Information and guidance for employers on supporting employees who have cancer including legal obligations
This page offers an overview of cancer for the employer, employee and self-employed. It touches on work and non-work related cancer types, legislation, work sustainability and support networks available to help in meeting individuals' needs. More detailed guidance on supporting staff to remain in work can also be found under our
Supporting employees with long term health conditions pages.
Cancer can take many years, or even decades to develop, (a long latency period) some individuals may have an increased risk of cancer due of predisposing factors and lifestyle. Cancer can also be caused through exposures due to the work that people do.
Over 750,000 people of working age are living with cancer in the UK, many of these people remain in work through their treatment. As many as 63,000 people with cancer today want to work but are unable to do so because they do not have the right support. It is also estimated that by 2030 an extra 130,000 people with cancer could return to work after treatment, with the right support.
The range of cancer types and treatments and the prognosis (outlook) as well as the physical and mental impact on the individual can vary greatly, even for those with similar diagnoses. For those affected by cancer, work is important. A job can restore a sense of normality and wellbeing as well as contributing to financial independence. But many cancer survivors find returning to work a struggle as they deal with short or longer term treatments as well as their side effects, which also vary from person to person and on a day to day basis.
Some employees may find it beneficial to their mental wellbeing to remain at work while having treatment and while they remain physically able to do so, while others have difficulty with this especially if their immune system has been affected by treatment leaving them susceptible to viruses and infections. A key word for employers supporting their staff is flexibility.
As an employer you may be faced with supporting staff at various stages of their diagnoses, treatment and recovery. Ideally to support them the best you can, a strategic approach involving a number of professionals may be best. It is important to involve the worker at all stages and maintain open communication with them.
You may find that the worker does not wish to discuss their condition and this is their right, it may be easier to work with a third party such as occupational health services as its not always easy to know the right thing to say and what to do. It's important to have a general understanding of the employee's long-term prognosis such as is the cancer treatment intended to cure or control the symptoms of the disease.
It is recognised that the reason why many employees struggle to remain in, or return to, work is the lack of
vocational rehabilitation services. Many employers also struggle to know what help and support they can offer. There is an increasing amount of information available for line managers, human resources and occupational health professionals on helping individuals with cancer stay in work, such as
Macmillan’s Work and Cancer training and web pages.
Elements of good practice in supporting employees with long terms conditions in general can be found in our Long Term Conditions pages.
Visit our Supporting employees with long term health conditions pages
You may want to consider
If you are self-employed you may have financial or other concerns about keeping your business going while you are having treatment and recovering. There are some Government benefits available if you are sick and self-employed, such as Employment Support Allowance. There may also be charitable grants that you qualify for. Speaking to the Citizen's Advice Bureau or a benefits adviser may help you find out more. You may also find business advice services helpful, such as the Government run
Business Support Helpline.
While having a member of staff who develops a cancer is a real possibility for many workplaces, you may also find that a staff member has become a carer for someone experiencing cancer. In such circumstances many of the difficulties around attendance at work, fatigue, finance and anxiety are all still valid and a considerate workplace would consider many of the elements above as part of their support package to keep these cares engaged in the workplace as well. Mcmillan cancer support offers advice on supporting carers.
Support for employers is available from a number of sources including the
Beatson cancer charity and
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For information on workplace health, safety and wellbeing, you can speak to one of our specialist advisors.