnosed with having cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis then they are automatically protected under the Equality Act.

Managing a long term illness is difficult for the employee and the employer.  The employer is always attempting to balance the needs of the employee with the needs of the business and its staff.

Employers also need to consider whether they are treating that employee less favourably because of their illness and whether any “reasonable adjustments” are required to assist that employee in returning to or remaining in the workplace.

The topic of “reasonable adjustments” is a complex topic which is constantly changing. For example, a recent case of G4S Cash solutions v Powell has illustrated that employers should even possibly maintain an employee’s pay as a “reasonable adjustment” if they are given an alternative, less demanding role to do.

Employers should bear the following points in mind whenever dealing with long term illnesses, including those which may be potentially life threatening:-

  • Good communication and consultation.  It is key to have clear communication with the employee about what their expectations are and what the employer’s expectations are.
  • Expert evidence.  Neither the employer or employee will be experts on their illness. To ensure that the employer has full understanding of the illness, it is wise to consider seeking expert medical opinion.
  • Reasonable adjustments. It is important for employers to remember their duty to consider reasonable adjustments and to keep an open mind when considering possible solutions.

Disability discrimination and dealing with long term sickness in the workplace can be thorny issues to deal with and if you require any assistance in this area of law, please do contact us to see how we can help you. You can contact Linda Wilson on 01730 268211 or at

N.B. Please note that the above information is a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend seeking specialist legal advice on your own particular circumstances.