Working during breast cancer treatment

Working during breast cancer treatment

Personally I think dealing with breast cancer is a full time job. Which isn’t great if you already have a job. Some breast cancer patients take a complete break from work 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. I have done a bit of research and put together a list of what I think are the main issues, together with some super helpful links. BUT 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 during breast cancer treatment in relation to working 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 a 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.



Macmillan support line 0808 808 0000. They have so much information on their website and specialist advisors who can give advice about work issues.

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 advice, blogs & articles providing advice and real life stories, and plenty of other advice on this topic.

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 free of charge as a pdf.

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 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 Booklet on work and cancer (which also includes advice on deciding how much to work during treatment)

Macmillan guide to your rights at work

Macmillan guide to reasonable adjustments


Macmillan – Taking time off work 

Statutory Sick Pay – Macmillan guide 

Employment and Support allowance – Macmillan guide

Universal credit – Macmillan guide

Citizens Advice

Taking time off work

Macmillan guide to taking time off work (Sick Pay, benefits, allowances and credits)

Going back to work

Macmillan guidance on going back to work (phased return to work, job flexibility, financial considerations, if you have claimed benefits and employers’ requirements)

Giving up work after diagnosis

Macmillan information on giving up work

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

Cancer and Careers

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

Three part series of articles on going back to work from

I 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.

The information and content provided on this page is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice or professional legal advice.

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