Reasonable adjustments at work
If you have had cancer you should get ‘reasonable adjustments’ at work even once your treatment is over. This is a legal right. Reasonable adjustments can make it easier for you to do your job or get back to work.
What reasonable adjustments can be made if you have cancer?
A reasonable adjustment is a change at work to make sure you are not disadvantaged because of your cancer. When working out what is reasonable, your employer should consider:
- What difference the change will make to you
- Whether it is practical to make the change
- How much it will cost
- What impact it will have on the business
- Availability of financial assistance such as the Access to Work scheme.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination at work if you have, or have had, cancer. This does not mean you have to call yourself disabled. But it does give you legal rights. It means your boss or company cannot discriminate against you by:
- Rejecting your job application for cancer-related reasons
- Using cancer as a reason to move you to an easier or lower-paid job without your consent
- Firing you because of your diagnosis
- Penalising you for time off sick, without taking your cancer into account
- Giving negative appraisals for not meeting targets because of side effects.
Examples of reasonable adjustments
A reasonable adjustment always depends on individual circumstances. For example, if treatment makes you more at risk from infections, you might be able to commute to work outside of rush hour to avoid busy public transport.
Some changes might be short term. Others might need to last longer or even be permanent. You should always be involved in decisions about changes.
Reasonable adjustments to your role
You might need to make changes to your job role because of your cancer. For example, you might need to stop tasks which cause you discomfort. You might want to swap to light duties or avoid being on your feet all day.
You might even decide to change to a new role. But, if you do this, make sure you are happy with the change.
Reasonable adjustments to your work schedule
You might want to make some changes to your work hours. This could include:
- Time off for treatment and check-ups
- Flexible hours
- Working from home
- Extra breaks
- A phased return to work
Reasonable adjustments in expected outputs
You might find you need longer to do certain tasks during or after your cancer treatment. You might also have had more time off than usual. Your boss should change your performance targets to allow for time off sick or the impact of side effects like feeling tired.
Reasonable adjustments to work practicalities
There are lots of practical changes which could make it easier for you to work during or after your cancer treatment. They include:
- Suitable access if you need a wheelchair or crutches
- A parking space
- Moving your desk to the ground floor
- Improving ventilation
- A place to rest if you need it
- Making sure you can get to the toilet easily
- New computer equipment.
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.
Reasonable adjustments for working from home
If working from home is reasonable and necessary your boss must agree under the Equality Act 2010. What is ‘reasonable’ will depend on your job. If you decide to work from home your employer should check it is safe.
How to ask for reasonable adjustments
Clear communication is key to help make sure you get the right support at work. Try to make sure you have regular meetings and you are being honest about what you need.
Your work should offer you a meeting to discuss your needs and how they can support you. They should give you the option to meet with someone other than your line manager.
You can ask to have someone else at the meeting like a co-worker or trade union rep. They can help by taking notes or keeping track of things you want to discuss.
Your work may already have a policy on flexible working or returning after sick leave.
Bosses who create a caring culture will find their employees are more motivated and happier. Wellbeing at work is an investment.
If your boss does not see it this way remember you have legal rights.
Reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process
If you are applying for a new job, you can ask for reasonable adjustments at any point during the recruitment process. These might include:
- Application forms in different formats
- Wheelchair access for an interview
- More time for tests
How long does an employer have to make reasonable adjustments?
Just because you’re not in hospital, or your hair’s grown back, it does not mean you are no longer dealing with the impact of cancer. You might still feel pain, be more tired than usual or have anxiety. The physical and emotional impact of treatment can last long after it is finished. Your boss should be aware of this and continue to make reasonable adjustments for as long as you need them. This might include things like having time off for follow-up appointments.
What to do if your employer is unable to provide reasonable adjustments
You have a legal right to reasonable adjustments. But what is ‘reasonable’ varies depending on things like the size and type of company you work for. You might find your boss is unable to make all the changes you need. The Access to Work scheme may be able to help. In Northern Ireland, you can find out more about Access to Work (NI) at your local Jobs and Benefits Office.
If your employer cannot make the adjustments you need to return to your old job or find you a suitable alternative, they may be able to end your contract.
If you think you’re being discriminated against at work, read the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guide for employees.
Page reviewed May 2023
Next review 2027
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