Reasonable adjustments at work

If you've had cancer, the workplace can be a challenging environment even after treatment is finished. Without the right support from your employer, there's a risk of being disadvantaged or feeling unable to fulfil your potential.

Do you know your rights?

People with cancer automatically meet the definition of ‘disabled’. You don’t have to define yourself as disabled – but it does give you legal protection. It means employers can’t discriminate against you. They cannot:

  • reject your job application for cancer-related reasons
  • use cancer as a reason to move you to an easier or lower-paid job
  • make you redundant because of your diagnosis
  • penalise you for time off sick, without taking your cancer into account
  • give unfairly negative appraisals for not meeting targets e.g. due to fatigue.

Failing to make a reasonable adjustment is also a form of discrimination.

If you think you’re being discriminated against at work, read the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guide for employees.

What is a reasonable adjustment?

A reasonable adjustment simply means a change to your working environment to make sure you aren’t disadvantaged because of your cancer.

What are good examples of reasonable adjustments?

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

How are reasonable adjustments made?

Your work should offer you a meeting to discuss your needs and to work out how they can support you. They should give you the option to meet with someone other than your line manager. You can also ask to have someone else at the meeting such as a colleague or trade union rep.

  • your work may already have a policy on flexible working or returning after sick leave
  • you can experience the physical and emotional impact of treatment long after its finished, and your employer should be aware of this
  • it’s up to you how much information about your cancer is shared with others or kept confidential
  • you have a right to be protected against discrimination because of having cancer.

What is ‘reasonable’?

A reasonable adjustment always depends on individual circumstances. For example, if treatment reduces your resistance to infection then it might be reasonable to allow you to commute to work outside of rush hour if you use public transport. When working out what is reasonable, your employer should take these factors into account:

  • the effectiveness of making the adjustment and whether it is practical to do so
  • size and type of employer
  • financial resources of the employer
  • availability of financial assistance such as the Access to Work scheme.

How long should I expect support?

Just because you’re not in hospital anymore, or your hair’s grown back, it doesn’t mean you won’t still feel pain, tiredness or anxiety. The physical and emotional impact of treatment can last long after its finished. Your employer should not only be aware of this but actively continue to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to do your job without being disadvantaged – like having time off for follow-up appointments.

How can I get my work to make changes?

Understanding and awareness is key to your work giving you the right support. Clear communication is essential – so make sure you have regular meetings and that you are being honest about what you need to do your job. It’s only when they know how cancer affects you that they can take action.

Employers who create a caring culture will find that their employees are more motivated and happy. Wellbeing in the workplace is an investment – people thrive in a supportive and flexible work environment which can only benefit an organisation.

If they struggle to view it through this lens, then remember that it is their legal obligation. If they don’t make reasonable adjustments, it’s possible you are being discriminated against and you can take legal action.

My employee has cancer is our toolkit for workplaces. It will guide them through each step – from diagnosis to returning to work – and help them to understand what they should be doing to support you and why.

Go to our toolkit for employers

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