Talking about your caring responsibilities at work

You may not wish to talk to your employer or colleagues about your caring responsibilities. However, if they know what is happening, it can help them support you. For example, it could be easier for you to request time off or flexible working. It is also a good idea to find out about your company’s policy for supporting carers.

At first, you should discuss your situation with your manager. During this initial conversation, your employer will want to find out if your caring duties will interfere with your work. You should use this opportunity to think about possible work arrangements.

Many employers support carers in various ways. They can also provide you information about:

  • sick leave and sick pay
  • company benefits
  • flexible working and work adjustments.

Not all companies offer the same support, but they should signpost you to other sources of information.

Changes to the agreement you have made with your employer will need to be discussed. It can be helpful to decide who should be your main contact at work in case your situation changes.

Talking to people at work

Telling your employer about your responsibilities as a carer usually means they can support you. If they know about your situation, they are more likely to understand your needs.

You do not have to tell your manager, employer or colleagues that you are caring for someone with cancer. But it may avoid some problems in the future if you do. For example, if you want to request flexible working, you will need to give your employer more details.

Try to find out more about your employer’s policy and procedure for supporting carers (if they have one) before you talk to them. You can do this by checking your contract, employee handbook or intranet, if any of these are available. Or you could speak to your manager or human resources (HR) department.

The terms ‘manager’ or ‘employer’ can mean different people at your workplace who are involved in your employment. You can talk to any or all of the following people:

  • your line manager – usually the first person you talk to
  • your HR department (if there is one)
  • a staff or union representative.

Meeting with your manager

The first step is to have a meeting with your manager or employer to tell them about your responsibilities as a carer.

When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, it is usually a difficult and stressful time. You may feel as if your life has completely changed. Your manager should be sensitive to the changes and difficult feelings you are coping with.

If you feel nervous about the meeting, you can ask someone you trust to be there with you. This could be someone you work with, a trade union representative or even a friend. Everyone at the meeting should respect your privacy, and the things that you discuss at the meeting should remain confidential.

Your manager may make notes at the meeting. You can ask to have a copy of these. The notes should not be shared with anyone else without your permission. It may be helpful to make your own notes.

You will probably want to give a brief explanation of your family member or friend’s situation, and the treatment or care they will need. It may help to explain that things can change as treatment goes on, sometimes at short notice. Try to explain your commitments and any concerns you have.

You can ask what leave you are entitled to (statutory entitlements) and what other support is available.

At the meeting, your manager may ask how you are coping and what your immediate work concerns are. They may also ask if you would like other managers or people you work with to know about your situation, and how much you want to tell them.

If you prefer not to tell people yourself, your manager could do this. Or you could ask someone else who can do it sensitively.

Your manager may ask you how you think being a carer will affect:

  • you personally
  • your attendance at work
  • being able to manage your work commitments
  • your ability to do your job, both in the short and long-term.

You and your manager can talk about ways of doing your job to suit both you and your employer. They will need to think about how to balance your time off work with the workload of the rest of the team. If they have procedures in place for carers, they may need to apply them flexibly. The HR department should also be aware of your legal rights as a carer.

If your employer does not have procedures to support carers, it may be difficult for them to make decisions. We have information for employers about work and cancer.

I realised that there was a definite decline in my sister’s health. I called work and said I was terrified that I might lose my job, but she needed 24/7 care so I couldn’t work any more. When I got the message back that there was no way I would lose my job it was a massive relief, and it felt like somebody cared.


How your employer can support you

You may want to talk to your manager about things your employer can do to help you as a carer. Employers can support carers in different ways. Try to think about the help that you might need.

Some employers may offer:

  • access to a private telephone so you can make or receive private calls
  • access to email so you can contact the hospital or other people during work hours
  • a reserved car parking space to make getting in and out of work quicker and easier
  • a buddy or mentor at work who can support you.

As well as talking to your manager or HR department, you may be able to:

  • talk to an occupational health adviser
  • get access to an employee assistance programme (EAP) counsellor for emotional support or counselling
  • contact local support and networking groups through your employer.

Information from your employer

Your employer should give you company information on:

  • flexible working and work adjustment policies
  • any policies on sick leave, sick pay, absence and leave (including emergency leave), and how using any of these policies might affect your wages
  • any relevant company benefits, such as employee assistance programmes, occupational health and counselling services.

Not all companies offer the same benefits. Some employers may not be able to accommodate requests for flexibility or changes to your role. But all employers should give you information about your statutory rights. These are legal rights based on laws passed by Parliament.

Most workers, regardless of the number of hours per week they work, have certain legal rights. This includes having paid holidays, the right to ask for flexible working, and reasonable time off work to look after dependants in an emergency.

Certain workers are not entitled to some statutory rights. This could be anyone who is not an employee, such as an agency or freelance worker. If you are in this situation, it is important to get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at your local Citizens Advice.

Your employer should also be able to provide you with further sources of information about:

  • relevant statutory benefits
  • how to talk to your colleagues about cancer and the challenges of being a carer
  • specialist organisations, relevant charity helplines and websites, such as Macmillan and Carers UK
  • counselling services that may be available to you as an employee.

We have guidelines for employers. You can also call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00 for more information.

After meeting with your manager

After the meeting, you can ask for a copy of any notes your manager has made. Make it clear whether you want anyone else to see them. They should respect your right to privacy.

If you need to discuss and agree on any points that were raised, ask for another meeting. It is usually helpful for you and your manager to have regular review meetings. You can discuss how the arrangements are working, and make sure you are getting enough support. Your manager should always discuss any possible changes to your work plan with you first.

Talking to other people at work

Talking to the people you work with about your family member or friend’s cancer can be difficult. You may worry about their reaction, or if the conversation might be awkward. You may decide to tell people you feel closest to at first. They may be able to help you plan how to tell others.

Colleagues can often be supportive, and having someone who will listen to you can be helpful. You may find there are other employees in the organisation who are also carers. If so, it may be useful to share your experiences of the challenges of working while caring.

Talking to others at work can have benefits:

  • You have someone to talk to and it gives them the chance to support you.
  • You can be open with them when you need help.
  • They may come up with useful ideas to help you cope with your work.
  • It can bring you closer to the people you work with.

If you don’t want to tell others

You may prefer not to tell your colleagues about your situation, or to tell only a few people. It may be that you want to keep a part of your life as normal as possible. Whatever your reason, it is important your wish to be private is respected. Don’t feel under pressure to explain things if you are not comfortable doing this. You know what works best for you and your situation.

Back to If you are working while looking after someone with cancer

Working and being a carer

If you are working while caring for someone with cancer, it is important to get the support you need.

Your rights at work as a carer

It is important to be aware of your legal rights in the workplace. Your human resources department may be able to help you.

Making decisions about work

If you are a carer, you may want to stop working temporarily or completely. It is important to consider the implications of your decision.