Is the 'duty of care' just words?

UK offices seem to have a poor record when it comes to their employees suffering from an illness, from cancer to asthma as the “duty of care” seems to be just empty words.

Research from Asthma UK shows that 11 per cent of employees with asthma said they have either lost their job or are worried about losing their job due to their illness.

It also found that 10 per cent have been disciplined or been giving a warning at work because of their asthma. As well as 4 million work days being lost annually to asthma.

A bit of advice that Asthma UK gives to people is to speak to their HR department or Occupational Health about their asthma and what triggers it.

In light of World Cancer Day on the 4/2/20, RedArc research found some of the worst questions employees with cancer had been asked by their employer.

They were:

  • “We may have to let you go as you are no longer able to carry out your duties.”
  • “Perhaps you should retire.”
  • “We may need to replace you as we cannot wait any longer for you to return.”
  • “You have had your treatment and so should be fine.”
  • “Can you not come in to work around your treatment appointments.”


Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK and a practicing GP, said:

It’s deeply concerning that people have lost or are worried about losing their job because of their asthma. This research shows just how difficult it can be for people to talk about asthma in the workplace. Fear of judgement, shame and a general lack of understanding all fuel the stigma that can sometimes surround the condition.

We don’t want asthma to be shrouded in secrecy in the workplace. Juggling a stressful job and a serious long-term condition like asthma can be challenging. Unlike at home, people may have less control at work over things that could potentially trigger a life-threatening asthma attack. The good news is that following simple steps such as having open conversations with your employer and colleagues about asthma and your triggers could make all the difference.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc said:

It is employers’ rightful duty and responsibility to provide support for staff who are diagnosed with a critical illness, and that support starts with what an employer says and how they say it.

Of course, not every employer will feel at ease having these potentially difficult conversations, and where this is the case, they may benefit from having access to specialists who can support both the individual employee as well as signpost to coaching, training and support for the line manager and HR team.

In our experience, many people with cancer want to continue working, or get back to work as soon as they can. There can be many obstacles both physically and mentally for the employee and also limitations within the workplace. Managed well, the workplace can be a safe haven for those with, and recovering from, cancer: somewhere where they have a purpose and where they can get away from their health matters. Employers who understand this, take the time to appreciate and accommodate the issues and treat their staff with respect, understanding and support will be repaid in commitment and loyalty.

Asthma UK’s research is based on the feedback from 12,8000 employees with Asthma and RedArc was obtained by speaking to over 650 employees suffering from cancer.

Darius is the editor of HRreview. He has previously worked as a finance reporter for the Daily Express. He studied his journalism masters at Press Association Training and graduated from the University of York with a degree in History.