Talking to your employer

Talking to your employer about your cancer can help them to understand what support you might need. This may include making changes to your work. 

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. Many understand it can be a stressful time and try to be helpful.

Many employers make changes to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at or return to work. For example, they may allow a flexible working arrangement. They may also change certain parts of your job to make things easier for you. These are called reasonable adjustments.

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

  • about different company policies
  • if there is an occupational health service or an employee assistance programme
  • about useful organisations that could help you.

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

Reasonable adjustments

If you have or have 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. 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. For example, your employer might allow you to take time off for treatment, and keep your job for when you are ready to come back.

You do not have a legal right to paid time off unless your employment contract says you can have 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 your time off. For example, it can make it easier for them to find someone to cover your work. If possible, making appointments for the start or end of the day may help.

Employers 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 or unpaid compassionate leave.

Occupational health

Your workplace may have, or be able to provide, an occupational health (OH) adviser. You can usually either refer yourself or ask your manager to refer you.

An OH adviser can give you independent work-related health advice based on your situation. They can recommend adjustments to help you keep working. They can also help you return to work after you have been off for a time.

Employee assistance programme

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

Access to Work

Access to Work provides advice and practical support if you have a long-term health condition that affects the way you do your job. This might include help with extra costs caused by your health condition.

Visit Access to Work, or NiDirect if you live in Northern Ireland.

Macmillan at Work

Macmillan at Work offers training and resources for employers, to help them better support employees living with or affected by cancer.
Related pages

Who to talk to

We use the terms ‘manager’ or ‘employer’, but different people at your workplace could be involved. You may want to talk to any or all of the following people:

  • your line manager ⁠— they are often the first person you talk to
  • a human resources (HR) manager
  • an occupational health adviser
  • your trade union representative.

You might worry about confidentiality. Ask your employer to keep the information you give them confidential. This means that they will not tell anyone else what you have told them. You can find out more about confidentiality on our cancer and your rights page.

What you can do

If you feel nervous about talking to your manager, you can take someone with you. This could be a friend, family member, work colleague or trade union representative. You can ask to meet in a private place to make sure you have enough time to talk.

Write a list of questions or things you would like to talk about. This could include:

  • letting them 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 do this
  • discussing any changes you and your employer think might help you keep working
  • asking for information about their policies on, for example, sick pay, absence from work, occupational health and pensions
  • finding out about any support for people in stressful situations, for example, an employee assistance programme (EAP) that offers counselling
  • asking if they would like information about your treatment to help them, or information for employers supporting someone with cancer at work.

At the meeting, your manager may ask how you are coping and what your immediate work concerns are.

Your manager may make notes at the meeting. 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 help you remember what was said and can be helpful if anything unexpected comes up later.

If you want to keep working as normally as possible, tell them this. They can then support you. If you cannot keep working as usual, they can:

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

Ask for regular meetings with your manager. You can keep them up to date and talk about any changes you may need.


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 would like to be contacted. Not having contact may make you feel left out or confused. But being contacted too often can make you feel stressed.

You could agree on how often and when your manager can contact you. If your work has a regular newsletter, you could ask them to email it to you. You may also decide you want to keep in touch with certain colleagues by phone or email. You can always review this with your manager if your feelings about this change over time.

Ask your doctor for a fit note

If you are off sick for more than a few 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. Ask your GP or hospital doctor for this. You need a fit note to get sick pay and to claim benefits.

It also allows you doctor or other healthcare professional to say how your condition affects your ability to work. This helps your employer understand how they might help you to continue to work or return to work.

If your employer is not supportive

Many people find that their employers are supportive. However, some people worry about telling their employer they have cancer. They may worry that their employer will not be supportive or treat them unfairly if they tell them about their diagnosis. This should not happen. There are laws that protect your rights at work when you have been diagnosed with cancer. Under the Disability Act 2010, cancer is considered a disability.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 30 April 2019
Next review: 31 October 2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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