Telling potential employers

If you're looking for work, you might wonder how employers will react if they know about your diagnosis. You may worry that employers might reject an application that mentions cancer or feel that talking about cancer in an interview would be difficult or lead to rejection.

There are no hard and fast rules. Generally you don't have to tell an employer if you don't want to. Mostly it's up to you if and when you let people know.

You have important legal rights from the day you're diagnosed. These rights mean that employers shouldn't discriminate against you. You should also be able to ask for the support you need in the workplace.

What employers are allowed to ask

Under section 60 of the Equality Act, an employer is not usually allowed to ask health questions before offering you a job. The employer may ask if you need adjustments for a job interview or assessment. They might also want you to fill out an equal opportunities form. This should be kept separate from the main application form by the human resources department.

Telling an employer

One of the advantages of being open with employers is that you have the right to equal treatment and you can ensure that this happens.

People with cancer automatically meet the definition of 'disabled' under the Equality Act (England, Wales, Scotland) or Disability Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland). This law covers areas of employment, including recruitment and contracts. This means you're protected against discrimination if an employer rejects your job application because of cancer. They also have to make changes called 'reasonable adjustments' to help you do the job.

Having cancer might mean there are things in your CV or working life that need to be explained e.g. a gap in your education or career because you were unwell or had to retake an exam. It may help to explain the situation so everyone knows what happened.

Some of your experiences though having cancer could make you a stronger candidate. You might want to tell employers how the skills you've learnt in managing you diagnosis make you particularly suitable for certain jobs e.g. you may have developed greater determination, be able to manage stressful situations or build relationships with people.

You can get funding for support costs through the government Access to Work scheme. Funding can pay towards extra help needed in the workplace such as:

  • 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, including taxi fares
  • disability awareness training for work colleagues.

If you're open about cancer, it's usually easier to arrange individual support.

Not telling an employer

You may have personal reasons for deciding not to tell an employer about your diagnosis. Having cancer is a very personal experience and you know best. You always have the right not to tell people if you don't want to.

However if you don't tell an employer you're disabled, it may be harder to enforce your rights if they don't treat you fairly. It also takes the emphasis away from the employer having to make reasonable adjustments.

Updated January 2017, next review due December 2017.