6 mins. read

How to tell your employer someone you love has cancer

Perci experts share how to tell your employer that someone you love has cancer - and what your rights are should you need time off.

coping at work when a family member has cancer Perci Health

Key takeaways

You don’t have to tell your employer: However, it can be beneficial to let them know that your personal circumstances have changed. They may be able to accommodate changes to your work schedule or role to allow you more time to support your loved one.

You may have the right to compassionate leave: Depending on your employment status and your relationship with your loved one, you may be entitled to paid or unpaid leave to take them to appointments or provide them care.

Other support is available: There are a variety of charities and organisations that can provide you and your family information and advice on your rights and any support that you can access.


When you find out that someone you care about has cancer, it can be overwhelming. You may feel sad and have concerns about how their diagnosis will affect them, you, and your relationship. This is completely normal. Illness can impact your lives and lead to changes in your day-to-day routines.

If you are a close relation of the individual, such as their partner, parent, or child, you may find yourself supporting them in ways that you haven’t needed to before. This change in dynamic can be hard for you both.

You may also have fears about work and finances. Depending on the circumstances, your loved one may not be able to continue working during treatment and they may not have the energy to do the things they normally would. If you need to provide them with physical and emotional support, you might be wondering how you yourself are going to juggle work, a social life and home responsibilities on top.

One thing that might help is being honest with your employer about the situation. In this guide we share how you can approach the subject with your employer and what your rights are should you need time off.

Who at work to tell about your loved one’s diagnosis

Who you decide to tell at work about your loved one’s diagnosis will likely depend on your role, your company’s structure, and your relationship with colleagues and management. The first thing to do is contact an appropriate person. This could be your line manager or someone in the HR department.

You don’t have to tell any of your colleagues about your life outside of work. But, you may find that they can offer you emotional and practical support if you do speak to them about what your family are going through.

How to tell your manager

Before telling your boss that a family member has cancer, it can be helpful to first make a list of the things you want to say and anything you might be seeking from them. It may be that you would like them to consider flexible working hours so you can attend appointments with your loved one, or that you’d like to work from home so you can be around to help them with anything they might need.

Ask if you can have a private meeting with your employer and explain the situation. During the meeting, be sure to discuss everything that you have on your list and raise any queries you might have.

It’s also a good idea to ask for a copy of your company’s handbook and their employee leave policies if you don’t already have access to them. If any notes are made during the meeting, you can also ask for a copy so that you have them to refer to.

Getting time off

As your loved one goes through treatment, they may need help with daily tasks or require someone to take them to and from appointments. If you are involved in their care, you may need to ask your employer for time off work to provide this.

You and your employer may be able to agree on a working arrangement that allows you to work extra hours to cover time off or they may give you unpaid leave as and when you need it.

The Work and Families Act 2006 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 give employed carers the right to request flexible working. As an employee, you are also allowed to take ‘reasonable’ time off for emergency situations involving a dependent. Physical illnesses such as cancer are classed as emergency situations, and you can take time off even if your loved one doesn’t require full-time care.

How much time is deemed as ‘reasonable’ is something that will need to be discussed with your employer. Whilst they can pay you for time off for family and dependents, they don’t have to.

If you are the parent of a child with cancer, if eligible, you are also entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave up to their 18th birthday. The maximum number of weeks of parental leave you can take in any one year is 4 weeks unless your employer says otherwise. You don’t have to take this time off in one go, but it usually does need to be taken in whole weeks.

Your employer may also grant you compassionate leave although this isn’t a legal entitlement. There is no set amount of time you can claim, and employers do not have to pay you for this time off.

Finally, you also have the option of using some of your paid holiday entitlement if you are not eligible for or have used up other forms of leave.

Getting support elsewhere

As a family member or friend of someone with cancer, you may wonder what support is available for them and you. You can find support and advice from a variety of charities and other organisations in form of information, support groups and volunteer assistance, amongst other things.

If you find yourself taking on the role of their carer, you may also be entitled to financial support. The Citizens Advice Bureau and Macmillian, who work in partnership on matters relating to cancer support, provide guidance on welfare benefits for those affected by cancer.

If you’re going to have a conversation with your employer about your current circumstances and your loved one’s diagnosis, you could also ask them to find out more about Perci Health so that you can access virtual support from leading cancer experts. Our employer programme helps employers to support workers whose lives are affected by cancer.