Breast cancer and employment

Returning to work

Returning to work during or after a breast cancer diagnosis can be a very positive step and may help some people move forward by maintaining or regaining some normality.

If you’ve taken time off or reduced your working hours during your breast cancer treatment, returning to your usual work pattern can be difficult for a number of reasons.

Many people feel disappointed and frustrated that this 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.

When and whether 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.

It can be helpful to discuss your plan to return to work with your specialist team, occupational health or human resources department and manager. A phased return to work can help you gradually adjust to your normal working pattern.

Do I have to tell my employer about my 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.

Do I have to tell a new employer about my diagnosis?

Many people worry that giving information about their cancer diagnosis when applying for a new job may affect their chances of success. If you are being or have been treated for breast cancer, the Equality Act 2010 protects you against any discrimination relating to employment – including during the recruitment process.

Under the Equality Act, employers are not permitted to ask questions about candidates’ health during the recruitment process. This includes asking if you have a disability. 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 must be done for reasons that are non-discriminatory.

Read more about your rights at work.

Giving up work

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 it’s important to get independent employment advice before you make any decisions.

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

For employment advice you can contact Acas or call their helpline on 0300 1230 1100.

Related links

Macmillan Cancer Support: Work and cancer

Macmillan Cancer Support: Information for employees

Macmillan Cancer Support: Financial guidance

Carers UK: Other rights at work

Cancer Research: financial support and government benefits

Gov.uk: Disability rights

BECCA, our free app with tips on life beyond breast cancer

Last reviewed: February 2016
Next planned review begins February 2018

Let us know what you think

Please note that we cannot respond to comments. If you have any questions about breast cancer please contact the Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

Sign up for our newsletter