It’s very common for people to question what they’re doing, both in their life and at work, after cancer. That’s a perfectly normal reaction given that a diagnosis of cancer is in many cases a life-changing experience. Many people decide to continue doing the same thing or many people decide they want to change things in due course. I think a good thing to do is to start building those habits up: to fit some weeks before you’re going back to work, to set your alarm for an earlier time; to be clear about what you’re going to wear and put out those clothes the night before; to practice the journey. I think also, make sure you have spoken to your employer about what you want said about your return, how you want to talk about your cancer at work. So, lots and lots of preparation and planning beforehand, so that you’re not doing things for the first time the day that you’re going back to work. ‘Reasonable adjustments’ is an interesting term because what’s reasonable to me might not be reasonable for you. If I were to come back to work and ask for a reasonable adjustment of working one hour on a Monday, half an hour on a Wednesday and over lunch on a Friday, I don’t think that’s a particularly reasonable request. So, what type of adjustments might that mean? It could mean your hours of work, it can mean the kind of work you do, it can mean your location of where you work, whether you work maybe in a different office or from home. Adjustments could also be physical, in terms of your desk, where your desk is placed or whether the height of your desk, your chair is right
– so physical adjustments. It might also mean having particular software on your computer. If you’ve got peripheral neuropathy and can’t operate the keys, then having some kind of software to support you is again a reasonable adjustment. In this particular case, I think individuals, such as a teacher, would need a doctor’s certificate and some recommendations from the doctor as to what might be a reasonable adjustment or adjustments to support them to continue teaching. There are various things, it might be that they’d have to work in the office for a period, it might be that they’d stagger their journey into work and home from work, not to be commuting. You’d need to discuss options I think
with your doctor and with the school. Clearly it won’t be easy. A phased return basically means that the person is not returning directly to full-time, or part-time work for that matter, if they were working part-time beforehand. So, they’re gradually increasing their hours over several weeks, sometimes months, to whatever their hours would have been pre-cancer. If somebody was working full-time, they might start by working two half days say, on a Monday and Wednesday, and then gradually work up to five days over a period of twelve weeks or more. As to whether you can work part-time on a permanent basis, the answer is you can request that as a permanent reasonable adjustment. But my advice would be to start by working up your hours and if you feel that, when you get to a certain number of hours, you can’t or won’t be able to work full-time, then and only then would you request to make that a permanent adjustment. Your employer is not required absolutely to do that, if they feel that’s an unreasonable request. The question as to when you should disclose your cancer to a potential new employer is an incredibly complex one. First thing is, if you’ve been all over social media, talking about your cancer, it’s highly likely your potential employer will know that already and may well ask you about it at interview. If it’s in the public domain, although potentially any questions about health aren’t really allowed during an interview, but if you’re all over social media about it and haven’t mentioned anything about it, most employers would want to ask you something. If you haven’t been all over social media and you haven’t mentioned anything in your CV or an application or in a covering letter, you’re not required to.
Let’s be clear – you’re not required to. I think if you’re still needing to have medical appointments, you’re still in some form of active treatment, then you should say something to your employer once an offer has been made to you. At that stage, if you’ve told them about your cancer and then they withdraw the offer, they’re clearly in breach of the law. If you’re self-employed, you’re also covered by the Equality Act. Clearly it’s a different situation because you’re not employed. I’ve seen a lot of issues to deal with, about how you’re going to manage financially and so forth, but it’s important to recognise that, if for example, you’re able to work and a client says to you they’re going to withdraw their custom because you’ve got cancer, they are equally in breach of the law and you have a right to complain about their treatment of you. I think if you are self-employed, it’s important to manage by letting people know: both your suppliers and your bank, so you can manage your finances; your colleagues that you’re working with. I’m aware it’s very tough but again not saying anything, doing your best to work through your illness without talking to other people, won’t do you any favours. My advice would be to, and if you feel you can’t speak to your HR people about it which would be the first point of contact really, then what the best thing to do will be to raise a grievance and most companies will have a grievance procedure in their handbook. If you raise a grievance and you feel that that’s been dismissed and you’re not allowed to take things any further, or your grievance isn’t addressed, then you need to seek legal advice. There are organisations like the Disability Law Service or Citizens Advice Bureau which provide advice, and Working With Cancer – we can also get you some pro bono legal support to at least give you an opinion on what your next step should be. I think voluntary work is a reasonable entry point back into the world of work if you’ve been out of work for some time or if you’re not sure what you want to do next. It’s an excellent way of rejoining the community of work, having objectives to meet, having deadlines to meet, having those social structures that work gives you. It’s also a very good way of having something to put on a CV if you start looking for new jobs in employment. I would definitely say that voluntary work is an excellent way to get back into work. If you’re many years post-treatment and you don’t need any reasonable adjustments, you’re perfectly well, I think there’s actually no need to disclose anything to your employer at all. If I was applying for a job now, I wouldn’t see any need to talk about my cancer to them in advance. If you’re, on the other hand, still suffering from the after-effects of treatment and you need some reasonable adjustments, then it’s important to mention that again, as I said in an earlier answer, I think the best time to mention that is after an offer has been made. If you’re twenty plus years or even ten plus years or whatever it is after treatment and you’re in remission or cured allegedly, and suddenly you have a recurrence, and that happens, then it’s important to tell your employer. The fact that you didn’t tell them about your first diagnosis is irrelevant. It wasn’t relevant to tell them when you took up your employment, but it’s important to tell them now about your recurrence.