During Treatment

Q&A: Working during breast cancer, tips and advice

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 10 February 2023

A woman

Some breast cancer patients take a complete break from working during breast cancer to get through the treatment, whilst others find that working throughout treatment is a welcome distraction. Sometimes extended time off work isn’t even an option. Whichever of these situations you find yourself in, there are questions that you probably have, and rights you may not know you have.

We’ve written this from our experience and research as patients and this is not legal advice and so you must ALWAYS contact a professional if you have questions about your rights – this section is just a starting point for you.

The main issues which arise in relation to working during breast cancer treatment are:

1. What, how, when do I tell my employer that I have been diagnosed with breast cancer?

You don’t have to tell your employer that you have cancer. But you are protected by certain laws when you have been diagnosed with cancer and this means that your employer cannot discriminate against you because you have cancer. If your employer doesn’t know that you have cancer then they may not be able to help you in accordance with your rights under the law.

Some employers have policies in place to help their employees who have been diagnosed with cancer. These may include time off for appointments, support with your work load and providing someone to talk to about your diagnosis. It is worth asking your employer if they have any such policies in place. And if you don’t tell your employer about your diagnosis then you won’t know about any such policies that may help you.

Sometimes it just makes life a bit easier by telling your employer so you can discuss how you want to fit work in around your treatment, whether you want to carry on as normal as possible or whether you need time off. Your employer has to respect your wishes as to whether your co-workers are told about your diagnosis.

2. Am I allowed time off for treatment?

The law requires your employer to make what is called “reasonable adjustments to your work place and their working practices”. This means that they are required to allow you reasonable time off for your medical appointments, treatment and if your treatment makes you ill.

3. Will I get paid if I take time off for treatment?

This depends on your employment contract. So ask your employer for a copy of your contract if you don’t have a copy. You will usually be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. You may be entitled to other pay (Occupational Sick Pay or Company Sick Pay) depending on your contract so it is a good idea to discuss this with your employer. You may be entitled to some benefits if you take time off work. The ‘helpful resources and more information’ link at the end of this section directs you to Macmillan’s advice about benefits.

4. When do I need to return to work after treatment?

The amount of time that you take off work will depend on your treatment, your recovery and your own personal discussions with your employer.

5. Will my employer keep my job for me until I am ready to return to work?

The law requires your employer to not discriminate against you because you have cancer. This means that your employer cannot dismiss you or make you redundant for a reason relating to your cancer or treatment.

6. What if I need to reduce my hours when I go back to work?

The reasonable adjustments that your employer is required to make for you under the law also applies to when you return to work. You can ask your employer for a phased return to work so that you go back to work gradually. You can also discuss with your employer about any changes that you need to make on a long term basis, such as less hours or a flexible working pattern. Your employer is required to consider this under the law.

Further information about working during breast cancer treatment:

General

Macmillan support line 0808 808 0000. They have so much information on their website and specialist advisors who can give advice about work issues. They have a selection of booklets that you can order.

Working with cancer is an organisation which helps “advise individuals affected by cancer on returning to work, remaining in work or finding employment at any stage during or after cancer treatment.” Their website has videos providing adviceblogs & articles providing advice and real life stories, and plenty of other advice on this topic. They also provide services that they charge for.

Working with Cancer have written four Best Practice Guides providing practical advice and guidance to: Line Managers, Employees (diagnosed with cancer), Working Carers and Colleagues. Each guide can be downloaded at a cost. This might be something to refer your employer to.

If you are commuting or travelling work via public transport whilst going through treatment, then you may be able to make good use a “Cancer On Board” badge. Take a look at www.canceronboard.com from which you can ask for a badge to be sent to you.

Contact your trade union if you are a member.

Your rights

Macmillan Booklet on your rights at work 

Macmillan tool kit on questions to ask at work

Macmillan guide to discrimination at work

Macmillan guide to reasonable adjustments

Macmillan guide to stopping work

Benefits

Macmillan – Taking time off work 

Statutory Sick Pay – Macmillan guide

Employment and Support allowance – Macmillan guide

Universal credit – Macmillan guide

Citizens Advice

Giving up work after diagnosis

Macmillan information on giving up work

Advice for working during treatment or when you go back after treatment

Article – Working with Chemo Brain (from Cancer and Careers)

Three part series of articles on going back to work from powerfulpatients.org:

Sara wrote a three part series of articles for Working With Cancer about returning to work after cancer treatment:

  1. The countdown to my return to work.
  2. Here I am, three months back at work.
  3. Returning to work and making changes.

Future Dreams hold a range of support groups, classes, workshops and events to help you and your carers during your breast cancer diagnosis. These are held both online and in person at the London-based Future Dreams House. To see what’s on offer and to book your place, see here.

This page was reviewed in August 2021 by Barbara Wilson, Founder of Working With Cancer and in February 2023 by the Future Dreams team.

To return to the homepage of our Information Hub, click here where you can access helpful information, practical advice, personal stories and more.

The information and content provided on this page has been written from a patient’s perspective then reviewed by a breast care nurse and it is intended for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice or professional legal advice. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. Always seek appropriate professional/legal advice when making decisions about your situation at work. The links and/or recommendations in this article to third-party resources are for your information and we take no responsibility for the content contained in those third-party resources. Any product recommendations made in this article are not product endorsements and unless otherwise stated, they are made without any affiliation to the brand of that product. We ask you to note that there may be other similar products available.

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