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Posted by

To whom it may concern,

I have just had a double mastectomy and will be off from work until April 29th. I am a self-employed piano teacher and I work in 2 schools. I will need to be careful and mindful of my condition when I return to work. My schedule allows breaks during my teaching day. My employer knows I was diagnosed with cancer, however the full diagnosis was given to me last week. I'm awaiting news about my treatment plan.

How should I explain my circumstances to my employer? 

Thank you for your help,

Su - Macmillan
Posted by

Hi ,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your work situation and concerns about explaining to your employer about your circumstances.

I understand from your message that you are self-employed and providing your services as a piano teacher within 2 schools. However, you also referred to the school(s) as your “employer”. It appears unclear if you are a genuinely self-employed individual or a “worker” in the school(s). This is important as genuinely self-employed are not covered under the Equality Act 2010 section 5 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland). However, if you are under a contract to perform the service personally for the school(s), then you may be protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Someone can be a “worker” even if they have a contractual right to refuse some work they are offered. If someone’s work has been regular and continuous an employment tribunal can decide that they are a worker even though their contractual hours are described as “zero”.

If an individual has a genuine, unrestricted legal right to send someone else of their own choice to do their work they will be genuinely self-employed and therefore will have no protection from discrimination at work. If you are unclear on your employment status you would need to seek legal advice on this matter.

If you have “worker” status you are protected by the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland) as cancer is classified as a disability under these acts. This means the school(s) should not discriminate against you because of your cancer. An 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.

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. 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.

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. Here is a link to our booklet ‘Self-Employment and cancer’, which you may find useful.

It is your choice how much you wish to share with the school(s) as any information relating to your medical situation is classified us ‘sensitive’ under data protection rules. These means that if you only wanted to share this with whoever you report too and no one else then this is your choice as it is your confidential information and should not be shared with the wider audience without your permission to do so. You may need to share information relating to your availability to teach due to treatment schedules.

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.