Employment

It's likely your cancer treatment will have an impact on your working life or looking for a job. You may worry about how your employer (or potential employers) will view your illness. It can be hard to know what questions to ask and who to talk to when it comes to managing work and cancer treatment.

You have legal rights from the day you're diagnosed under the Equality Act. This means employers shouldn't discriminate against you. You should also be able to ask for the support you need at work.

In some situations there are advantages to telling employers about your cancer. Where there is a human resources department, there should be proper procedures in place to help with this.

Support

Support for employees with a cancer diagnosis can include many different things:

  • giving you time off for treatment and check-ups
  • changing parts of your job description so you spend less time on tasks that cause extra discomfort
  • letting you work more flexible hours, including working from home
  • giving you extra breaks, for example if you have fatigue
  • organising the workplace to make it accessible if you need a wheelchair or crutches
  • a designated parking space if you drive to work
  • improving ventilation in the workplace if heat makes you feel especially tired or sick
  • clear communication and regular conversations with your line manager and human resources, especially during any periods you're away
  • a phased return to work after treatment, gradually building up your stamina and confidence again.

Your rights

People with cancer automatically meet the definition of 'disabled' under the Equality Act (England, Wales and Scotland) and the Disablity Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland).

You're protected against discrimination if an employer:

  • rejects your job application because of cancer
  • uses cancer as a reason to move you to an easier or lower-paid job
  • promotes someone ahead of you with less ability or experience
  • warns you for time off sick, without taking your diagnosis into account
  • gives you unfairly negative performance reviews for not meeting targets due to fatigue
  • selects you for redundancy because of your cancer diagnosis.

Employers have a legal duty to support you. Where reasonable, they should make changes to help you do your job during and after treatment. Failure to make 'reasonable adjustments' is a form of discrimination.

Getting help

You don't have to tell an employer you have cancer. If you do tell them, you have the right to ask for the information to be kept confidential from work colleagues.

However you need to tell your employer you have a cancer diagnosis before they can put support in place. It's your choice if and when to tell people. It's usually best to talk directly to your line manager or human resources manager, or go through your trade union if you belong to one.

If you're already working when you're diagnosed, it's likely your cancer treatment will mean taking time off. Your employer should explore with you whether you’d prefer flexible working hours. Alternatively you can simply ask them to keep your job open for when you return after sick leave.

People at work usually understand this is a stressful time and will do their best to be supportive. Feel free to suggest adjustments that could make things easier. You can choose to share advice you've received from medical professionals about what would help. Large employers may also have an occupational health adviser who can look at the specific demands of your job.

Access to work

All employers have a legal duty to make adjustments. You can tell them about Access to Work, a government scheme that can pay for extra support in the workplace to help your employer with costs. The scheme can help in a number of ways, for example by paying towards:

  • specialist equipment, such as voice-recognition software if it's hard for you to type
  • a support worker to help you in your workplace
  • travel to work if you can’t use public transport, this can include taxi fares
  • disability awareness training for work colleagues.

If you're a member of a trade union, you may be able to get advice and support with any issues from an equality rep in your workplace or local branch.

Last reviewed: November 2015
Next planned review: December 2016

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