My rights in work and education after cancer

Going back to work or school after cancer treatment can be difficult. It’s important to remember you have rights that can support you with this process. Find out more here. 

  • If you’ve had a cancer diagnosis you’re protected under law from discrimination by the Equality Act 
  • Side effects and late effects from treatment can impact your daily life but there’s support you can put in place to help with this 
  • If you’re finding it difficult it’s worth speaking to your workplace or education provider about how they can support you  

What are my rights in work and education after cancer treatment?

The Equality Act 2010 recognises cancer as a disability. This is from the point of diagnosis for the rest of your life. Whether or not you consider yourself disabled, it’s important to understand what you are entitled to. 

This means that it’s illegal for your employer or tutor to discriminate against you once you’ve told them you have cancer or have had it in the past. The Equality Act doesn’t only protect you when you’re employed, but also when you’re applying for jobs and if you’re self-employed. 

What if I need support to work or study after cancer treatment?

The effects of cancer and cancer treatment can impact your daily life and can make it really difficult to study and work. It could be that if the organisation made some changes, things would be easier for you. 

Reasonable adjustments are changes that should give you additional support to do your job or to study. The idea is to reduce any disadvantages you have at work or school in comparison to someone without a cancer diagnosis.   

There is not a specific definition of what a reasonable adjustment is. The changes you request (and whether they can be made) are dependent on your job or education and the organisation you’re working for, or studying with.  

At work, these changes could involve:   

  • working shorter hours   
  • working from home   
  • making the building more accessible  

If you’re a student, you can also talk to your teacher or tutor at your place of education about reasonable adjustments. This might involve:    

  • attending class from home   
  • getting extensions on deadlines   
  • having someone to write for you during an exam (a scribe)   

You can find some more examples of reasonable adjustments here.   

If you’re struggling at school or work, for example with concentration, your care team might be able to offer assessments. The results of this could be helpful to show school or work as part of a request for reasonable adjustments. 

Employers and education providers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments if they know you have cancer and you are at a disadvantage in work or study compared to people who haven’t had cancer. However, there is no specific definition of what a reasonable adjustment is, and so this depends on the organisation. When you make a request for reasonable adjustments, they will consider its cost, its benefit to you, the things they would have to change and other things.   

What are my rights when I’m applying for jobs after cancer?

You don’t only have rights when you are in work, but also when you’re applying for jobs and when you’re being interviewed for jobs. For example, you should be asked if you need any reasonable adjustments before the job interview. This includes for interviews with recruitment agencies. These reasonable adjustments might be things like extra breaks during an assessment day or interview so you can rest or take medication.  

No assumptions should be made about what someone can or can’t do because of their health or disability. Because of this, it’s illegal for employers to ask about your health or whether you’re disabled before making you a job offer. 

Sometimes you might be asked about your ability to do a specific task that’s very important to the job. It might be that this task can’t be changed and so can’t be done with reasonable adjustments. In situations like this, they might be able to ask if you’re able to do the task without reasonable adjustments. If you’re not sure whether an employer is allowed to ask you something about your diagnosis, then you can contact the organisations at the bottom of this page for more information. 

Do I have to tell people at work or school about my cancer diagnosis? 

You don’t have to tell your employer or tutor that you have cancer if you don’t want to. You’re never obligated to tell anyone about your diagnosis if it’s not something you want to share. If you decide not to tell them about your diagnosis, they are not legally required to make reasonable adjustments.  


What if my employer or school says no to my request for reasonable adjustments?

If you decide to tell your employer or tutor about your diagnosis, then they are legally required to try and support you through reasonable adjustments. If you’ve told them about your diagnosis and they refuse to consider making reasonable adjustments, you could make a discrimination claim under the Equality Act.   

What can I do if my employer or school discriminates against me?

As we mentioned, it’s illegal for your employer or tutor to discriminate against you once you’ve told them you have cancer or you had it in the past. Because it’s illegal, you have legal options for dealing with the person or organisation if you’ve been discriminated against. Before taking legal action, you might want to speak with your union if the problem is at work, or someone at your education provider. Most people are able to resolve issues without taking legal action against their employer or education provider, but it’s important to know that this is an option for you. 

Links to more specialist information and support

For more information and advice about your rights in work and education, have a look at these links: 

Patient Information Forum - Trusted Information Creator

PIF TICK accredited information

The Patient Information Forum is the UK membership organisation and network for people working in health information and support. The PIF TICK is the UK-wide Quality Mark for Health Information.

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