This month, we asked Barbara:

What should an employer consider when making reasonable adjustments for an employee living with cancer?

Following a cancer diagnosis, most people need time off work for treatment.  This could last for several weeks or months. Whilst most cancers have a typical ‘care pathway’, every person is unique in terms of their cancer journey, their treatment and when they feel ready to return to work.

Everyone who has, or has had, cancer is classed as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. This means their employer must not discriminate against them in any way because of their illness or past cancer. Employers therefore have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ wherever possible.  Your office, the working arrangements or the lack of auxiliary aids can put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage.  There is no fixed definition of ‘reasonable’ because it will always depend on circumstances such as practicality, cost or the extent to which the business will be disrupted.

Before deciding on what adjustments are needed to help an employee return to work you should:

  • be aware that employees may not have received medical advice about when they should return to work, so you should seek input about adjustments from occupational health advisers if available
  • discuss any planned adjustments with the employee concerned.

In practice, reasonable adjustments fall into three categories:  

  1. Relatively small changes to the role, working hours, or the physical workplace, (often temporary).
  2. Flexible or part time working.
  3. Suitable alternative employment.

The latter two are often not needed.  In contrast, relatively small changes can often make the biggest difference.  These will depend on the individual’s health and the job itself but might include:

  • allowing the  employee to commute outside of the rush hour or work from home for a day or two to protect their immune system
  • extra breaks to cope with fatigue
  • adjusting a work station to provide access to someone on crutches or in a wheelchair
  • adjusting duties and/or performance targets.  

None of this has to be expensive or disruptive – it’s all about exercising common sense and treating the person as you would wish to be treated.


Did you miss Barbara's previous blog about how managers can support teams under pressure when an employee is absent due to cancer? Read it here.

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