Cancer and Employment Law in the UK – Employee Rights

Most people suffer a sense of deep shock when they are told that they have cancer. It is illegal to discriminate against employees suffering from cancer. Having cancer is considered a protected characteristic under the equality act. Our guide to cancer and employment law in the UK will help you understand your rights at work.

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Cancer & Employment Law in the UK

When you are diagnosed with cancer, it is considered a disability under UK employment law. Your workplace cannot treat you differently from other workers, or discriminate against you because you are unwell.

If you have had a cancer diagnosis, you are protected by the Equality Act 2010. This act protects you from discrimination at work.

Employers should be understanding about the fact that you are going through a very stressful time. Your workplace should relate to you in a supporting manner to help you cope with the cancer and its treatment.

Your Rights at Work & Cancer

Under UK employment law, you have a number of rights at work after a cancer diagnosis. Lets look at some of these more closely.

Requesting Reasonable Adjustments

Under the terms of the disability discrimination act, and the Equality Act you have the right to request reasonable adjustments to your duties and working hours to let you continue working during cancer treatment.

Examples of Adjustments

Your employer must by law make reasonable adjustments for you to ensure your safety at work, and to enable you to continue working with cancer if you wish.

What ‘reasonable adjustments’ are will depend upon your type of employment.

For example:-

  • If employed in a factory – can you do your work sitting on a stool rather than standing so it is less tiring?
  • If employed in a restaurant – can you take your break in small chunks more regularly, rather than a full hour at once?

Some adjustments can be expected in every role however. Such as:-

  • Reducing your working days to work part-time.
  • Changing your working hours – For example to start earlier and have a longer lunch break to let you attend local appointments.
  • Changing your working environment to make your work less tiring in some way. For example locating you next to equipment you need, or providing a trolley to reduce the need to carry heavier items.

Discussing Reasonable Adjustments With Your Employer

You should discuss any adjustments that you feel would help you in dealing with your illness with your employer. Your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, but you should tell your employer what you need. You can also talk about what parts of your work you are finding challenging.

Find out more about reasonable adjustments on the ACAS website.

Time Off Work for Cancer Treatment

Navigating getting the time off work for cancer treatment can be a difficult issue. However, there are many ways in which your employer can help you get the leave you need.

It’s likely that you will need to take time off work for treatment and rest afterwards.

This time off can be taken as:-

  • Sickness absence.
  • An agreed reduction in working hours or days. For example if you need to attend a weekly hospital appointment.
  • Paid holiday.
  • A combination of the above.

Your employer or HR manager should be able to give you all the information you need about your company’s sickness policy and how much paid and unpaid sickness leave you are entitled to.

Confidentiality at Work

If you tell your employer you have cancer but don’t want your colleagues to know, your employer should respect your right to medical confidentiality at work. Union reps and HR managers should also respect your privacy.

Occupational health staff are bound by the patient confidentiality code of all health workers and so will not tell anyone about your illness without your permission. Whilst many people don’t want “a fuss” or sympathy, you may benefit from the support of your workmates.

This may also stop awkward questions later on if you have to take a period of absence, or for example lose your hair due to chemotherapy.

However, if don’t feel you can discuss your illness with colleagues personally, your employer or HR manager may be able to do this for you in an agreed sensitive way.

Cancer & Your Rights Under The Equality Act 2010

Under the equality act 2010 it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person because of a cancer.

Everyone with cancer is classed as disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act. Cancer is a long-term illness and so anyone with cancer is protected by the Act.

Is Cancer in Remission Considered a Disability?

The protection extended to you by the Equality Act, does not end when your cancer is in remission. You are still considered to have a disability. Your rights will also be protected when you move to a new employer.

Therefore, an employer cannot discriminate against a person for a reason relating to them previously having cancer.

This protection extends to job applicants as well as existing employees. It is illegal for an employer to refuse a job application on grounds of previous cancer diagnosis.

If you are being interviewed for a new position and you are asked about whether the cancer might limit your ability to do the job, it can be worth pointing these facts out. Cancer survivors often have an incredible strength of character and ability to deal with stressful situations which would make you an asset to any employer.

Discrimination & Rights During Cancer Treatment

The following scenarios may give you cause to report your employer for discrimination during your treatment. If your employer:

  • Does not making reasonable changes so you can carry on doing your job
  • Gives you a warning for excessive sick leave without making allowances for your cancer
  • Suggests it would be best for you to stop working
  • Dismisses you for a reason that might relate to your illness
  • Demotes you
  • Overlooks your promotion case because of a reason related to your cancer
  • Chooses you for redundancy because you’ve taken more sick leave (due to cancer) than others
  • Does not allow you time off for medical appointments

If you feel that you are being discriminated against at work due to currently or previously having cancer, you can do something about it.

The steps you can take are:

  • Complain to your line manager or area manager.
  • Formally complain using your company’s grievance procedures (which should be available upon request from your line manager).
  • Take your employer to an Employment Tribunal.

If you think you have been discriminated against, you should complain as soon as possible. If you wish to take your complaint to the Employment Tribunal, you have three months from the date of the discriminatory act, or end of the period of discrimination to do so.

After Cancer Treatment has Finished

Most people expect to be ‘over the moon’ once their treatment has ended, and feel that they can put their illness behind them.

For others, it can often be difficult. Some people have fears about the cancer returning and may feel quite depressed. Usually these feelings diminish over time, but there is support available. Speak to your GP about your concerns, and if you feel it will help, speak to your employer or HR Department to explain that you are still recovering.

Cancer is a difficult illness that, along with treatments such as chemotherapy, has a huge draining impact on your body. Do not think that you have to be back to full fitness immediately. As long as you communicate with your employer, they should understand.

You may also need to make your employer aware that you will need to continue to attend your GP or hospital for check-up appointments intermittently for a few years after your treatment.

You are entitled to take time off work for medical appointments. However speak to your employer about these, as you may not be entitled to be paid for time taken off work for this purpose unless it is part of your holiday entitlement.

Further Information

For more information on your employment rights, and support after diagnosis visit:-

30 thoughts on “Cancer and Employment Law in the UK – Employee Rights

  1. Makerfield1 says:

    I got bowel cancer two years ago had it taken out then it travelled to my lung I had to have a lobe taken out of my lung I’ve had three coarses of chemo then got told good news I had no cancer left my employer has gone into we want you back mode which is great but I dont think I will ever be able to do phisical work again and there is nothing more I can do at this employment but I’m frightened I’ve been turned down for three other jobs I applied for if I give in my notice benifits wont be enough to pay my Bill’s what can I do employers dont want to take me on

  2. Zena says:

    I was diagnosed with rectal cancer last September. I had combined radio/chemo for six weeks every day – I didnt miss one days work. I had a LAR in March resulting in my lower bowel and part of my rectum being removed and woke up with a stoma. In September this year that was reversed but now I am left with diarrhoea everyday that results sometimes in trips to the toilet every 10mins. luckily any accidents at home can be dealt with. I have been on sick leave since March and now my employer is pushing for a Health Assessment for my return to work !!!! Our toilets are up two flights of stairs and I will not make it in time I know. Before my op my boss was clock watching the whole time and would flag the one to five minutes late I was every morning due to my tumour and associated problems. I know if I dont go back I will undoubtedly be fired. What do I do ? I have no confidence anymore and rarely leave the house.

  3. Moses says:

    Previous history lung cancer twice 2 X upper lobes removed now only have 3/5ths of lung capacity and COPD. November last year had multiple blood clots on both lungs on sick till march then furlough not been able to return to work due to the nature of my work wearing full face covering which restricts me breathing and also close contact with assisting personal care. My employer has arranged a stage 3 absence meeting and stated dismissals may be the outcome. Occupational health have said it is unsafe for me to work due to the risks Meeting in 4 days what can I do.??

  4. Lj says:

    I was diagnosed a year ago with breast cancer. My ssp ran out in May and was put on “sick furlough”. I work in the dental industry. I messaged today to see what’s happening when furlough finishes and was told I may have to self certify?? Am I entitled to return to work as the practice is up and running although it’s not at full capacity and reduced hours. Should I be given a share of the hours along with other staff members?

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  7. Jkenne10 says:

    I went through surgery 2 years ago with breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After the 2nd chemotherapy they reduced from 100% down to80% due to sepsis and blood clots. A further 2 hospital administration nearly died. Suffering from long term effects. Now in the pool at work for redundancy. They say my role is no longer available. I’ve contacted my union but they don’t seem to be knowledgeable?? The company that I work for do not recognise unions. I’m getting more stressed out and not able to sleep and anxiety building up again. I don’t know what to do or what my rights are. I’ve worked for the company 18 years and 58 years of age. Please help!!

  8. Karon says:

    Hello I have polycyemia vera blood cancer and have been furloughed since March. I have been notified that company is making redundancy and they have hinted I am in the running. What rights do I have?? Very urgent please get in touch soon . Many thanks Karon

  9. Smoothyman says:

    62 years old. 25 years with employer. 8 years ago diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. Incurable. On permanent chemo. Given a written warning last December for sick leave taken owing to infection complications caused by treatment. Told could only have 12 days sick leave a year and if breached, would trigger next part of disaplinary proceedure which would lead to dismissal. Told by company “we are sympathetic that you have no control over your illness but we do expect you to improve upon your absences” a case of having one’s legs chopped off and then being ordered to tap dance lol. I was told by occupational health examination earlier this year, I was fit to do my role having had IVIG treatment to boost immune system. Last week told by employer I’m being made redundant after furlough. 62 years old, with cancer, and 4 years from retirement. Not the best qualifications to have now to try and get another job. Seeking legal advise for disability discrimination.

  10. Dave says:

    I have Polycythemia Vera (blood cancer), i got sent home from work in march and was furloughed in april. I received a message from work today stating that their are redundancies being made due the the Covid-19 outbreak. Could you please advise as to where i stand and my rights.

  11. Lest says:

    I had bowel cancer in 2018, I have had a stoma reversal which has left me with erratic bowels. I have asked my work to change my location with in the company They have asked me to attend a meeting to see if the business can accommodate me, I am not changing hours only location can they refuse?

  12. Sharon says:

    March 2020 I was diagnosed with breast cancer albeit working from home until I was furloughed end of March. Now my employer has contacted me today to advise risk of redundancy and scheduled my consultation for the 1st of June which is my first day of chemo. My employer has changed this date to be confirmed yet because not sure how I will be feeling. Is it legal to do make me redundant? Am I covered with DDA? Please advise thanks

  13. Freddie says:

    I was diagnosed with kidney cancer Dec 2019. Had major surgery to remove left kidney. Took 2 months sick to recuperate, then 6 weeks part-time on a phased return (working from home due to the Coronavirus). Returned to work full time on April 27th, furloughed on April 29th. Exactly 3 weeks after being furloughed they started proceedings to make me redundant ostensibly due to Coronavirus. Is this legal?

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  15. RenauldClare says:

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  16. Dazo says:

    I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in Oct 2017 (47 yo). I had my operation in the December but when i woke i had excruciating pains in both legs and was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. I now have 4 8 – 10 scars down both calves ithw numbness and semi permanent cramp in my right foot. I had (and still have) a loop ileostomy that was going to be reversed after 6 months but it was found that the blood supply had’t taken (ischemic) . My bowel is too narrow for a camera so i am waiting for an operation to repair the bowel or have it all taken away, however this op has been cancelled 3 times! I had a great job and am an electrical and mechanical engineer and have been lucky enough to travel to every continent to do this for many years. Now however i am limited in how much i can physically do but because i look ‘normal’ people forget i have a slight disability. They ask and expect me to do things that i could easily have done a couple of years ago and i am tired of saying i can do this bit but not that. With the loss of earnings, the tiredness still and sometimes the total ignorance and lack of empathy my company and some colleagues have as a whole has (especially bearing in mind i have brought millions of pounds into the company) no regard for me whatsoever. I really cannot see a way out or forward anymore.

  17. Dean darko says:

    I was diagnosed with throat cancer at the end of 2017 I was off work for 18 months. I went back half way through 2019. They said it would be reduced hours they infact increased them . As I still need to see doctors and dentists quite often they said come back and we will let you go to any appointment no worries. I have an appointment tomorrow my work said I can’t go .I work for DHL at land rover for 15 years iv had I’ll health in the last 2 and trust me they don’t care one bit. I hope one day my gaffer gets ill and see how he gets 9n

  18. Tezz says:

    Need advice work are now asking for letters off my hospital when and were treatment is going to be I dont wsnt them to no my buiness do I have to provide this information or not

  19. Dee says:

    I was dismissed for not logging on from home as a call centre agent due to my forgetfulness. I had cancer bk in 2014 an have be struggling with my memory ever since. I asked my manager if he could may text me a reminder my manager said he is not my babysitter I felt hurt but thought he is right and I am over reacting. I also asked for some support with my work due to confusion sometimes and making mistakes but was ignored I was disciplined for 3 days off an dismissed instantly.

  20. Ems says:

    After my cancer treatment ended in 2014 I was placed on medication to prevent a recurrence which failed and cancer returned in 2016. I have been on various preventative medication which caused chronic bone pain etc and now have osteoporosis in my spine, the adjustment made by my employer have worked well until he decided yesterday that I was no longer allowed this adjustment meaning I have to stand for 8 hours during my working hours with no chair to rest! I could barely walk yesterday and a 5 minute walk to catch bus home took 15 minutes and my knees felt like they’ve been battered with a hammer. I feel under these circumstances I can no longer continue in this job, can my manager do this ?

  21. Upset says:

    My Rota as been messed about with while I ‘ve been off and now I have a really crap Rota I have complained but we’re do I stand I ‘ve had cancer so had to have chemo op n radiotherapy

  22. Frenchy says:

    I work part time for a supermarket chain and was diagnosed with cancer June last year. I have been off work since having two tumours removed and Radiotherapy. I had a petscan last month and was told last week that they think it’s come back and I’m going into hospital next week for more surgery and biopsies. My line manager has told me today that she thinks I’ll be better off if I leave and is phoning me on Monday to discuss it. I’ve only received statutory sick pay and that ran out months ago. Am I right in thinking they’re being unfair?

  23. Vickie says:

    I’ve worked for the same company for 20 years I recently had cervical cancer and had 5 months of work due to hysterectomy I’m returning to work this week which they don’t seem to care about and they have requested I attend a meeting to give me a written warning or dismissal for capability.

  24. Vickie says:

    I’ve worked for the same company for 20 years I recently had cervical cancer and had 5 months of work due to hysterectomy I’m returning to work this week which they don’t seem to care about and they have requested I attend a meeting to give me a written warning or dismissal for capability.

  25. Caz says:

    Hi I was diagnosed with kidney cancer November 2017. Had my kidney removed on the 12th December 2017. My store where I work is due to close in January 2019. They are making us all redundant, do I have the right to be transferred to another store?

  26. Nafiza says:

    Hi I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in Aug 2016 and went through chemotherapy and had a Stem Cell Bone Marrow Transplant in April 2017. I work for the NHS and have returned to work and reasonable adjustments were made for me to continue. I am well but obviously have some complications following the treatment and this has had an impact on what I’m able to do in the work area . It seems that my employer wants to deploy me or get rid of me .. this is really stressing me out and I’m scheduled an appointment with Employer relations to defend my case . They basically want me to go back to doing demanding physical work which I am unable to do so . Where do I stand or what do I need to prepare for for the meeting

  27. cancer fighter 56 says:

    Hi, I would appreciate that someone could tell me my rights:I was diagnosed last November’s with breast cancer already stage 4.I have been off sick up to know. Seems to me that my employer wants to get rid of me, although I would like to go back to work (part time) next Summer if I don’t get any worse until then. I started working for them in March 2017 I was diagnosed at the end of November’s 2017 For how long do they have to hold my position? Extremely grateful for your time, cancer fighter 56

  28. Gen says:

    Hi I have been diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. I’ve been off work since last October for chemotherapy, radiotherapy and several operations but am now due to return part time. I have been offered a different role at work which is less stressful – can my wages be lowered by my employer to reflect this? Many thanks.

  29. Concerned says:

    I have had breast cancer surgery, radiation and on medications which are causing constant pain in bones and joints. Been off work 4 months with various complications including severe radiation burns – have constantly asked director to let me work from home to help but he insisted I do not rush and take my time healing and getting healthy before returning to work. I am due back on Monday and my boss has told me that they have managed without me and implied my role is now redundant. He has asked me to take up a role for which I have no prior training or knowledge and involves coding invoices and scanning – this is a demotion from my role of over 10 years as PA to Director. I have no experience or aptitude for numbers but I am being forced into accepting this or nothing else they can offer. What should I do? He also made comments about me not looking I’ll and asked in depth questions about what I was doing when I was off – I told him recuperating but he kept asking how I spent my time! I haven’t been enjoying myself – I’ve had cancer treatment and complications!

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