Hearing you have cancer when you're about to start work or training can be a difficult experience and you may feel anxious about your future prospects. The good thing about apprenticeships is that there many different and flexible ways to join a programme.

From the day you're diagnosed you have important legal rights in the workplace. This means that, whether you continue straight away or return after treatment, you should always be able to ask for support. Your college or training provider can also help keep your career on track.

Support for your apprenticeship

Apprenticeships give you practical training through a combination of employment and study. Usually, they involve working four days a week and spending one day a week at a college or training provider.

Support can include:

  • allowing you more flexible hours
  • giving you time off for hospital appointments and treatment
  • organising the workplace to make it accessible if you need a wheelchair or crutches
  • changing parts of your training so you spend less time on tasks that cause extra discomfort
  • extra time for assessments, for example if you have fatigue
  • a locker or somewhere you can leave stuff you’d normally carry
  • improving ventilation in the workplace if heat makes you feel especially tired or sick
  • clear communication and regular update 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

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

This means that both the training provider and the employer should make sure they don't discriminate against you. The employer cannot:

  • reject your apprenticeship application because of having cancer
  • use cancer as a reason to pay you less than other apprentices
  • promote someone ahead of you with less ability or experience
  • warn you for time off sick, without taking your diagnosis into account
  • give you unfairly negative performance reviews for not meeting targets due to fatigue
  • end the apprenticeship early because of your cancer diagnosis.

Under the Equality Act, training providers and employers must make reasonable adjustments so that disabled apprentices are not disadvantaged. This means they have a legal duty to make certain changes to help you train and work, such as those above.

How to get help

Your college or training provider will usually take the lead in helping you. You need to tell them about your cancer diagnosis before they can put support and reasonable adjustments in place.

You should be able to have a confidential discussion with the staff member responsible for disability (usually called the learning support adviser, inclusive learning coordinator or disability adviser).

As an apprentice, you'll be working most of the time and most of your training will take place on-the-job. It's important that any support is tailored to your job role. Therefore you might also need to talk to your line manager or human resources manager.

Colleges and training providers receive money from their funding bodies to pay for Learning Support, so you can generally expect them to cover the support costs of off-the-job training.

Help with extra support costs

Employers have a legal duty to make adjustments. However, you can help show them that support costs won't be a problem by telling them about Access to Work scheme. This can help pay towards:

  • specialist equipment such as magnification or voice-recognition software
  • a support worker to help you in your workplace
  • taxi fares to work if you can't use public transport.

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

Where next?

Updated January 2018, next review due 2019.