Talking to your employer

Talking about your cancer may be difficult, especially at work. Some people may worry that their employer will make them redundant or discriminate against them. However, it is important to know that people affected by cancer are protected against discrimination by the Equality Act 2010. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects people who live in Northern Ireland.

Talking to your employer can also help them to make changes that will support you during treatment. They can help and support you in a number of different ways. They may make work adjustments, give you time off and tell you about your sick pay entitlements.

Before making any reasonable adjustments, your employer may ask to contact a medical professional to find out how to best support you. You will need to give them permission first.

In addition to talking to your line manager, you may wish to discuss your situation with your HR manager or your trade union.

Telling your employer about your cancer

Many people worry about telling their employer that they’ve been diagnosed with cancer and need to have treatment. You may worry that your employer won’t support you and that they may be prejudiced or discriminate against you.

Although it helps to tell your employer that you have cancer, you don’t have to do so by law. However, if you don’t tell your employer that you have cancer, and the cancer and its treatment affect your ability to do your job, this could cause problems.

Some people worry that their employer will sack them or find an excuse to make them redundant if they tell them they have cancer. However, employers shouldn’t do this. Anyone who has or has ever had cancer is protected by the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales, or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland. These acts make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against people with a disability.

Both acts state that employers should make reasonable adjustments to remove any substantial disadvantage to employees as a result of their condition. You may be able to suggest adjustments that could help support you.

Also, if your employer doesn’t know about your cancer and its effects, it will make it more difficult for them to make any necessary adjustments for you at work. In fact, in some cases, your employer’s lack of knowledge may mean they’re not legally required to make any adjustments.

To consider any reasonable adjustments, your employer may ask for your permission to write to your doctor or a medical professional to get their advice on what may help. Your employer can’t do this without your permission. You have the right to see any medical report before it’s sent to your employer, but you’ll need to ask if you want this to happen.

If your employer knows that you have cancer, they can help you by exploring any reasonable adjustments that can be made. They can also provide support and try to make sure you have time off if you need it, and that you get any sick pay you’re entitled to.

You can talk directly to your line manager, human resources manager, occupational health adviser or trade union, or to all four.

If carrying on as normal is important to you, tell your employer so that they can support you in continuing with your work. However, if you can’t go on working normally because of the cancer or its treatment, then let your employer know. Arrangements can then be made to alter your work or give you time off as necessary.

Asking your employer questions

Some questions you might like to ask your employer include:

  • Can I work out with you what we’ll tell everyone at work about my cancer and its effect on my work situation?
  • How can my job be adjusted so that I spend less time on tasks that cause me extra discomfort?
  • Where can I find information about any company/organisation policies that relate to my situation?

Back to Information for employees


People affected by cancer may face challenges related to work. Macmillan can offer information and support

Working during treatment

Deciding whether to work during cancer treatment can be very difficult. It depends very much on individual circumstances.

Coping with side effects

Cancer treatment can cause different side effects. They can have an impact on your capacity to work.

Making treatment decisions

When you’re self-employed, you may have particular questions about treatment decisions and how they could impact on your work.

Your rights at work

If you have or have had cancer, you are protected by law from unfair treatment at work.