6 mins. read

How to tell your employer about your cancer diagnosis

how to tell your employer you have cancer - Perci Health

Key takeaways

  • You don’t have to tell your employer: You don’t have to tell your employer about your cancer diagnosis but there can be many benefits to doing so.
  • Think about how work can support you: Once your employer is aware of your diagnosis, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments so that you can continue to work if you wish. It can be helpful to consider what adjustments you may need such as reduced hours, extra breaks or working from home.
  • Employment rights protect employees with cancer: Under UK law, cancer is considered a disability, and this means that it is unlawful for your employer to treat you less favourably due to your diagnosis.

If you have been recently diagnosed with cancer, one of your concerns may be your job stability and how your diagnosis will affect your ability to work.

You may also feel nervous about approaching the subject with your employer and about how they will react. But being honest with them about your diagnosis can help them to understand how they can support you.

You can, and many people do, continue to work whilst undergoing treatment. Your employer should make changes to your working arrangements to make things easier for you where they can.

This guide gives you advice on how to start a conversation with your employer about your circumstances and find out about your rights as an employee.


Should you tell your employer?

Whilst you don’t have to tell your employer that you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, there are many ways they can support you if you do decide to tell them.

They can offer emotional support for starters, but workplaces will also often make practical changes that can make you more comfortable and help ease some of the stress of juggling your health, work, and other practicalities.

In addition, they can tell you about different company policies and put you in contact with occupational health or other support services such as Perci Health.

How to tell work you have cancer

If you have decided that telling work about your diagnosis is what’s right for you, your first step is to contact an appropriate person. This could be your manager, HR personnel, a trade union representative or someone from occupational health.

Ask them if you can have a private meeting to discuss a personal matter. If you are nervous about attending in-person, you can bring along a family member, friend, colleague, or union representative.

  • Before the meeting, note down the things you would like to talk about and make a list of questions you have.
  • During the meeting, take the opportunity to discuss any adjustments you think may help you and ask for any handbooks or policies that contain information about absence, sick pay, counselling, etc.
  • Feel free to make notes and if your employer writes anything down during the meeting, request a copy so that you have it to refer to later.
  • Ask your employer if they want to be kept updated about your treatment and if so, you can suggest regular meetings to discuss any work concerns and changes.

Should I tell my colleagues?

Just as with your employer, you don’t have to tell your colleagues that you have cancer. If you have spoken to your employer about your diagnosis, you can request that everything discussed is kept confidential.

Whether you choose to tell your colleagues and what you choose to tell them may depend on the relationships you have with them, but it can be helpful for people that you work with to know.

Not only does telling colleagues give them a chance to support you but it also opens the option of you being able to ask them for help if you need it. It can make you feel closer as a team and assist them in understanding the physical, emotional, and logistical changes that you can all expect.

To help them, share this guide on supporting a coworker with cancer.

What if my employer isn’t supportive?

Most people find that their employers are supportive. But if you are worried this won’t be the case, or you feel like you are being discriminated against now your workplace is aware of your diagnosis, you do have rights and there are organisations that can provide guidance.

The Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protect you from being discriminated against if you have cancer and this protection continues once in remission. You can also speak to your HR department about their policies or seek advice from the Equality Advisory & Support Service or Macmillan, who are partnered with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

It’s understandable if you are concerned about whether an employer can sack you or make you redundant if you have cancer. Legislation stipulates that employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that you can continue to work if you wish. There is, however, no fixed definition of reasonable adjustments. 

What your employer can do to support you will depend on the size and structure of the company and your job role, amongst other things. Although unlikely, your employer might be able to dismiss you under circumstances. Examples include if it’s not possible to move you into another role or if you can’t carry out the main part of your role, even if adjustments have been made.

What happens when I need to take time off or I am sick?

There isn’t an average time to take off work with cancer as everybody is different. Some may be able to continue to work and just need time for appointments, whilst others may not feel well enough at points to continue their role.

If you need to take time off or are unable to work, your employer should make you aware of company policy and what you are entitled to. You might be able to adopt flexible hours for instance or be given time off for medical appointments. Depending on your contract, you may be entitled to fully or partially paid sick leave from the company or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as well. 

When you are ready to return to work after treatment, you may want to continue flexible hours or have a phased return. Read our guide on returning to work after cancer for more advice.

If you are going to have a conversation with your employer about your diagnosis, why not also ask them to take a look at Perci Health so that you can access virtual support from leading cancer experts? Our employer programme helps employers to support workers who are impacted by cancer.