1. Is breast cancer classed as a disability?
2. What are my rights at work?
3. Returning to work after breast cancer
4. Do I have to tell my employer about my breast cancer?
5. Do I have to tell a new employer about my breast cancer diagnosis?
6. Giving up work after breast cancer
7. Your rights if you’re caring for someone with breast cancer

1. Is breast cancer classed as a disability?

For the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 anyone who has or has had breast cancer is classed as disabled.

The Equality Act (which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act in England, Scotland and Wales) protects employees from being discriminated against because of their disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) continues to protect people living in Northern Ireland.

You cannot lose your job or be treated less favourably for having breast cancer.

2. What are my rights at work?

If you have breast cancer, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to help you continue to work, return to work, have time off for medical appointments or for continued treatment and recovery. Your employment rights are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

You can find information about your rights at work on the Macmillan Cancer Support website.

3. Returning to work after breast cancer

If you’ve taken time off or reduced your working hours during your breast cancer treatment, when you decide to return to work will depend to some extent on what your job involves and your financial situation.

If your job is physically or mentally stressful, you may need a longer period of time off before you feel ready to return.

Returning to work can be a very positive step and may help some people move forward by regaining some normality. However, many people feel disappointed and frustrated that it isn’t as easy as they imagined. This may be because they are experiencing side effects of their treatment such as fatigue, or are adjusting to life after a cancer diagnosis and the emotional changes this can bring.

It can be helpful to discuss your plan to return to work with your treatment team, occupational health or human resources department and your manager. Your employer is required to make reasonable adjustments during the period that you are returning to work.  For example, a phased return to work can help you gradually adjust to your normal working pattern. There may be other adjustments that benefit you and if you need help with this, ask your treatment team what they’d recommend and share this with your employer.

You may be able to get other practical support during and after treatment.

Although it is not possible for everyone, some people give up work permanently.

4. Do I have to tell my employer about my breast cancer?

You don’t have to tell your employer any details of your diagnosis and treatment if you don’t want to.

How much information you give about your breast cancer to those involved with your return to work is a personal decision. However, you have the right for any information you do provide about your breast cancer to be kept private and only discussed with other people with your permission.

Your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to your role or working environment to help you do your job. If you don’t tell them about your diagnosis and treatment, it may be difficult for them to know what adjustments to make.

5. Do I have to tell a new employer about my breast cancer diagnosis?

Employers are not permitted to ask questions about candidates’ health during the recruitment process. This includes asking if you have a disability (breast cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010).

Information regarding your health can be asked for by an employer, if it is relevant to the job or is to be used as part of equal opportunities monitoring.

If you’re asked whether you have a health condition on an application form or in an interview, it might be a good idea to check whether the question is one that is allowed to be asked at that stage of recruitment.

Once you’ve been offered a job, an employer can then ask for information about your health. If you’re asked directly it’s important you answer truthfully. Giving false or incomplete information could mislead your employer. However, if they decided to withdraw the job offer, this cannot be because of your breast cancer.

If you feel like you have been discriminated against at work because of your breast cancer diagnosis, you can contact Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) or call their helpline on 0300 1230 1100. Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

6. Giving up work after breast cancer

Some people choose to stop working altogether after a diagnosis of breast cancer. This may be for health reasons or because the experience of having breast cancer has made them reassess what’s important. However, giving up work is not an option for everyone and your circumstances may mean it’s not possible for you to do this.

Giving up work for good means you also give up any rights and benefits linked to your job, such as pension rights. So if you’re planning to stop working, get independent employment advice before you make any decisions.

Talk to other people who have been in a similar situation. You can share concerns and experiences through our online discussion Forum. Our Someone Like Me service can put you in touch with someone who has experience of the issues you’re facing.

Macmillan Cancer Support has more information about how cancer and cancer treatments may have an impact on your employment.

7. Your rights if you’re caring for someone with breast cancer

If you are caring for someone with a breast cancer diagnosis you may be entitled to request flexible working to help you find a balance between work and your caring responsibilities.

You can find more detailed information about rights at work and cancer on the Macmillan Cancer Support and Carers UK websites.

You may want to read our information on being the partner of someone with breast cancer.

Last reviewed: December 2018
Next planned review begins 2020

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