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Hello I have had diep reconstruction in March this year, I went back to work 7 weeks ago. However I am struggling with back pain, I am seeing a physio through work. My gp has referred me for a mri scan just to check what is going on. I had a phased return and as unable to complete any of it, I still haven't completed a full week at work. I have requested equipment such as a chair,  footrest and wrist support. As I keep going off sick my sickness record is constantly triggered. I have involved the union now. Can you offer any advice please?

  • Hello

    Thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear about your worries about work and I hope the following information is helpful. My name is Polly and I am a work support advisor on the Macmillan support line. This service specialises in talking to people affected by cancer about their employment rights.

    Following cancer treatment, it is usual for a patient to return to work on a phased return when they are ready. Occupational health can draw up a back to work plan or your GP can provide you with a fit note with a suggested time frame for the phased return.  Some employers think that a month is the standard time while occupational health might consider three months. How the phased return is handled will be dictated by your ongoing health issues. It is good practice for your manager to check in with you as you build up your hours.

    Where a patient cannot achieve their full hours then the employer needs to consult about a change in contractual hours. It is always important to think carefully about accepting these changes because they can have an impact on pensions and holiday entitlement.

    If sickness absence during a phased return is escalating the triggers (which can lead to a warning) then you may need to speak to your manager about how these warnings and triggers are applied while you are on a phased return because it could be discriminatory.

    Cancer is a recognised disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the disability Discrimination Act 1995 if you live in Northern Ireland). Employers must make reasonable adjustments to help cancer patients when they are returning to work. This can include changing policies and procedures that cause a disadvantage to the cancer patient. Usually the application of a sickness absence policy is not the subject of a reasonable adjustment request however giving warnings about attendance during a phased return could be unfavourable treatment connected to your cancer diagnosis (this is called discrimination arising from disability). The employer can defend this type of discrimination If they can find an objective justification but if they have not made reasonable adjustments then this justification will be difficult for them to prove.

    It is important to check the employer’s sickness absence policy to see whether there is scope to request that the triggers are not applied when sickness absence is related to a disability and you are on a phased return. Some employers class this as disability leave rather than sick leave.

    You can learn more about Discrimination Arising from Disability on the ACAS website

    Here is a link to our booklet “Your rights at work when you are affected by cancer”

    Another aspect of making reasonable adjustments Is to provide equipment and aids to help you manage your disability. We recommend that you ask for a workstation assessment that is conducted by occupational health who can make the appropriate recommendations to your manager about what you need to do your job and to make your tasks easier. This can include a new chair or a sitting/ standing desk as well as the footstool. The chair should be equipped to help you support your lower back and it should have armrests.

    Your employer also has an obligation to undertake risk assessments under the Display Equipment Regulations. If your employer is not doing this, they may be in breach of Health and Safety laws and you may be able to report them to the Health and Safety Executive. Please do seek further guidance from your union if you believe this to be the case.


    A source of advice about reasonable adjustments is a government organisation called Access to Work (The Northern Ireland Service)

    You may wish to share a link with your manager to our booklet called Managing cancer in the workplace and Questions to ask about work and cancer. Both these booklets offer sound guidance to the manager when dealing with cancer in the workplace.

    If you have worries about your health and want to talk over the symptoms you are experiencing now you can speak to our Cancer Information Nurses on the Macmillan support line. They are available on 0808 808 0000 Seven days a week between 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM.


    Work Support Advisor
    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email
  • Hello Polly

    Thank you for your reply, my phased return has finished I was told it can be extended but I need to use annual leave to fill the hours I don't work. I had an assessment for a chair before I had my surgery  when I came back on my phased return. I requested if this could be ordered, I am still waiting for the chair. I have received a footrest, but am struggling working at a desk job without the chair. What is the other assessment for that you have mentioned? I asked my manager to refer me to occupational health to discuss a disability passport. I really am stressed about all of this  which is starting to affect my mental health.

  • hello

    Thanks for your rely to Polly’s response.  My name is Stacey and I am a colleague of Polly and also an adviser from the Work Support team and happy to answer your query.  I am sorry to hear about your difficulty in obtaining the right equipment to enable you to be more effective in the workplace.

    It appears you have tried quite a few things to help your return to work. As we have discussed, a referral to Occupational Health would help you in your request for the right kind of chair. They would then submit a report to your manager.

    Polly also mentioned having a risk assessment and a display screen assessment which you might have expected to be completed by your employer on your return to work, and you can ask your employer for this to take place if they have not done so already.

    She also mentioned Access to Work which is a government agency, the details of which are in the back of the booklet ‘Your Rights at Work’ which was sent to you as a link. They can provide a grant to pay for practical support such as a chair.

    It is helpful that you have the union to support you. In spite of the people who have been involved, and after having an assessment for an appropriate chair, it has still not arrived. Have they given an explanation for why this is? It would seem to be quite understandable that you are unable to work and have to take time off sick because an allocated reasonable adjustment has not yet been provided. Although this probably means a drop in salary for you, especially if you are unable to receive a company sick pay.

    If you have a meeting with your manager and involve your union representative, hopefully you will find out more about when any further equipment will arrive. It sounds as though they are aware of your right to receive reasonable adjustments as someone who has a disability and the need to receive this to enable you to work. The completion of a Disability Passport would then formalise your agreement.    



    Work Support Adviser

    Remember, you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am – 8pm) or by email.