Talking to business contacts

Take time to decide who to tell about the cancer, and what information to give them. If you are self-employed, businesses or people may rely on you to deliver goods or services, or to make payments to them. They will need to know if these arrangements will be affected, but you don’t have to tell them about the cancer if you don’t want to. Talking to people about your cancer can be difficult, but it could help them to support you. For example, they will understand if you need longer deadlines or if payments will be late.

You can decide who you need to talk to and how much information they need to know. Everyone communicates differently. Some people find it easy to talk about their feelings, and others are more private. It is helpful to think ahead about what you want to say and be clear about your goals. Try to prepare for the conversation and for people's reactions.

Deciding who to tell

It can help to take some time to decide who to tell about your cancer and what to tell them. You might not want or need to tell any business contacts about the cancer. However, you may find telling them helpful.

When you are self-employed, other people or businesses may rely on you to:

  • deliver your goods or services;
  • make payments to them.

They need to know if these agreements will be affected. This does not mean you must tell them you have cancer – but if you do, they may be more understanding.

It may help to consider the pros and cons of telling people. The following table may help you decide what to do.

Reasons to tell people about the cancer

Reasons to limit what you say

They will understand why you need longer deadlines or more time to pay.

They may worry you are not reliable.

You could find them very supportive and get practical help.

You might want privacy, and you can’t guarantee everyone will respect this.

It might prevent embarrassing mistakes or misunderstandings on their part.

The conversation might get emotional in situations where it is not helpful to you or your business.

You might have to tell the other person, because it affects or protects your contract with them.

The other person or organisation might not respect your rights or treat you fairly. We have more information about your rights.

It could help to imagine what the other person’s concerns and reactions might be. You can then prepare responses to reassure them or give them more information. The following table may help:

PersonWhat they might worry about


That’s a shock. What do I say now?

Will you be able to do the work? And will it be on time?

Will the work be of the same standard?

What happens if our agreement does not work out?

What are my health and safety responsibilities? (If you work on their premises or are a sub-contractor).

What does the contract between us say (if anything) about this?


Will you be able to pay me? Will it be on time?

What are my alternatives?

When will things get back to normal?

What does the contract between us say (if anything) about this?

Banker or creditor

Can you meet your payments? How? When?

Are you now a higher credit risk?

What will happen if you can’t make payments?

What alternative arrangement could be made?


Does this mean the business will close down?

Will you be able to pay me?

Will my workload increase or decrease, and can I cope with that?

Deciding how to tell people

Everyone has different ways of communicating. Some people like to talk about their thoughts and feelings, while others are quite private. Cultural differences matter too.

If you decide to tell someone about the cancer, these tips may help:

  • Think ahead about what you are going to say. You could write down a few bullet points, especially if you will be talking on the phone.
  • Choose your time wisely. Are you feeling up to it today? Will the other person have time to pay proper attention?
  • Is it better to tell the person over the phone or face-to-face? If face-to-face will be better, choose somewhere you feel comfortable telling them.
  • Be prepared for the emotions they may feel. You may not know about their past experiences and can’t predict how they will take it. Your own feelings might surface too.
  • Be careful about telling people in writing. It is easy to get the wrong idea from an email or note, and it can seem impersonal.

You can decide who to tell, what to tell them and how much you want them to know. Ask people to respect your privacy and make it clear if you want them to keep anything to themselves. Be aware that this might put them in an awkward situation though. If you have a business partner, it might be easier or better for them to tell the people who need to know. It may not be fair to ask an employee to tell others about your situation. But make sure they know how to respond and who to turn to for advice if anyone does ask questions.

As with any big decisions, you may want to talk to someone you trust and ask for their opinion before you go ahead. You can ask a professional adviser, such as your accountant. Make sure you have important conversations when you are at your best and be clear what your goals are before you talk to them.

You may find it helpful to watch some of our cancer in the workplace videos.

You may also be interested in our resource, The essential work and cancer toolkit. It is mainly aimed at managers and employers in large organisations, but you may find some of the information it contains useful.

I told my clients what was going to happen. If I did become ill, we would find someone to take on the work. They were very sympathetic.


Risk to people you work with

There are many myths and misunderstandings about cancer. If you work with colleagues, they may worry that they could be harmed if you are having treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, there is no risk to your colleagues. Chemotherapy is broken down in the body and can’t harm anyone you come into contact with. Radiotherapy treatment from an external machine does not make you radioactive. Even if you have had internal radiotherapy, the radiation will only affect a small area of tissue in your body around the cancer. It will not affect anyone you come into contact with.

Sometimes, colleagues may worry that they can catch cancer. But cancer can’t be passed on like an infection, and the people you work with have no risk of catching cancer.

You may find it helpful to talk in confidence to our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Protection from discrimination at work

If you have cancer, the law considers you to be disabled. This gives you protection from disability discrimination at work, or when applying for work. If you are treated less favourably because you have cancer, this is called discrimination. The legislation that protects you from being discriminated against at work because of cancer is:;

  • the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland or Wales
  • the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) (as amended) in Northern Ireland

If you are self-employed, you are covered by the law when you are doing work yourself. You may not be covered where you work through a limited company and send other people to do work on your behalf.

What is disability discrimination?

Discrimination may occur if your customer or client behaves negatively because you have cancer or have previously had cancer. It may be direct or indirect discrimination. It may involve harassment or victimisation, or it may be a failure to make reasonable adjustments to help you.

For example, it may include:

  • a customer or client discontinuing your contract after sickness
  • being offered lower-paid work
  • not being allowed time for medical appointments
  • being harassed – a customer or client making your life difficult (for a reason related to the cancer) so that you feel you can’t fulfil your contract
  • being given unreasonable workloads without any discussion as to what would be reasonable due to the cancer
  • being treated less favourably than other workers after making a complaint.

Some problems may happen because of a misunderstanding about the cancer. Your customer or client may assume that:

  • you can no longer do the same work
  • you may be less committed to work because of the illness
  • having cancer makes you a poor candidate for certain contracts.

Discussing the cancer diagnosis and its impact can often help to overcome these misunderstandings.

Fellow contractors may also think they will need to do extra work because you can’t fulfil your contract. Any of these attitudes towards people with cancer can lead to subtle or obvious discrimination in your work life.

If you are being discriminated against

If you feel you are being discriminated against, you should first try to work with your customer or client to resolve the problem informally.

Talking openly about your needs and their needs may help resolve the situation. You could suggest solutions to show commitment to the job. This could include adjustments to your duties to fit with your needs. Help may be available from the Access to Work scheme to cover the costs of some adjustments.

If you are contracted by an organisation, ask your client or their human resources (HR) department about relevant company policies. For example, they may have an equality and diversity policy, a bullying and harassment policy, or an equal opportunities policy. These are usually found in the employee handbook or on the intranet if they have one. You may not have access to these documents if you are not an employee of the client, but you can still ask to see the policies.

Support and advice

If you want to know how equality laws could help you, call:

Back to If you're self-employed

Self-employment and cancer

If you’re self-employed you may worry about work and money during your cancer treatment. Support is available to help you cope financially and emotionally.

Working during treatment

Deciding whether to carry on working during treatment is a difficult decision. It depends on individual circumstances.

Making treatment decisions

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

Managing your workload

Cancer treatment can have an impact on the way you run your business. You may need to reorganise your activities to manage your workload.

Managing your finances

If you’re self-employed and have had to reduce your work activity, you may worry about your professional and personal finances. Support is available to help you cope with financial issues.