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Worried about going back to work

Posted by


I have been off sick from my NHS role as a clerical officer since November with GIST cancer and also womb cancer where I had a hysterectomy in December. Thankfully I don't need further treatment for my womb cancer but my GIST cancer has now been confirmed as incurable. I have recently started a new chemotherapy drug called Sunitinib which goes in cycles of 4 weeks of medication then a 2 week break. I had a scan before treatment started and the tumours had grown and I am not due another scan until April. My fit note ends on 13 March and I am contemplating going back to work, I work part time 3 days a week, at the moment and I am worried if I go back to work and I have further problems what happens if I have to go off sick again. I'm worried that I have already had one treatment drug that was unsuccessful and now that I'm classed as incurable and will continue to have multiple medical appointments can my employer class me as no longer capable of doing my job..

Kind Regards

Su - Macmillan
Posted by

Hi ,

Thank you so much for taking the time to get in touch we us, it is great to hear that you do not need any further treatment for the womb cancer but are currently starting a new chemotherapy drug for the GIST cancer.

I understand from your message that you are concerned that if you are feeling able to return to work currently but may need to take more time off sick later, can your employer class you as no longer capable of doing your job. 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.

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.

Under the Equality legalisation there is no automatic right for an employer to disregard any disability related absence as part of a sickness management process.

Some employers include in their sickness and absence policy that they will exclude any disability (cancer) related absence from sickness management triggers. This means that if an employee required time off for cancer treatment, these occasions would be excluded from hitting sickness management triggers. This is to ensure that people who are protected under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 are not at a disadvantage in the workplace. It may be worth checking your organisations sickness management policy. If it does not state any disability or cancer related absence will be excluded, you could ask if they could accommodate this for you to ensure you are not being treated less favourably.

Although it is not a reasonable adjustment for an employer to give higher ‘trigger points’ to a disabled employee when they are off sick compared to a non-disabled employee. An employer does still have to proceed carefully when looking at capability proceedings in the case of a disabled employee. This is because a disabled employee should not be treated less favourably.

An employer can potentially dismiss an employee on the grounds of capability if they are unable to return to work or perform their role. This could be a fair dismissal, however before an employer takes this step they would need to show they have made reasonable adjustments for a disabled person, including alternative job role if available and there is a reasonable expected return to work date. You mention considering returning to work, it would be advisable to give positive messages about your wishes to return and if possible an expected return to work date to your employer.

In addition, if you have 2 years employment service (England, Wales and Scotland) then you would have protection against unfair dismissal. If you are a union member it would be advisable to seek their support with this. For further information here is the ACAS guide to disciplinary and grievance procedures.

For your future medical appointments, there is no right for time of to attend these appointments to be paid. However, your employer may have their own policy which could state otherwise, and they also can apply their discretion. It would be advisable to check your policy and speak to your employer about this.

I hope you find this information helpful to your situation if you need further support please do not hesitate to contact us back. We wish you all the best with your continuing treatment.


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