Helping your employee back to work

Many employees do not get medical advice about returning to work at the right time. Finding out about your employee’s needs and acting on them may help them settle back into work. 

You can support your employee through:

  • Joint return-to-work planning – Discuss with your employee the best way of returning to work and whether you need to make reasonable adjustments. For example, this could be allowing them to have a flexible working pattern or a phased return.
  • Easing the handover of work – making sure their workload is lighter or spread out may keep your employee from feeling overwhelmed once they return to work.
  • Alternative employment – Help your employee change roles, either temporarily or permanently.

Carers also may need support settling back into work. All the suggestions in this information can help.

If your employee decides to give up work, it is important to make sure they are aware of any possible financial impact of their decision. You could encourage them to call our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00.

Joint return-to-work planning

If your employee has been away from work having treatment, it can be difficult to know when they are ready to come back. Many employees do not get medical advice about when to go back to work. They are left to make this decision alone, based on when they feel it’s the right time to return.

Joint return-to-work planning is where both you and your employee discuss and agree the best way forward. Cancer can be unpredictable, so plans should be flexible. They should be regularly reviewed so things can change along the way if needed.

Reasonable adjustments could be helpful ways of easing someone back into the workplace. These could be allowing flexible working, or planning a phased return to work. It’s important to fully involve your employee in these conversations, to make sure you’re making the decisions together.

In addition to agreeing a return-to-work plan, it’s a good idea to schedule a meeting with your employee a week or two before their first day back at work. Having a meeting before they fully return to work gives them a chance to visit the workplace, hear important updates and raise any concerns. It also allows you to find out how they are feeling and sort out any potential problems before they happen.

You can check how much they want the team or the rest of the organisation to know, and how comfortable they will be with people asking them how they are.

If you are their manager, you will need to be flexible with your employee’s return-to-work scheme. Their recovery from cancer may be difficult to predict, so the plan may have to change over time. Recovering from cancer is often a long process and side effects may continue for months or even years.

As part of your joint return-to-work plan, you will need to discuss and finalise any reasonable adjustments you need to make.

Phased return to work

An example of a reasonable adjustment you could make is to allow your employee to make a gradual, phased return to work. You and your employee could do this by agreeing a lighter workload, or using holiday they are owed to shorten the working week.

A phased return to work can allow your employee to return to work sooner. It can also allow them to settle back in at a pace that suits them and you. This can be an effective way to help employees readjust after a period of time off because of illness.

When your employee returns

You can take some these practical steps to help your employee settle back into work:

  • Be there on their first day, or phone them if you can’t be. Make sure the rest of the team are expecting them so they feel welcomed.
  • Meet at the start of the day to discuss their work plan and handover arrangements. This is another chance to check whether they’re worried about anything.
  • Agree a regular review process with your employee. This is to monitor their progress and make sure their workload is manageable. You can make some reasonable adjustments to help them succeed.
  • Make sure they are taking breaks and that they are not overworking. Overtime should not be encouraged, so check your employee is leaving work on time.
  • Consider a health and safety assessment, especially if there has been a change in duties or working arrangements. If they are working from home, you should assess this environment too.
  • Show them where to find further support. Suggest they talk to an occupational health or HR professional, if this is possible in your organisation. If there is a confidential counselling service at work, you can let them know about this.
  • Plan for occasional future absences. These may be due to medical appointments or because your employee, or the person they care for, is not feeling well. Side effects such as fatigue can continue long after treatment is over.

Making work adjustments for an employee affected by cancer

Showing how one employer made temporary changes to an employee’s work duties to help them remain in work during treatment for cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Making work adjustments for an employee affected by cancer

Showing how one employer made temporary changes to an employee’s work duties to help them remain in work during treatment for cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Easing the handover of work

These tips can make sure the handover of work is manageable for your employee:

  • Make sure your employee doesn’t return to an unmanageable amount of work and emails. Spread the work out so everything isn’t given to them at once.
  • Try to break tasks down into smaller steps, to make the job more manageable. This can encourage a sense of achievement.
  • Prioritise jobs so your employee knows what the most important tasks are. They’ll have a greater sense of control and achievement. This will also make sure they meet the needs of the job.
  • You could reallocate or change certain tasks. Manage this sensitively, so colleagues don’t feel overburdened. You can reassure the person with cancer that this is temporary and is not meant to undermine them or their work.
  • Adjust performance targets temporarily so they are realistic for your employee.

Alternative employment

Suitable alternative employment may be an option if, despite best efforts, your employee is unable to do their job. If the situation is likely to change in the future, this can be temporary. You could agree a date for reviewing the situation later on.

Remember, changes to your employee’s working conditions can be temporary or permanent. These changes may have an impact on their terms of employment.

Before any substantial changes are agreed:

  • make sure the employee is completely clear on what the changes mean
  • review your organisation’s policies to find out what support can be offered.

Any substantial or permanent changes should be confirmed in writing. Your employee should sign this document to show they agree to the change.

If your employee wants to resign

If your employee wants to resign, it’s important to understand their reasons. Sometimes their emotions can influence their decision.

You might help them come to a different decision by offering extra support and explaining all the options. This could help you keep a valued member of staff.

For some people, leaving work is the best choice. If this is their decision, make sure you follow your organisation’s leaving procedure.

Stopping work because of cancer can have a big impact on someone’s finances. Resigning or retiring early can affect the state benefits, pensions and insurance they are entitled to. It’s a complex area and every situation is unique. Because so much is at stake, encourage your employee to get expert guidance and find out what their position is, before any formal action is taken on either side.

You could suggest your employee calls our financial guides on 0808 808 00 00.

Supporting carers

Real examples of how people were supported by their employers when they were looking after someone with cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Supporting carers

Real examples of how people were supported by their employers when they were looking after someone with cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Back to If you're an employer

Policies and resources

If one of your employees has cancer or is caring for someone affected by cancer, we have information to help you support them.

Managing cancer in the workplace

In the UK, over 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer. Managers play a fundamental role in supporting employees affected by cancer.

How cancer affects people

Your employee’s ability to work may change after a cancer diagnosis. To support them, it’s helpful to understand how treatment may affect them.

How to talk about cancer at work

Although it may be difficult for your employee to discuss their cancer diagnosis, open communication may enable you to support them.

Time off for your employee

Some people with cancer will be able to continue to work, others will need time off. There are different options to manage absences.

Occupational health advice

Occupational health advisers can help employers assess whether a role needs to be adjusted in light of an employee’s health.

Supporting carers

Carers who need to look after a dependant are allowed to take emergency time off. They may also wish to request flexible working.

Legislation about work and cancer

In the UK, there are laws that protect employees with cancer from being treated unfairly in the workplace. This includes discrimination, harassment and victimisation.


Although many people survive cancer, your employee or the person they are caring for may die from their illness.