Disability discrimination - definition of cancer

20 April 2018

Cancer is listed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, providing sufferers from protection of discrimination, but what about pre-cancerous lesions?

Cancer is listed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, providing sufferers from protection from discrimination. Employers must also make reasonable adjustments to a cancer sufferer’s job to remove any disadvantage they suffer as a result of their cancer. The Employment Appeal Tribunal has now held that pre-cancerous lesions can amount to a disability.

Ms Lofty suffered from a type of skin cancer (letigo maligna) variously described as “pre-cancerous” and “in situ cancer”, which meant there was cancer cells in the top layer of her skin. She was absent from work for surgery and related health issues. Her employer Mr Hamis eventually dismissed her. Ms Lofty raised an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. However, the employment tribunal concluded that she did not suffer from cancer within the meaning of the Equality Act and was therefore not disabled under the legislation. The tribunal appeared to have particular regard to those parts of the medical evidence using the term “pre-cancerous” and that the condition was not (yet) invasive.

Ms Lofty’s appeal was successful. The Equality Act only requires an employee to show they have cancer for the legal protections to apply. The medical evidence showed that there were cancerous cells in the top layer of skin and this was enough for her to be considered disabled under the law (the EAT noted that the diagnosis of pre-cancerous cells might mean something different depending on where the cells are to be found).


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