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What can we expect from our employer in a new job?

BB 533
Posted by

In Oct 2018 my husband (M) was diagnosed with Hairy cell leukaemia(HCL). He did chemo in Nov and has been slowly getting stronger. He gets tired easier than before and as his quality of sleep has gone worse for some reason, often needing to sleep in or nap.

His condition was not however getting to a 100% recovery and after a bone mallow biopsy, he is schedule to have different type of chemo next month.

Now HCL is said to be one of the best cancer in that you have a normal life expectancy etc. Also we found our 1st process relatively smooth- less aggressive than what we have heard from others with different kind of cancer. So we feel grateful and lucky. 

But on the other hand, M is wondering what is going to happen for the 2nd round of chemo and work. In particular, he is wondering if he can work while getting 2nd part of chemo which is once a week for 8 weeks.

When I read up, the infections are always the danger and as we saw him being really ill with sepsis last winter, I hope he won't go to work. 
It is particularly challenging for M as he just changed to a new role (in order to find a balance away from a high power position he had, and then he found out that he needs to to another round of chemo) and to make matter a bit more complicated, I am in the same team. He has been in the team for just over 2 months and has not been able to show his strength fully yet. So he feels pressured to prove himself. And this is a temporally position which is in a way to support his transition but has a time limit on it. So usually, if one does not find themselves accepted to a role within 3 months, then you are out of the company. Our employer says for M's case, they can look at it differently by extending this for 3 months, and review if it needs another extension.
HLC keeps his hair on, he face look a bit greyer and the body thinner but otherwise, people would not notice that he has a cancer and he is good at projecting his own presence. And I found hard to share with my team how he can be at home needing to rest and that his memory (lack of it) worries me.
Our employer was generous in a way of having given him the time he needed but also clueless re. how best to handle his case. And he did not have anyone to meet him for the last 11 months until he mentioned this to an HR person. 
I am wondering if I should request an occupational health therapist to be hired if the HR cannot handle it. But unsure how this would be helpful. Maybe this would require more meeting with someone and maybe it is more hard work??
I would appreciate what an occupational health person could do to a person from outside, if you had one inside the company, what can they do and what do they do normally.
And anything else you can point our or feedback would be appreciated.
Thank you.
Su - Macmillan
Posted by

Hello Mia,

Thank you so much for taking the time to contact us about your husband’s work situation. It is great to hear that your husband’s prognosis is so good and that he found the first round of chemotherapy relatively smooth.

As your husband has a cancer diagnosis, he is considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland). This means his employer should not discriminate against your husband because of his cancer. His employer is also under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help him 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 your husband is protected in the workplace.

I understand from your message that you are also working for the same company. Under Equality legislation, carers also have some protection against discrimination “by association” with a disabled person. Here is a link to our booklet “Working while caring for someone with cancer” which explains more about this and carers options.

It appears from your message that you feel your employer may believe your husband is well when he may be coping with side effects from his cancer and treatment due to his appearance and his ability to mask how he is feeling. We publish a booklet called “Managing cancer in the workplace” which is written for employers to help them gain a clearer understand of how to support employees who have been affected by cancer. in the workplace. Macmillan at Work also provides access to expert training, resources and advice on how to support staff affected by cancer.

It is normal practice for employers to request an Occupational Health report when an employee has been off work sick for a long time or may need additional support. Advice from occupational health should help the employer understand when or whether your husband is likely to be able to return to work. It should also tell them whether there are any reasonable adjustments that could help him return to work and in work. Some employers have a company Occupational Health advisor however this can be costly and therefore a lot of organisations refer to an external Occupational Health advisor to carry out an assessment.

If your husband feels he needs some alterations at work, he can identify these a request them as Reasonable Adjustments. 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.

Your husband can request a reasonable adjustment in the workplace, providing it can be related it back to his cancer. His employer has a duty to consider all reasonable adjustments and a failure to do so could suggest disability discrimination. If the 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 your husband is being treated less favourably as a disabled person. If you feel this applies, it would be advisable to seek further advice.

I suggest you make a request in writing for reasonable adjustments to help your husband cope with his job. If you have a union rep you could discuss this with them. I have attached a link to Equality Advisory and Support Service template letters that you can use to request reasonable adjustments (titled “Request to make Reasonable Adjustments”). You can include suggestions about the adjustments your husband needs. It may help to support your request with medical evidence from your husband’s doctor, such as a fit note that lists the adjustments he needs. The company may at this point arrange for your husband to have an Occupational Health assessment to identify reasonable adjustments he 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.

In your message you mentioned that your husband is looking to work during his second round of chemotherapy. If you have concerns about infection it may helpful to discuss this with his medical team. Alternatively, we have a team of Cancer Information and Support Nurses on our Macmillan Support Line. They may be able to answer any questions of have about managing or reducing the risk of infection. Cancer Information Nurses are available, Monday to Sunday, from 8am until 8pm selecting option 1 and then 3 or you can post a question to “Ask the nurse” on the Online Community link here.

If your husband is at an increased risk of infection during his treatment, he may feel well enough to work but may need to alter the way in which he works. This altered way of working could be with reasonable adjustments; such as working from home, lighter duties and avoiding customer facing roles for example.

In your message it stated that if an employee does not meet the requirements of the role within a 3-month period they may leave the company. This sounds like a probationary period, I am pleased that the company have suggested they may review this for your husband and extent the timescale if needed. Again, this could be a reasonable adjustment to ensure that policies, practices and procedures do not place a person affected by cancer/disability is placed at a disadvantage or treated less favourably.

I hope you find this information helpful to your situation, if you need further support please do not hesitate to contact us again.


Work Support Advisor


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