Managing cancer in the workplace

Over 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year and there are currently over 700,000 people of working age living with a cancer diagnosis.

Many will continue to work after or even through their treatment. For people who have experienced ill health or disability, remaining in or returning to work can actually help to promote recovery and lead to better health outcomes.

Many people living with cancer tell Macmillan that work is important to them. A job can restore normality, routine, stability, social contact and income. These things are also important to carers. Around one in eight workers in the UK are carers, many of whom will be supporting a friend or relative with cancer. Watch our video for more information about cancer in the workplace.

At Macmillan, we know that employers play a pivotal role in supporting people with cancer and their carers. We also know that a good relationship between an employer and an employee is more likely to lead to a successful return-to-work. This is particularly important because less than 40% of people are advised by health professionals about the impact cancer and its treatment may have on their ability to work.

As an employer or line manager, you may not always feel confident about how best to support an employee who is affected by cancer. There are challenges at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, at the time of return-to-work and afterwards. We also recognise that you need to meet the needs of other individuals in the workplace and your organisation as a whole. In these difficult situations, you may also be affected, both on a practical and a personal level.

This section has information and practical advice about how you can support employees affected by cancer, including examples of best practice. It also covers your responsibilities as an employer and your employees’ rights.

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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.

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.