Human Resources (HR) records are confidential, and your personal or medical data should be processed in line with the Data Protection Act (1998) and Access to Medical Records Act (1988).
If your employers tell people about your cancer without your permission, they may be acting in breach of the Data Protection Act.
Giving permission to tell colleagues about your cancer
If you would like your employer to tell other members of staff anything about your cancer, you may need to sign a consent form. This will give your employer permission to tell one or more named individuals.
If you need time off for treatment
Your employer should give you time off to attend your treatment and hospital appointments. However, you do not necessarily have a right to paid time off.
Try to give your employer as much warning as possible if you need extra time off, and discuss flexible working options with them.
Keeping your job open, redundancy and leaving work
Businesses and organisations vary in structure and size, so what may be 'reasonable' for one may not be for another. Depending on what type of cancer treatment you've had, and how it has affected you physically, you may not be able to return to the same role you had before.
If you find you're unable to return to your old job, and your employer isn't able to make adjustments or find you a different job, the law may allow your employer to end your contract.
For example, if you work for a small organisation it may not be possible to move you into another role. Your employer might be allowed to dismiss you if you can't carry out the main parts of your job, even after all reasonable adjustments have been considered. There may also be circumstances in which proposed adjustments aren’t ‘reasonable’ and therefore cannot be accommodated.
If you think you're being discriminated against
If you feel you're being unfairly treated, you should try first to resolve the problem directly with your line manager or HR department, as their actions may have been based on misconceptions about cancer or your needs.
If it's not possible to resolve the issue on an informal basis, you could submit a written grievance. Check your organisation's grievance procedure for details of how to do this.
Seeking further advice
If you believe you're being discriminated against, you should consult a specialist employment adviser as soon as possible. If you are a union member you should start by contacting your union. If not, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for advice on your employment rights.
You should keep detailed notes of any discriminatory incidents, actions or remarks. Write down the dates and times to ensure you can remember everything and enable a thorough investigation into the issues.
Dealing with awkward situations or difficult questions
Remember, your return to work can be awkward for your colleagues as well as for you. They won't be sure whether you want to talk about your illness or not. Some of them won't be able to talk to you or look you in the eye. Others may have lost a loved one to cancer and find talking about it upsetting.
You may have to take responsibility for setting your own barriers and comfort zones. Simply say, 'I don't want to discuss it', or 'Let's talk about it another time', or whatever reflects your wishes. You might be surprised by how quickly everything gets back to normal and you're chatting about everyday things as usual.
Updated January 2017, next review due December 2017.