i’ve Been off work for nearly 10 months during my treatment for ovarian cancer and go back to work on Thursday. I’ve had 3 different surgeries, chemotherapy & radiotherapy during that time and although I am finally clear of cancer, I am really tired!
my work have been good in that I have had full pay for all these months but that ranout at the end of December. I do want to go back and went back for a few half days in December, before I had my final lung surgery. I used a backlog of holidays in January to get January off while I was recovering from my lung surgery so that I would get a full months pay in January.
Anyway, what I really want to do is go back 3 days a week to start off, possibly for a month, then go up to 4 days a week until I feel less tired. My consultant has told me to expect a year of recovery before I start to feel more normal, so I would think I would be part time for a while.
Am I able to request this working pattern as a reasonable adjustment? When I was well I worked 5 days a week. I had previously asked for a 4 day working week before I had cancer and was turned down, as I work in IT support, and was told it would not fit in with my team (even though people in another team doing an identical job went part time after maternity leave).
I was looking forward to getting back to work while I am in remission but can’t face a 5 day week (plus a stressful commute). Would a phased return of a 3 day week, then working up to a 4 day week count as a reasonable adjustment. The company I work for is a very old fashioned 9-5 sort of place with few part time workers.
any advice much appreciated!
As you have a cancer diagnosis you are considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland). This means your employer should not discriminate against you because of your cancer. Your employer is also under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help you at work. This protection is lifelong and doesn’t depend on an active cancer diagnosis.
I’ve attached a link our booklet ‘Your Rights at Work’, which explains more about the Equality Act 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 related it back to your cancer. From what you have said, you could consider reducing your hours as a reasonable adjustment and potentially discussing the possibility of working from home to avoid the long commute, which may impact your fatigue. 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.
A reasonable adjustment could be to as you suggested returning to work 3 days week and building it up over time This would be a temporary measure rather than a contractual change to help build your resilience. You may in the future decide that permanently reducing your hours to part time is better for you, however it is worth trialling this as a reasonable adjustment first. If you agreed to a permanent reduction in your working hours your contract of employment is amended to reflect part time hours, this would be permanent change to the terms and conditions of your employment. It is advisable to seek advice on this prior to making or agreeing to any permanent changes.
I suggest you make a request in writing for reasonable adjustments to help you cope with your job. If you have a union rep you could discuss this with them. I’ve attached a link to Equality Advisory and Support Service template letters resource that you can use to request reasonable adjustments (titled “Request to make Reasonable Adjustments”. You can include suggestions about the adjustments you need. It may help to support your request with medical evidence from your doctor, such as a fit note that lists the adjustments you need. Your company may arrange for you to have an Occupational Health assessment to identify reasonable adjustments you may need, this can often help with formalising a back to work plan. If you are still unable to resolve things, then you may need to raise a grievance and it would be advisable to seek further advice at this stage.
Your employer is only legally obligated to pay you for the hours you are working if you are doing less that your full contractual hours. If your company has a policy related to phased returns to work and working reduced hours, they should be following their policies in relation to this as it may offer enhanced rights as part of your employment and in some instances they may pay your full salary while working a phased return to work, I would recommend you check your companies policies in this area.
I hope you find this information helpful to your situation if you need further support please do not hesitate to contact us back.
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 Su, that’s really useful. Unfortunately we don’t have union representation & my company doesn’t seem to have phased return/long term sick policies written down anywhere. They used to be quite small; I think they haven’t quite kept up with the fact that employees might get cancer, & need this sort of thing so it’s all very informal chats which make me uncomfortable!
i hadn’t thought of enlisting my doctor & a fit note but I think that would help, so I will look into that. Both my gp & oncologist are very helpful, so that is good.
i think I am possibly anticipating the worst & expecting them to be inflexible when perhaps I should be giving them the chance to be good! I don’t think they will deliberately discriminate, more just think I am now “cured” so should get back to normal, without realising how long that might take.
many thanks x
After a period of sickness, it can be very difficult returning to work and a lot of people anticipate the worst but hopefully this will not be the case. If you do feel you are not being supported by your employer, then you may need to seek some further advice and guidance.
We publish a booklet called “Managing Cancer in the Workplace”, this is written for employers to gain a clearer understanding of how to support employees who have been affected by cancer in the workplace, here is a link to the booklet, you may want to share with your employer.
ACAS have guidelines on sickness management, phased returns and good practice for employers, here is a link to the ACAS guideline pages for employer good practice, you may wish to share this with your employer. Your employer can also access Macmillan at work where they can access to expert training, resources and advice to help them to support staff affected by cancer, here is the link to the pages.
Using the template letter to request reasonable adjustments may help to put your request forward and engage your employer in conversations about how to best support you in the workplace. If you feel that an informal chat is not the best approach for you, you can express this to your employer. It is always helpful to send positive messages to your employer about your return to work.
It’s great to hear you have the support of your GP and Oncologist and they may be able to help you with your return to work and identifying possible reasonable adjustments you may need. They can share this information on your fit note about the adjustment you require.
Sometimes people presume that your treatment has ended and therefore life has returned to how it was prior to your cancer diagnosis, for many this is not the case. For this reason, the protection you have under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland) is lifelong, even if you are classed as being cancer free.
As before please come back to us if you need any further support.
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