Should I tell my employer I have cancer?

You might worry about telling your employer about the cancer or treatment. You may be afraid that they will not support you. Or you may worry they will dismiss you or make you redundant.

You do not have to tell your employer you have cancer or are having cancer treatment. But it may help.

Many people find that their employers are supportive. If this is not your experience, this page has more information about resolving problems at work. You can also call our Work Support team for more advice.

It is important to know about your rights at work when talking to your employer. We have information about telling a new employer about a cancer diagnosis when looking for a new job.

Who to talk to

We use the words ‘manager’ or ‘employer’, but different people at your work may be involved. You may want to talk to:

  • your manager
  • a human resources (HR) manager
  • an occupational health adviser
  • your trade union representative.

Your manager is often the first person you talk to. If you feel you are not being supported by your manager, you could try contacting someone else on this list.

If you do not want anyone else to know, ask the person you speak with to keep the information confidential. This means they will not tell anyone what you have told them.

What you can do

Have a meeting with your employer

If you feel nervous about talking to your manager, you can ask to meet in a private place. You can request they give you plenty of time for the meeting.

You can ask your manager in advance if you can bring someone with you. This could be a reasonable adjustment if the cancer or treatment has caused problems with communication or anxiety.

You could bring a friend, family member or colleague. In more formal meetings, you may be able to take a trade union representative if you are a member.

Questions to think about

It may help to write a list of questions or things you would like to talk about. This could include:

  • letting your manager know who at work you have decided to tell about your situation and what you want to tell them
  • talking about whether you would like someone else to tell others
  • discussing any changes that might help you keep working
  • asking for information about your employer’s policies on sick pay, absence from work, occupational health, pensions and any other policies that may be helpful
  • finding out about any support for people in stressful situations – for example, an employee assistance programme (EAP) that offers counselling
  • asking if your manager would like information about your treatment to help them
  • asking if your manager would like information for employers supporting someone with cancer at work.

During the meeting

At the meeting, your manager may ask how you are coping and what your immediate work concerns are. They may also take notes. You can ask to have a copy of these. The notes should not be shared with anyone else without your permission.

It may be helpful to write your own notes. They can help you remember what was said and can be useful if anything unexpected comes up later.

You can ask in advance if your manager would be happy for you to record the meeting. This may be a reasonable adjustment if you have memory problems or problems writing. Everyone at the meeting would have to agree to this.

Ask for support to keep working

Tell your manager if you want to keep working. They can then support you. If you cannot keep working as usual, they can:

  • consider making changes to help you
  • give you the time off you need.

You may not know what to expect until you start treatment. This can make it hard to decide how much work you will be able to do. Let your manager know that things may change during treatment. This means they will understand you may need to change work plans later.

Ask for regular meetings with your manager. You can keep them updated and talk about any changes.

Keeping in touch

If you are going to be off work for a while, you may want to talk to your employer about how you want to keep in touch. You can review this with your manager as things may change over time.

You may also decide you want to keep in touch with certain colleagues by phone or email.

Sometimes, employers have policies in place advising how staff would like to be contacted when they are not at work. Take some time to discuss this with your manager and see what adjustments could be made if this does not feel right for you.

Ask your doctor for a fit note

If you are off sick for more than 7 days, you will need a fit note to cover your illness. This is also called a sick note or a Statement of Fitness for Work. This explains how your health affects what you can do at work. You will need a fit note to get sick pay and to claim benefits.

A fit note includes information about how your condition affects your ability to work. This helps your employer understand how they might help you keep working or return to work.

GOV.UK has more information about fit notes.

How to get sick pay

Check whether your employer has rules or policies about when and how you tell them you are taking time off sick.

If there are none, to qualify for sick pay you will need to tell your employer within a week of the first day you are sick. Your employer does not have to pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for any days before this.

Most people are entitled to sick pay. There are 2 types:

  • Occupational or company sick pay

    This is your employer’s own sick pay scheme. Check your contract to find out what you are entitled to. It may be more generous than Statutory Sick Pay, or be paid on top of it.

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

    This is money most employees can get if they are too sick to work. If you are not entitled to anything under a company scheme, your employer should still pay you SSP if you are eligible.

    After a week, your employer can ask you to provide medical evidence, such as a fit note (above). They may need this to give you company sick pay or SSP. We have more information on sick pay.

How your employer can support you

There are different ways your employer can support you at work during treatment or when you return to work. Most employers understand that it is a stressful time and try to be helpful.

Employers may make changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to keep working or return to work. They may change certain parts of your job so you can stay at work. This is called a reasonable adjustment (below).

There are also other ways your employer may be able to support you. They can tell you about:

  • different policies
  • whether there is an occupational health service or an employee assistance programme (EAP)
  • useful organisations that could help you.

It can be helpful to have regular meetings with your manager. You can talk about how to manage any problems, or other changes they can make to help you.

Reasonable adjustments

If you have or have ever had cancer and are in paid employment, your employer should try to support you.

Both the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act say that your employer must make reasonable adjustments if they are aware of your disability. These are changes to the workplace or working arrangements that allow you to keep working or return to work.

We have more information about reasonable adjustments.

Time off work

Time off from work is an example of a reasonable adjustment your employer may be able to make.

You may need to take time off for appointments and treatment. You do not have a legal right to paid time off for things like medical appointments unless your employment contract specifically states this. But if you talk to your employer as soon as possible, you can both agree on what to do.

Try to tell your employer as soon as possible that you need time off. This can help them plan. For example, it can make it easier for them to find someone to cover your work.

Your employer may allow you to have time off work in different ways, including:

  • sick leave
  • reducing the number of hours you work in a day or week, which could be temporary or permanent
  • approved unpaid leave
  • paid holiday leave (annual leave)
  • paid or unpaid compassionate leave
  • flexible working – for example, you could try working condensed hours over fewer days.

Your manager or HR manager can give you information about the sickness policy and other options. They can explain if different types of leave are paid or unpaid, and what you are entitled to.

Occupational health

Your workplace may have, or be able to provide, an occupational health adviser. You can usually refer yourself or ask your manager to refer you. You may have a face-to-face meeting or a virtual meeting.

An occupational health adviser can give you independent, work-related health advice based on your situation. They should be supportive to your needs and advise your employer on adjustments they can make to help you keep working. They can also help you return to work after you have been off for a time.

You may also be able to get more information from other organisations and services to help you get back to work.

Employee assistance programme

Some employers run employee assistance programmes. These can help you cope with any personal problems that may be affecting your work. This can involve having regular sessions with a professional counsellor. Your manager or HR manager can tell you if your workplace provides this.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a government scheme. It offers grants and advice to help employees with a disability or health condition keep working. You can contact the scheme either as an employer or employee.

Examples of what the scheme may pay for include:

  • special aids and equipment you need in the workplace
  • travel to work if you cannot use public transport
  • a support worker to help you in the workplace.

Visit Access to Work for more information about the scheme in England, Scotland and Wales.

Visit NI Direct for more information about the scheme in Northern Ireland.

If your employer is not supportive

If you think your employer is not respecting your rights, it is a good idea to talk to an employment lawyer or an employment organisation. There may be professional groups in your area that can give you advice about employment issues. You can ask your specialist nurse if there are any groups near you.

There are laws that protect you from being discriminated against at work because of cancer. We have more information about discrimination at work. If you are unsure whether you are protected, contact our work support line free on 0808 808 00 00 for more advice.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by Michelle Rouse Griffiths, Professional Development and Knowledge Lead, Macmillan Cancer Support.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2013
Next review: 01 September 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.