Cancer Diagnosis while on maternity leave

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Looking for advice around if and when I should tell my employer of my breast cancer diagnosis. I'm currently on maternity leave.

  • Hi ,

    Thanks for contacting us here at Macmillan Cancer Support. My name is Emma, and I am a Work Support Adviser. I can advise you on your rights at work. I am sorry to hear of your breast cancer diagnosis and can appreciate this must be extremely difficult for you, especially when caring for your baby at the same time. I hope the information and advice I provide may help you come to a decision around what discussions you have with your employer.

    Whether or not you inform your employer of your cancer diagnosis may depend on several factors. In your message you haven’t mentioned what treatment you are receiving for your breast cancer and whether this treatment is likely to last longer than your maternity leave. You also have not mentioned what sort of relationship you have with your employer.

    It is your choice as to if, or when, you decide to inform your employer of your diagnosis, as you have the right to medical confidentiality under the Data Protection Act 2018. If you have a good relationship, this may give them the opportunity to support you. Our booklet “Managing Cancer In The Workplace” may help them in supporting you if you do decide to tell them.

    If you decide to inform your employer of your cancer diagnosis, you also would be considered to be disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you live in either England, Scotland or Wales (Disability Discrimination Act 1995 if you live in Northern Ireland). Under the Acts, cancer is automatically considered to be a disability. The protection is lifelong and doesn’t depend on an active cancer diagnosis, however, does depend on whether your employer can be said to be aware of it.

    If they are aware of your cancer diagnosis, your employer shouldn’t discriminate against you for any reason related to your cancer. Should you need them, you also will have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments at work. Reasonable adjustments are any changes or adaptations at work that might help you overcome any substantial difficulties you face due to your cancer. You may find our booklet “Work and Cancer” helpful as it not only goes into more detail around your rights, but also has information around approaching conversations with your employer that you may find useful. This could be especially useful to look at when you are planning your return to work.

    Whilst on maternity leave, your employer cannot force you to change your leave to sickness leave. As a person on maternity leave, you have additional protections against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 depending on the type of maternity leave you are taking. The charity Maternity Action has further information around this you may find useful.

    If by the end of your maternity leave you aren’t well enough to return to work and you haven’t already informed them, you should tell your employer that you are unwell. If you are off work on sick leave longer than a week, you may need to speak to your GP and ask for a fit note. Your leave would then transfer from maternity leave to sick leave. Your employer should have a sickness policy at work which you could ask for. It should detail their expectations on how you would keep in touch and what sick pay, if any, you are entitled to. Usually this will be either Occupational Sick Pay, which is employer dependant, or Statutory Sick Pay.

    You could also contact our Welfare Rights team to check if there are any other sources of income available to you. They would need to know your household income, your monthly council tax payments, your monthly mortgage or rent payments and whether you have any savings or investments. You can reach them on 0808 808 0000 option 1, then 2, then 2 between 8am and 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on weekends. You may also find it useful to speak to our Financial Guides if you have any concerns around debts, such as paying mortgage, loans or other financial obligations. They can be reached on 0808 808 0000 option 1 then 2, then 1 between 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Both teams can also be emailed, or you can chat to them online during their opening hours.

    I hope this offers you the information and support you were looking for. If you do want to speak to us further, you of course can reply to this message, email us, chat to us online or you can call us on 0808 808 0000 option 1, then 2, then 3. We’re open between 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday and will be happy to speak to you.


    Kind regards,

    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
  • Thanks Emma, you have answered many of my questions, much appreciated x