Work and Cancer

There are 750,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK. For many of them remaining in or returning to work after cancer is often a struggle. And while the vast majority of people want to go back to work when they are able to, many lack the support needed to make this possible.

Did you know that the Equality Act (or Disability Discrimination Act, if you live in Northern Ireland) protects people who have or have had cancer from discrimination at work? Fewer than half of people diagnosed with cancer in the last two years did. We’re desperate to change this.

Making changes at work

One person who understands how cancer affects work is Julia, who was diagnosed with ovarian and womb cancer. ‘I didn’t know what to tell work, as there was uncertainty around how long treatment would take. I was working in a secondary boarding school, and when I told my head of department about my diagnosis she was very supportive. I had two operations, three weeks apart. I wasn’t pressured by my employer to return to work, but for me it was something I wanted to do.’

The right balance for everyone

Julia’s head of department was Judy: ‘I asked Julia what she felt she would be able to do in returning to work, and then used her input in putting proposals together. The challenge for me was getting the balance right for Julia in terms of work. I was worried about her returning to work during her chemotherapy due to her immune system being so weak. So we agreed changes that could be made at work to make this easier.

For Julia this was a great support: ‘During my chemotherapy, I was tired and I had to be careful not to be surrounded by germs. Teaching in front of a class can be very full on so we agreed to changes to my job responsibilities so I could come back to work as I wanted to. Instead of teaching full classes I mainly did administrative work and also did some one-to-one teaching.

A change to job responsibilities – with the input and agreement of the employee – is one example of a reasonable adjustment. Other examples include working from home, flexible working hours and a phased return to work. Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010, to help support people living with cancer to remain in or return to work.

Julia was well supported by her employer during and after her treatment. However, not everyone has the same experience and sometimes employers are not always sure how to best support their employees with cancer. At Macmillan we provide information and support to people with cancer so that they understand their rights at work.

Get support around cancer and work today