How do I tell my employer?

You don’t have to tell your employer about your cancer but there can be big advantages to being open with them – like getting the proper support you need. Once they are aware of your condition, they have a duty to help you continue with work - or take time away if you need to.

Who do I tell?

If you decide to tell your employer, it’s best to talk with your line manager or human resources manager directly. Make use of your trade union if you belong to one. You might want to start by talking to them first and they can help to guide you through any conversations.

Where should I start?

First, think about things you feel would help. Whether that’s to continue working, dropping down your hours or taking time off. If you’re not sure how things are going to pan out, talk to your team at hospital or Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker. Things you could think about asking for 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.

What can I reasonably expect from my work?

Employers have a legal duty to support you. Failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ – like the ones above – is a form of discrimination.

Large employers may also have an occupational health adviser who can review the specific demands of your job and support the argument for adjustments being made.

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.

Is money an issue for your employer?

If so, you can tell them about Access to Work. This is a government scheme that can pay for any costs involved in supporting you in the workplace. This includes things like specialist equipment, a support worker or taxi fares to work if you can't use public transport.
Large employers may also have an occupational health adviser who can review the specific demands of your job and support the argument for adjustments being made.

What are my rights?

The Equality Act protects disabled people from being treated unfairly. As someone with cancer, you automatically meet the legal definition of ‘disabled’ from the day you’re diagnosed and for the rest of your life.

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’ so you aren’t disadvantaged.

Discrimination at work

If your employer treats you unfairly because of your cancer diagnosis, this is discrimination. Examples of this could include:

  • an employer making it difficult for you to get any sick pay you are entitled to
  • work colleagues making you uncomfortable with discussions/jokes/remarks about your treatment or issues relating to your treatment
  • an employer giving you a formal warning for having a lot of time off sick, without taking your cancer diagnosis into account
  • an employer suggesting that it would be better if you stopped working, because you have cancer
  • being moved to a lower-paid or less demanding job without your agreement, for a reason related to having cancer.

If you feel that you’re being discriminated against at work, make sure you seek advice and support. You could contact our Welfare Advice Service for help. You may also want to contact:

Is my job in danger?

Businesses and organisations vary in structure and size, so what may be ‘reasonable’ for one may not be for another. 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.

Do I have to tell my colleagues?

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.

On the other hand, if you would like your employer to tell other members of staff anything about your cancer on your behalf, 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.

What if I need to take time off?

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.

You might also like to read

My employee has cancer

Be the employer that goes the extra mile to make your workplace the best that it can be.

Read more
Kaiser - a young person supported by CLIC Sargent

How bad will treatment make me feel?

Everyone reacts differently to treatment. Here are ways to combat any side effects.

Read more

For teens and young adults

Every young person is unique. That's why we provide a service to fit your lives and aspirations.

Read more