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How to explain a 3 and a half year gap in employment

Posted by

Hi I'm working at the moment but I've only been back 7 months. Before that I was off 3 and a half years. Someone on the site said that seems a long time for breast cancer treatment. I had double mastectomy 6 months chemo hospitalised everytime bar 1. A 2 stage reconstruction so 2 more ops plus I couldn't walk for a few months after the chemo. Then I had counselling for over a year trying to deal with the aftermath of it all oh and my partner lost his job and I lost mine. So you see my predicament how do I explained honestly without scaring them off. I put on 5 stone with the treatment but I've lost most of it now. Im fitter than I was 10 years ago. I didnt get a job earlier because I was still recovering physically and mentaly. Oh and the job I'm in now I know the people so this wasnt an issue as they already new my circumstances. 

Peace and plenty. Xx

Su - Macmillan
Posted by

Hello ,

Thank you so much for taking the time to contact us and sharing so openly about your experiences.

It sounds like you have gone through an awful lot over the last few years both with your cancer and changes to you and your partner’s work situation. There is no set time for someone to be off with cancer treatment, it is unique to you and your diagnosis and we would hope assumptions would not be made by others around your circumstances. It is however great to hear that your new employer is aware of your situation and is supporting you.

I am not sure if you are aware that 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 does not depend on an active cancer diagnosis.

I have attached a link our booklet “Your Rights at Work’”, which explains more about the Equality Act and how you are protected in the workplace.

If your previous employer ended you contract because of your cancer diagnosis, this could be possible disability discrimination. Your employer may be able to terminate your employment if you are not capable of your job, but they should first follow a fair procedure which should include looking at the possibility of you returning to work within a reasonable time frame, and they should consider any reasonable adjustments that would assist you.

From your message I am unsure as to when your employment ended. If you are wanting to challenge on grounds of disability discrimination you have 3 months less 1 day from the last occasion of discrimination or dismissal to lodge a complaint with an Employment Tribunal. I would encourage you to seek advice and support on this from a union rep or come back to us for further guidance.

If you are outside this time limit the tribunal service can refuse to accept the case. When you contact ACAS and start the conciliation process, this puts a hold on the time limit. If the conciliation process comes to an end and if it is not successful, you should be issued with a certificate from ACAS which confirms this. The time limit would restart from the date that you treated as being in receipt of the conciliation certificate. The Employment Tribunal claim form can be found here

If your partner’s previous employment was ended and this was linked to your cancer, this may be disability discrimination by association. Under Equality legislation carers also have some protection against discrimination “by association” with a disabled person. Again, if your partner wished to challenge his dismissal he would have 3 months less 1 day from the dismissal to do so with an Employment Tribunal.

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.