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Acas launches new guide for bosses on how to handle potentially life-threatening conditions at work

Thursday 29 September 2016

Workplace experts, Acas, have launched a new guide today to help employers manage staff who have a potentially life threatening or long term illness such as cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis.

It is estimated that by 2020 almost one in two people (47%) will get cancer at some point in their lives but some employers may be ill equipped to deal with staff who have the condition and unfamiliar with the law.

Acas advises employers and small businesses to have regular discussions with employees who have a progressive illness and to make reasonable adjustments to their jobs if necessary.

Acas Head of Guidance, Stewart Gee, said:

"Being diagnosed with a potentially life threatening illness such as cancer can be a devastating experience for a worker and a manager may worry about how they can provide the best possible support.

"Many employers may not be aware that as soon as anyone gets diagnosed as having cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis then they have the same protection as someone with a disability according to the law, and are automatically protected against discrimination under the Equality Act.

"Our guidance published today offers advice to bosses on how best to provide support to team members and employees who have a potentially life threatening or long term illness as well as staying within the law."

Acas' top tips for managers on handling potentially life threatening illnesses at work include:

  • Have an early conversation with staff members who have progressive illnesses very early on and establish whether or not they wish to share their news with team members. Colleagues may be more understanding about any change in work arrangements if they know what's happening;
  • Get an understanding of the illness and the effects it will have on their staff and what kind of reasonable adjustments that can help them. This could mean a change in working hours, type of work or extra time off for medical appointments depending on the circumstances;
  • Regular chats can help to reveal if any additional adjustments will be needed and extra support that's available at work; and
  • Make sure employees are aware of their workplace rights including sick pay and other benefits they could be entitled to.

Acas' full guidance is available at our guidance page




Notes to editors

  1. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. We support good relationships between employers and employees which underpin business success. We also provide good value, high quality training and tailored advice to employers. Our expertise is based on millions of contacts with employers and employees each year. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law. For more information, check out the Acas website:
  2. Cancer mortality trends: 1992-2020 report from Macmillan Cancer Support (2013), estimated that that by 2020 almost one in two people (47%) will get cancer at some point in their lives. Estimate is based on prevalence, incidence and mortality trends: 
  3. There are now an estimated 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK, rising to 4 million by 2030 and Of the 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK, approximately one in three is of working age. [ Estimate is based on prevalence, incidence and mortality trends: (Prevalence in 2015 estimated from Maddams et al. (2012). Prevalence in 2030 and 2040 taken directly from Maddams J, Utley M and Møller H. 2012. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom,2010-2040. British Journal of Cancer. 2012; 107: 1195-1202. (Scenario 1 presented here)
  4. For media enquiries or to receive an embargoed copy of the guidance, please contact Shumon Ali-Rahman, Senior Media Manager on 020 7210 3688 or For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.