Workplace disability discrimination protection for cancer victims in the UK has been widened as a result of a landmark legal case taken by the union Unite. The legal victory will ensure that people suffering with ‘pre-cancer’ will be protected under the Equality Act 2010.
The case involved Unite member Christine Lofty, who worked at First Café in Norwich for 14 years. In March 2015 a lesion on her face was diagnosed as pre-cancerous ‘lentigo malignia’, a form of melanoma. She required biopsies, surgery and skin grafts and took sick leave from her work to undergo this potentially lifesaving treatment.
However, while Mrs Lofty was on sick leave her employer Sadek Hamis saw her in the street and decided that she had taken too much sick leave and dismissed her in December 2015. Unite took a legal case on behalf of Mrs Lofty for unfair dismissal and discrimination, arguing the pre-cancer cells amounted to having cancer, which is considered a disability.
The employment tribunal dismissed the claim, accepting an argument that she had never had cancer. But it had failed to take into account a letter from Mrs Lofty’s GP that “Mrs Lofty had cancer” and that “pre-cancer” was a medical term for cancer that is for the moment contained, often described as “cancer in situ”.
Unite appealed the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), which found in favour of Mrs Lofty. The EAT agreed with Unite’s argument that pre-cancer is a form of cancer and therefore Mrs Lofty was deemed to be disabled at the point of diagnosis, which is when the Equality Act becomes relevant, rather than at the point of dismissal. All forms of cancer are given legal protection from discrimination under the Equality Act.
Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “This is a landmark case which will help ensure that employers cannot dismiss and discriminate against their workers who are suffering from any form of cancer.”
He added: “The fact that this case went to an Employment Appeal Tribunal means it is legally binding and can now be used in similar cases. Unite could not let this case drop as we had to ensure we won justice for victims of cancer.”