Going back to work after cancer treatment
Going back to work after time off can be nerve-wracking. Planning can help you, your boss and your clients. Make sure you focus on having the right support in place – this will make it easier to get back into working life.
When should I go back?
This should be your choice. We know this might not be possible because of money worries but as far as you can, make sure you feel physically and emotionally ready.
What do I need to do when I’m ready?
When you do feel well enough, and your doctor agrees, let your employer know. They might ask for your consent to get a medical report from your GP or consultant. This will give them more information about your illness and any adjustments they could make to support you. You can ask for a copy of the report. Always let your employer know if you only want certain people to have access to it.
Your boss might also get advice from their occupational health service. You may be asked to see or speak with an occupational health adviser. This is a chance for you to discuss any changes you think would help you return to work.
Make A ‘Return to Work Plan’ with your manager
Before going back to work set up a pre-return-to-work meeting. This is a chance to discuss your needs and how your employer can help make things easier for you at work. You could also explore a phased return, if you think it would help. This is when you go back to work in stages.
Someone should take notes of what is agreed at the meeting. These notes should then be typed up and sent to everyone who was there. This helps make sure everyone knows what they are meant to be doing and what will happen.
Any changes to your contract should be agreed in writing. This could include a change to your working hours, either short term or permanently.
Can I have someone with me for the meeting?
It can be help to have someone with you when you meet with your boss. This could be a union representative, someone from your HR department or a colleague you trust. Talk through the meeting with whoever you choose afterwards. They may have picked up on points you missed.
What if I struggle to do the job now?
Before your pre-return meeting, think about the kind of support you might need at work. All employers have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support you. This is to stop you being at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ because of your cancer. The types of changes will depend on a range of things including how practical they are to make and how much it will help you.
They could include time off for rehab, flexible or home working, or a phased return to work.
Find out more about reasonable adjustments here.
There may be tasks you now find it harder to do. Talk to your boss. They might be able to change your job description to remove tasks that are hard for you. For example, you might need to spend less time on your feet every day. If you agree, they might even move you to a new role which suits you better for a while.
Adjustments to your work environment
There are lots of changes which can be made to your work environment to make it easier to get back to work these include:
- A parking space close to work
- A change to the access
- New IT equipment, for example voice activated software
- Moving to a ground-floor desk
Talk to your boss about what would help you do your job.
What if I need time off for treatment or appointments?
If you’re still having treatment or need time off for appointments, you’ll need to manage this with your workplace. Some employers might want you to take unpaid leave. Some might be happy for you to make the time up or work from home. Make sure you understand your organisation’s policies on sickness and flexible working.
How will my colleagues react?
You might think of your colleagues as friends, especially if your workplace is small and is made up of a close-knit group of people. They might have been there for you through treatment and have a good understanding of what’s going on. Alternatively, you might only have professional relationships at work where it’s not easy to share personal matters. Or it might be a mix of both.
It is up to you whether you tell your colleagues. Legally, your medical information is private and your boss cannot share it with your co-workers without your permission.
Talking about your cancer with co-workers
People do not always react or behave as you’d expect so you might have to deal with some awkward interactions or questions. Try not to let this throw you. It’s ok to say if you don’t want to talk about it. Or if you do, tell them that too. The main thing is you feel comfortable setting your own barriers. If you’re struggling, ask your manager for advice.
How does this affect my benefits?
If you go back to work some of your benefits might change or stop. Make sure you check what you are still entitled to. Find out more about our welfare advice service here. Macmillan Cancer Support also has lots of advice on benefits for people with cancer here.
Returning to work if self-employed
If you are self-employed, you may feel pressure to get back to work but, if you can, try not to rush back in too quickly. Find out what benefits you can get. You might also want to build your client base back up slowly. Be honest with your clients about what you are going through.
Giving up work
You might decide you want to stop working completely. This can allow you to focus on your recovery and other areas of your life. But, if you give up work, you also give up the rights that come with your employment like sick pay and work-based medical insurance.
You might want to talk to an independent financial advisor.
Advice on money and rights is available via our welfare advice service. Macmillan also has a free financial guidance service which you can call from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday on 0808 808 00 00.
Looking for work
You may decide you want a new job after cancer. This might be because what matters most to you has changed, you want to try something new or because you cannot do your old job. If you are looking for work there are rules about what an employer can ask you. Before offering you a job they can only ask you about your health to:
- Make sure they are not discriminating against anyone
- Make sure they are hiring people from different groups
- Check if you need reasonable adjustments for the interview
- Ask if you can do something essential for the job.
Once they have offered you the job, they can ask more questions. If they decide to withdraw your job offer it cannot be for discriminatory reasons.
Your employment rights
It is important to know your rights. Not employing someone because of their illness or making reasonable adjustments are forms of discrimination. You can share our guide with employers to give them a better understanding of what their responsibility is to you. You can also check out Access to Work – a government programme designed to support people with health conditions or disabilities to get back into work.
If you think you are being discriminated against because of your cancer there are lots of places you can go for help. You can talk to your trade union if you have one. You can also call one of the following helplines:
- Acas, 0300 123 1100, open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
- Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS), 0808 800 0082, open Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm, and Saturday, 10am to 2pm (England, Scotland, Wales Only)
- Labour Relations Agency, 03300 555 300 (Northern Ireland only)
It's important your place of work knows how cancer has impacted your life. Your employer can (and should) make changes to help you do your job. This easy guide will help them understand their legal duty and how to support you. Share it with them as soon as you can so they, and you, know what to expect.
Reviewed May 2023
Next Review date: 2027
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