6 mins. read

Should I tell my new employer I had cancer?

Telling a new employer you had cancer Perci Health

Key Takeaways

  • The law is on your side: You may feel worried about telling an employer or prospective employer that you had cancer, yet it is unlawful for them to discriminate against you because of your medical history. 
  • It can be a positive experience: Telling them about having cancer will not necessarily hinder your chances of being hired. It could even improve your chances if employers welcome applicants of all abilities.
  • Take your time to decide: You don’t have to tell your employer, but you might choose to. It’s best to take your time weighing up the pros and cons, as well as considering the best time to tell them, should you decide to. 

Living beyond cancer can present questions and concerns you might not have thought about during treatment. Once you have adjusted to the phase after treatment, your next focus might be work – either returning to your previous job or finding a new one, which could lead you to wonder whether or not you should tell a prospective or new employer that you had cancer.

Here we look at whether you need to tell prospective or new employers about your cancer history, as well as how to decide when and how to tell them.

Do I need to tell a new employer that I had cancer?

Under UK law, you do not have to tell employers that you had cancer, however there can be benefits in doing so. 

However, the thought of making a cancer declaration to a prospective or new employer can feel overwhelming. You may worry that your current employer will think your cancer could return and affect your ability to work. Or you may be concerned about discrimination affecting the decision of those hiring.

In addition, the thought of sharing something so personal with a stranger could feel uncomfortable; you may prefer to keep your private life as just that. Talking about your cancer experience might also bring up emotions and questions you might not feel ready to revisit or address.

The benefits of telling a new or prospective employer

There are some positives to telling employers that you had cancer. From creating an understanding, to offering time off for future check-ups, to making adjustments if needed – your employer or prospective employer can help to support you in the next stage of living beyond cancer. It can also explain any gaps in your CV and/or time taken off work during treatment or recovery.

Living beyond cancer can demonstrate positive attributes employers might find beneficial, such as tenacity and resilience. And it might feel important to you to start work having established an open honest employee/employer relationship. 

When should I tell a new or prospective employer that I had cancer?

Cancer is seen as a disability under UK law, with company policies in place to offer practical, emotional, and financial support should it be needed. This means that it is unlawful for an employer or prospective employer to discriminate against or treat you less favourably due to your medical history, or in case of any future diagnosis. Find out more in our guide to cancer and employment law.

This being said, your main focus at the initial interview stage is to impress; it may be more beneficial to disclose your cancer history during a later stage or even once you have been offered a position, so you know for sure that it will not affect hiring decisions.

What questions can an employer or prospective employer ask about my health?

If you live in England, Scotland and Wales, the Equality Act 2010 details which questions an employer or prospective employer can ask about your health before offering you a job. 

Here are the types of questions they can ask, which can be an advantage for those living beyond cancer who are looking to get hired:

  • Questions which make sure they are not discriminating against anyone in their recruitment process
  • Questions to make sure they hire people from a range of different groups, such as people with disabilities 
  • Questions to find out if you need any reasonable adjustments, for example, holding the interview on the ground floor 
  • Questions to find out if you can carry out a specific task that is essential to the role

They are allowed to ask for information about your health after they have offered you a job, allowing them to make any reasonable adjustments needed. 

If the employer withdraws the job offer, it must be for reasons that are non-discriminatory which would need to be proved.

Beyond these lines of questioning, prospective employers cannot ask direct questions about your medical history and you do not have to disclose that you had cancer.

Finding a new job after cancer

Understanding whether a particular job might be suitable for you after cancer treatment depends on your type of cancer and how the phase beyond treatment has affected you; talking to your health professional and/or a careers advisor may help you to decide what the next step in your career path could be.

It’s very likely that you won’t feel the same as you did before your cancer diagnosis, which means you might not want to return to the same job. This could be an opportunity to focus on new goals, follow your passions or find more purpose in your job and life overall.

Going back to the same job after chemo can feel particularly challenging, especially if there have been changes to your appearance such as hair or weight loss. These changes can affect your self-esteem and may require you to tell your cancer story before you are ready to. Starting a new job, with new people, might help you to feel in control again, without mentions of your cancer or questions about your recovery.

There can also be practical reasons why you might want or need to find a new job. It could be that your employer could no longer hold your position due to a lengthy period of time off, or that you’re unable to carry out previous duties due to physical or psychological changes following surgery or treatment.

Get more guidance from our experts including advice for returning to work after cancer and coping with survivors’ guilt and grief.

If you decide to tell your employer or prospective employer about your cancer history, why not ask them to look at Perci Health, so you can both benefit from virtual support provided by leading cancer experts? Our employer programme, and the different types of support we offer, helps employers to support employees who have been impacted by cancer.