Returning to work

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Hi, I am 7 weeks post mastectomy for DCIS right breast. Luckily lymph nodes were clear so no more treatment is needed. I work in a petrol station and so far my boss has been brilliant, giving me full pay and keeping in touch.

I am nervous about returning to work as my job involves a lot of heavy work, taking in deliveries and lifting stock etc.  I have a sick note until October 13th but don’t feel ready to go back then, as there is usually only a couple of us on shift and I feel that when I’m back they will assume I’m 100% and can do the heavy stuff. 
Is there anything I can ask to be put in place that protects my right to light duties? 

  • Hi  

    Thank you for contacting us here at Macmillan.  My name is Alissa and I am a Work Support Advisor on Macmillan’s National Support Line.  My team provides guidance on your rights at work when you are affected by cancer and hopefully, we can guide you with next steps and the support you require at work.

    I am sorry to hear of your breast cancer diagnosis and hope you have been well looked after and are recovering well, physically, and emotionally, as I can imagine you have been through quite a lot in a very short space of time.

    I am glad you have reached out to us so we can guide you with next steps here.

    Acknowledging your fit note ends on 13th October 2023. Only you and your medical team can say you are fit to return to work and if you do not feel ready or well enough, I would encourage you to reach out to your GP, Consultant or Cancer Nurse Specialist to assist you with a further fit note and contact your employer to update them.

    I am not sure if you are aware, in case you are not, you have protection from disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 if you live in Northern Ireland).  Both Acts define cancer automatically as a disability, which means anyone diagnosed with cancer is considered to be disabled.  Under the Acts, providing your employer is aware of your diagnosis, you should not be discriminated against because of it. Your employer is duty-bound to make reasonable adjustments to support you either to remain at work or to return to work if you have had a period of absence.  Importantly, this protection is lifelong and does not depend upon an active cancer diagnosis.  

    Our publication “Your Rights At Work” explains more about the Acts and how you are protected in the workplace.

    Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged in the workplace. They should also make sure policies and practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.

    You can request a reasonable adjustment in the workplace, providing you can relate it back to your cancer. Your employer has a duty to consider all reasonable adjustments and a failure to do so could suggest disability discrimination. If your employer rejects a reasonable adjustment request, they need to be able to demonstrate why it is “unreasonable” for them to accommodate or it could suggest that you are being treated less favourably as a disabled person. If you feel this applies, it would be advisable to seek further advice.

    As a reasonable adjustment, you may want to consider a phased return, no heavy lifting, extra breaks, alteration in duties to mention just a few, to help you to return to work comfortably and safely. You mentioned your boss has been brilliant, which is great to hear.  I would encourage you to give them the opportunity to consider ways to help and support you by discussing a return-to-work plan, maybe nearing the end of your next fit note so there can be consideration to the adjustments you need.

    There are several ways to request reasonable adjustments:

    A referral to Occupational Health is good employment practice. You will be assessed by a medical professional who can make recommendations for reasonable adjustments to support you at work. Both you and your Employer will receive a copy of the report produced.

    Access to Work is a government scheme. It offers grants and advice to help employees with a disability or health condition stay in work. The scheme can be contacted either by an employee or an employer. Examples of what can be provided are, special aids and equipment at work, travel to work if public transport is a barrier or perhaps to provide a support worker to help in the workplace. Further details can be found at:

    Northern Ireland: visit NI Direct:

    I mention Access to Work in case there as support available from them, such as lifting aids if they could help you with your work?

    The purpose of the phased return is to allow an employee to return to work gradually. This may mean reduced hours, lighter or different duties. The employer or HR manager and the employee should agree on a plan for how long this might be for. The agreed plan will need to be reviewed with the employee on their progress. Please refer to the ACAS link below for further information about this:

    It is worth noting that during a phased return the employer is only legally obliged to pay only for the hours worked (unless stated otherwise in the contract, policies). It is common for employers to suggest employees use their holiday entitlement to make up their wages during a phased return. If still working under a Fit Note an employer may pay for additional hours as sick pay – for the hours not worked.

    Whilst working on a phased return the employee will accrue rights against his usual contract and if the contract is not changed, the job will be available for the employee to return to when they are able.

    I hope this information has been helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to come back to us or any of our teams if you require.

    Best wishes



    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