When you have cancer, coping with work and treatment can be very difficult. We understand that coping with work and cancer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is even more worrying.
You may not know how cancer will affect your work in the short term or in the future. It will depend on:
- the type of cancer, its stage, size and whether it has spread
- treatment and its side effects
- your finances
- the practical support you have
- whether you have been asked to shield by the NHS
- how the coronavirus situation evolves.
We have put together some commonly asked questions about work and coronavirus that we hope answer some of the questions you might have. We also have information about your employment rights when you have cancer and general work and cancer information.
The information on this page is for employees. If you are an employer, we have information to help you support your employees with cancer during the coronavirus crisis.
If you have had cancer, the law in the UK considers this as a disability. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than other people (who do not have cancer) because you have cancer, or for reasons connected to the cancer.
If you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, you are protected from:
- direct disability discrimination
- harassment because of a disability
- victimisation (with some differences in Northern Ireland)
- failure to make a reasonable adjustment.
If you live in England, Wales or Scotland, you are also protected from:
- discrimination arising from disability
- indirect disability discrimination.
Employment rights for people who are at higher risk from coronavirus
Some people with cancer and those who have received or are receiving certain treatments are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they get coronavirus. If you are at higher risk, you may have been asked to shield. If you are unable to work from home, this will affect your ability to work. The government has updated its guidance on shielding, which means from 1 August shielding will be paused. There is further information here.
If an employer insists that someone who is shielding still travels to attend work, refuses to pay them, or dismisses them due to their absence, this could be an example of discrimination. You may wish to speak to Macmillan's Work Support Advisors.
Both the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act state that your employer must make reasonable adjustments when the workplace or work practices put you at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ because you have cancer. This is compared with colleagues who do not have cancer.
Your employer should consider adjustments to your workplace or working arrangements that allow you to remain at work. These may include flexible working arrangements or changes to certain parts of your job.
Reasonable adjustments and coronavirus
Examples of reasonable adjustments during the coronavirus outbreak may include requesting changes such as working from home, changing shift patterns or providing access to software or equipment to allow you to keep working.
Further advice including information on working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found on the following websites:
One of the biggest concerns for people who have or have had cancer during the coronavirus crisis may be worry about the risk of redundancy. As mentioned earlier, equalities legislation means you cannot be treated less favourably than other colleagues, because of your cancer, or for reasons connected to your cancer.
Being chosen for redundancy for a reason related to your cancer, such as having more sick leave than your colleagues due to cancer or treatment, is an example of disability discrimination.
If your employer cannot maintain their current workforce because their operations have been severely affected by coronavirus, they can furlough employees (put them on temporary leave) and apply for a grant to the Government’s Job retention scheme. You currently cannot work at all for your employer while on furlough, though this will change in August 2020.
The scheme is designed to help employers retain their employees and protect the UK economy.
Government guidance was updated in June means if you weren’t furloughed for a minimum of three weeks before 1st July 2020, you will no longer be eligible for furlough.
Your employer may take into consideration your ability to work due to shielding or caring responsibilities when considering whether to apply for furlough.
You can find further information on furloughing on the following websites:
Can I ask to be put on furlough?
The decision about who is and who is not on furlough is down to your employer. If a period of not working would help your personal situation, you can ask your employer to put you on furlough. However, they are not obliged to agree to your request.
Changes were made to the scheme which mean if you weren’t furloughed for a minimum of three weeks before 1st July 2020, you will no longer be eligible for furlough.
If you are affected by cancer and you cannot work because of coronavirus you may be able to get sick pay. This could be Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and/or company sick pay.
SSP (and/or contractual sick pay) is paid if there is no possibility you can work from home. If you can work from home then you will receive your normal pay.
However, if you are ill for any other reason than coronavirus, then normal contractual or SSP rules apply. We have more information about cancer and sick pay entitlement.
SSP entitlement has been extended to workers who must self-isolate because they have symptoms or live with someone who has symptoms. If you are receiving SSP because you are shielding only, this will stop from 1 August.
For employees returning to their normal place of work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, their employers will need to follow Government guidance on social distancing in the workplace.
Further information about working safely can be found on the following websites:
- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offers advice on other aspects of work including working safely during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides information for employers and the self-employed about working safely and controlling risks in the workplace, including approaches to risk assessments for working at home.
What does the lifting of shielding mean for me?
The government has updated its guidance on shielding, which means from 1 August shielding will be paused. This means that in practice you can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe. It is important to note this guidance is advisory.
If you are currently shielding, you should discuss your situation with your employer and agree a plan for returning to work. Under the Equality Act and Disability Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland), your employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to help you as someone with cancer to continue to work.
If you are unable to return to work because the work environment is not COVID safe, and your employer is not able to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to return, they may wish to consider extending your furlough, if applicable.
If you are receiving SSP because you are shielding only, this will stop from 1 August.
Balancing work and caring can be demanding, especially during the coronavirus outbreak. We have information about supporting someone with cancer during the coronavirus crisis.
You may be required to self-isolate or shield as part of your caring responsibilities. You have certain rights at work that may help make it easier for you to keep working while you are caring. These include the right to ask for flexible working or to take time off in case of an emergency. Flexible working could include working from home, compressed working hours (i.e. working your normal hours over fewer days), job-sharing or working part-time.
Carers who are employees have the legal right to take a reasonable amount to time off to look after someone in an emergency that involves the person they care for. This includes coronavirus related situations.
In addition, if you are a carer there are laws that protect you from being discriminated against at work, because of your connection to a disable person.
For more information, on your rights and work, sick pay and how to talk to your employer, download our booklet on working while caring for someone with cancer.
Further information for carers is also available on the Carers UK website.
I am a key worker who lives with someone who is vulnerable. What are my employment rights?
If you have any questions about any of this guidance, or information about your rights at work, you may wish to talk to our Work Support Service. The Work Support Service offers advice to people who are employed or self-employed and are affected by cancer.
They can also offer guidance on how to talk to your employer and negotiate adjustments at work. The service can provide information on sick pay and taking time off and may be able to refer you for one-off legal advice, if required.
Our confidential Work Support Service is available to anyone who calls the Macmillan Support Line. The service is open from Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm.You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.