Just deserts? How employers support older employees with cancer

J. Remnant

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Disabled people have long been subject to mistreatment and mismanagement in the workplace. These issues endure despite (relatively) recent disability specific workplace protections, and are particularly relevant in the UK context of an ageing workforce as the incidence of long term illness and impairment increases with age. This paper discusses the experiences of working people aged over 50 with cancer, an illness which is defined as a disability under the Equality Act (2010). It uses data from qualitative interviews conducted with employees with cancer, employers (line managers, human resources staff and occupational health staff), healthcare professionals and Macmillan Cancer Support staff. Participants were sampled via their connection to an employment-specific cancer support service in North East England. Analysis was informed by constructivist grounded theory.Data from the study shows how employers effectively categorised their employees with cancer as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ based on their fulfilment of subjective obligations over time. This categorisation had material implications relating to sick pay, redundancy pay and reasonable adjustments despite the statutory nature of some payments and legal workplace protections and entitlements. Employees with cancer received less or more post-diagnosis support dependent on employer perceptions of their behaviour and performance prior to their diagnosis, and their behaviour and performance post-diagnosis. Reasonable adjustments, despite being a legal entitlement for disabled employees, were used explicitly by some employers as a reward for their employee’s post-diagnosis behaviours including staying in touch with employers and evidencing a desire to return to work as soon as possible.This paper argues that a false, and unjust dichotomy of deserving and undeserving has been absorbed into workplace and organisational culture. Deservingness is a subjective and evaluative measure, and yet is featuring in important decisions about the support offered to older working people diagnosed with cancer. Being categorised on these grounds sometimes contributed to the breakdown of workplace relationships and disrupted retirement and welfare transitions already destabilised by UK welfare reform. In an ageing workforce where numbers of employees diagnosed with cancer will increase, this paper highlights the arbitrary, and thus unfair, nature of decision making by employers regarding the support they offer employees with cancer.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2018
Event4th Biennial Fairness at Work Conference 2018 - Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sept 201811 Sept 2018


Conference4th Biennial Fairness at Work Conference 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'Just deserts? How employers support older employees with cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this