How your employer can support you

Your employer can support you in a range of ways if you have cancer. This could include telling you about any relevant company policies, or about any support schemes that they offer. Some employers have an occupational health service or an employee assistance programme. 

Under equality laws, employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure you are not at a disadvantage to other employees. These are changes to your working schedule or to the workplace. What is considered a reasonable adjustment depends on different factors. It could include giving you time off for appointments and treatment, or introducing flexible working arrangements (such as working from home).

There are also government schemes that you could contact, or to which your employer may be able to refer you. Fit for Work is a service available in England, Scotland and Wales that offers free occupational health advice. Another government scheme is Access to Work, which can help you or your employer with advice and practical support to meet any costs that arise because of your health.

Other organisations, including Macmillan, can also help you. This includes financial information and support if you take time off work or your income drops.

Support from your employer

There are different ways your employer can support you at work during treatment or when you return to work. They usually understand that it is a stressful time and try to be supportive.

Many employers make reasonable adjustments for employees, such as allowing flexible working arrangements. They may also change certain parts of your job to make things easier for you.

There are also other ways your employer may be able to support you. They can tell you:

  • about different company policies
  • if there is an occupational health service or an employee assistance programme
  • about useful organisations that could help you.

It’s helpful to have regular meetings with your manager to discuss how you’re coping. You can talk about how to manage any problems or other changes they can make to help you, if needed.

Your rights and reasonable adjustments

It’s important to know about your rights at work when you are talking to your employer. The Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protect the rights of workers affected by illnesses like cancer. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than others at work because you have cancer.

Under these laws, employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure you are not disadvantaged compared to other people in the workplace. What is considered a reasonable adjustment depends on different things. This includes the cost of practicality to your employer of making the adjustment.

We have more information about your rights at work.

Time off work

You will need to take time off for appointments and treatment. Time off is an example of a reasonable adjustment your employer may be able to make. For example, they might allow you a period of leave for treatment and your job will still be there when you want to go back.

There’s no absolute legal right to paid time off unless your contract of employment specifically states this. But if you discuss this with your employer early on, it will help you both to agree how to deal with this.

Try to tell your employer as far in advance as possible when you need time off. This may make it easier if they need someone to cover your work. If possible, it may help if you can arrange appointments for the start or the end of the day.

Employers may look at time off work in different ways, including:

  • as sickness absence
  • an agreed reduction in working hours or days per week, which could be temporary or permanent
  • as approved unpaid leave
  • paid or unpaid compassionate leave.

Your employer or HR department will give you information about the sickness policy and other options. They can explain if different types of leave are paid or unpaid and what you are entitled to.

Flexible working arrangements

This is another example of a possible reasonable adjustment your employer might be able to make. Some examples of flexible working arrangements could include:

  • working from home
  • flexible start or finish times
  • part-time working or job-sharing.

Occupational health

Your workplace may have or be able to provide an occupational health (OH) adviser. You can usually either refer yourself or ask your manager to refer you.

An OH adviser will give you independent work-related health advice based on your situation. They can recommend adjustments to help you carry on working. They also help you to return to work after you have been off for a time.

They’re really being helpful with finding ways for me to cut down my commuting time and maybe spend some time working from home, and to ease me back into the job. So I do feel very well supported.


Fit for Work

Fit for Work provides free, expert and independent advice on work and health for employees, employers and GPs through their website and a telephone line. It doesn’t replace any occupational health service provided by your employer but adds to it.

Your GP or employer can also refer you to Fit for Work for an occupational health assessment. This is when you have been off sick, or are likely to be off sick, for four weeks or more. An occupational health professional will assess your situation and give you advice. They can create a return-to-work plan to help get you back to work.

Fit for Work doesn’t cover people living in Northern Ireland.

Employee assistance programme

Some employers run employee assistance programmes that help you deal with any personal problems that may be affecting your work. This can involve having regular sessions with a professional counsellor. Your manager can tell you if your workplace provides this.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a government programme for people living in England, Scotland and Wales. It can help you or your employer if you have a long-term health condition that affects the way you do your job. It gives advice and practical support to meet extra costs that may arise because of your health.

The scheme may pay for:

  • special aids and equipment needed in the workplace as a direct result of your condition
  • travel to and from work if you can’t use public transport
  • a support worker to help you in the workplace.

There is a different system in Northern Ireland.

Your finances

When making decisions about taking time off work, you may need to think about your finances and any possible benefits you may be entitled to.

Dealing with finances and benefits can be stressful at any time but particularly when you are already coping with a serious illness.

You can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 for free and speak to one of our financial guides or a welfare rights adviser. You may find both services useful. They can give you information about Macmillan Grants and debt advice through our charity partner StepChange Debt Charity.

We also have detailed information about financial help and benefits.

Financial guides

Our financial guides can assess your situation and give you personalised guidance. They help you understand the options available to you with any insurance policies you hold. You may have policies that cover you for income replacement, life and critical illness cover, or loan and mortgage payments.

They can give information about other conditions that might apply to any insurance policies you hold. For example, Waiver of Premium benefit allows you to take a break from payments until you are fit to return to work. They can also help you find an independent financial adviser.

Welfare rights advisers

The benefits system is complicated and applying can take lots of time. Our welfare rights advisers are trained to help you to claim any benefits you are entitled to.

You may also be able to meet a Macmillan welfare rights adviser in person through a local service. You can find out if this is available near you.

Other organisations, such as your local Citizens Advice, can also help.

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