Arranging time off

If you're not sure how your treatment will affect your ability to work, talk to the health professionals looking after you. This may help you to make decisions about your work before you make firm plans with your employer. They may also be able to provide you with a letter outlining your cancer and treatment, which you can give to your employer, should you wish.

However, as treatment can affect people differently, the advice or information may be quite general, especially if you are at the start of treatment.

"I couldn't keep up because I got so tired. I just had to stop work altogether."

Practical matters

As soon as you know you're going to have to take time off work because of cancer, it is a good idea to talk to your manager or employer so that they're completely up-to-date with what's happening.

Most employers will do their best to change your duties or working hours so that you can carry on working if you want to, or so that you can get back to work as soon as possible. However, other employers may not have had any experience of helping an employee through cancer, so you will need to explain very clearly what you need.

If possible, arrange to meet with your employer so you can work together to plan your time off and decide what's best for you. Or if you are not well enough to meet them, try to maintain regular contact by phone.

Getting time off work

Your employer's responsibilities for your wellbeing include managing both planned and unplanned sick leave, and helping you plan your return to work.

Ask your manager or Human Resources (HR) department for a copy of your organisation's sick leave policy. Some organisations actually have a specific cancer policy, so ask your employer about this.

Getting a doctor's note

If you are continuing to work throughout your treatment, but have to take more than seven calendar days off at any stage, remember to ask your GP for a fit note (also known as a 'Statement of Fitness for Work') for the time you've been off work.

If you've had to stay in hospital, ask the doctor or nurse for a statement to cover the time you've been there. You'll need these if you want to claim benefits.

Your GP, doctor or nurse may issue you with a statement saying that you may be fit to work subject to certain circumstances (for example, a reduction in the number of hours you work or that you work from home).

It will be down to your employer to determine whether your job can accommodate these changes. You will be required to give these to your employer if you've been off work for more than seven calendar days. Check the specific procedure for submitting doctor's notes with your manager or HR department.

Your boss may also ask you to fill in a form when you return to work to confirm that you've been off sick for up to seven days. This is called 'self-certification'.

Content reviewed December 2013, next planned review 2014.

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