Telling your employer

You don’t have to tell your employer about your cancer but there can be advantages to being open with them – like getting the proper support you need. You have legal rights from the day you're diagnosed which means employers shouldn't discriminate against you.

Get support from your employer

If you do decide to tell your employer, it's usually best to talk with your line manager or human resources manager directly or go through your trade union if you belong to one.

Feel free to suggest other things you feel would help. You can also share advice you've received from medical professionals. Large employers may also have an occupational health adviser who can look at the specific demands of your job. 

Support could include:

  • 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.

Make the most of your rights

The Equality Act protects disabled people from being treated unfairly. You may not think of yourself as having a disability but as someone with cancer, you automatically meet the legal definition of 'disabled' from the day you're diagnosed.  

You don’t have to think of yourself as 'disabled' but this legal protection is important to get the support you need and protect you from discrimination.

Employers have a legal duty to make changes or 'reasonable adjustments' - like those listed above - so you aren’t disadvantaged. 

Helping your employer with costs

If cost is an issue, you can tell them about Access to Work. This is a government scheme that can pay for extra support in the workplace to help your employer with costs, 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
  • 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 with any issues from an equality rep in your workplace or local branch.

Remember, employers have a legal duty to support you. Failure to make 'reasonable adjustments' is a form of discrimination.

Telling colleagues about your cancer

If you do tell your employer, you have the right to ask for the information to be kept confidential from work colleagues. Human Resources (HR) records are confidential, and your personal or medical data should be processed in line with the Data Protection Act and Access to Medical Records Act.

If your employers tell people about your cancer without your permission, they may be acting in breach of the Data Protection Act.

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.

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. 

Taking time off

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. Read more about arranging time off.

The rights of your employer

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 your employer can't make the adjustments you need to return to your old job, and they can't find you a suitable alternative, the law may allow your employer to end your contract.

If you work for a small organisation, for example, if 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. 

Where next?

Updated January 2018, next review due 2019.