I finished treatment in May this year (following stomach cancer diagnosis in Sept 2020) chemo, surgery and more chemo over an 8 month period and have been on sick the whole time upto now as taking time to fully recover. My employer has been fully understanding.
However I've been offered a job interview with a different employer for a role I am really interested in taking on. (I feel ready to get back to work) I've read some of the threads on here about whether or not to disclose my cancer and have decided to wait if/until I'm offered a position before disclosing. My question is that whilst I have no 'gaps' on my CV which would raise any concerns to an employer, would my current employer ever divulge the amount of time I've had off sick? Would this come up on a medical questionnaire? I have no intention of misleading if the questions come up in interview but want to be prepared.
Do you have any advice?
Thank you for reaching out to us on the Macmillan Support Line. My name is Emma and I’m an advisor on the Work Support team. It’s great to hear that you are feeling recovered enough after your cancer treatment to get back to work and perhaps to take on a new challenge. I’m also pleased to hear you’ve been reading our other responses and that these have helped you decide when to disclose your cancer diagnosis.
I am assuming that you live in either England, Scotland or Wales and so are protected by the Equality Act 2010 and have based my response on this. If this assumption is incorrect, please do come back to me as the law differs slightly in Northern Ireland.
In answer to your question around whether your current employer would ever divulge your sickness record, it may be that as part of a reference your new employer may request information on this. It is up to your current employer whether they give a reference unless you work in a regulated industry, such as financial services. It is also up to them how detailed that reference is. Sometimes employers will give a basic reference which just confirms the dates worked, whereas others with give a more detailed reference which may include how often you have been on sick leave. You may wish to check and see if your current employer has any policies around this. If a reference is provided, it must be fair and accurate. If you feel that this is not the case, then please do come back to us for further advice.
Under the Data Protection Act 2018 your medical information would be classed as sensitive personal data and you have the right to ask your employer to keep this confidential. It is therefore unlikely your current employer would divulge specific details of your health without your permission.
Section 60 of the Equality Act specifically states that an employer must not ask about the health of the employee before an offer of work is made except for very specific circumstances – e.g. making reasonable adjustments or with reference to an intrinsic function of the role they’re applying for. This makes it unlikely you would be asked to complete a medical questionnaire before a job offer was made or that references will be sought.
We cannot anticipate what questions will be asked at interview, however if you were asked in your interview about your health, you could positively position this with a potential employer. You could explain that you have had to have time off to have a medical condition treated, however you feel fully recovered and ready to return to work. It is important to remember though unless an employer can be said to have reasonably understood you have a disability, that you may not be protected by the Equality Act.
if after your interview you have concerns around any questions asked, you are more than welcome to talk through those concerns with us either here on the Online Community or on our Macmillan Support Line. We are contactable from Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm on 0808 808 0000 option 1, then 2, then 3.
I hope all goes well and you are successful in your application. Please do get back in touch if you need further support.
Many thanks Emma. This information was really useful. I did get offered the job (no mention of illness was discussed) and received the job offer today along with a job screening questionnaire including references etc which included an authority request to 'release all details' re my current employment. Its in financial services and so I'm pretty certain that sick periods will be requested and provided.
My question is now that given I've had c 12 months off work at this point, should I come 'clean' with the new employer and tell them about my cancer or just wait until/if they query this with me once they've received back the refence? I don't want to come across as hiding anything or being underhand but it will be a difficult conversation for me to have.
Similarly should I wait to hand in my notice until I know the references are accepted (in previous employments I've never waited as I've always been confident in there being no issue). Such a chicken and egg situation!!
Any advice is appreciated.
Hi again CC_Lulu,
Congratulations on your new job! I am really pleased to hear your hard work has paid off. As you rightly said it is tricky as to when, or if, you reveal details around your health and your cancer. Unfortunately, I can’t help you decide whether to reveal your cancer to your new employer, as this is a personal choice and you must do what you feel comfortable with. You still have the right to medical confidentiality and, as such your previous employer may not reveal the specifics of your sickness periods and only reveal that you have been off sick.
There are ways in which to position your previous absences with your new employer. You could choose to tell them that you were off sick but now you feel well enough to return to work. This would mean that you are being truthful with them, without revealing specifics of your illness.
If you feel more comfortable, you could choose to reveal your cancer diagnosis at this stage. Now that you have had a job offer made, if the offer was withdrawn due to anything related to your cancer then this may potentially be classed as discrimination and could give you the option to take your new employer to an Employment Tribunal for discrimination. If you do not reveal though to your new employer that you are disabled and they cannot reasonably know you have had cancer, this option may not be possible. We would always hope that any employer would be sympathetic if told about an employee’s cancer diagnosis and so if you do decide to speak to your new employer, you may find our booklet “Managing Cancer In The Workplace” useful to pass onto them. It contains information on how they can support you at work.
A benefit of choosing to reveal your cancer diagnosis to your new employer is that you would be protected by the Equality Act 2010 and so you could ask for reasonable adjustments at work. Reasonable adjustments are any changes or adaptations that could help you overcome any substantial difficulties that you face at work. The Equality Advisory Support Service have a template letter you may find useful in order to submit your request in writing.
Similarly, I cannot tell you whether to hand in your notice with your previous employer. In theory you know of no reason as to why your references should offer a reason to withdraw your new job offer, however it is difficult to say for certain that an employer will always act legally. Perhaps it may be useful to ask yourself, if you delay handing in your notice until you are sure your offer is no longer a provisional one, whether this would affect your new position?
I am sorry that I cannot give you a clear answer as to what next steps to take, however I hope the information I have given will help you make a decision what is right for you.
Thankyou. I bit the bullet and called and explained my illness to the new manager and he was absolutely fine. I'd got myself all worked up for nothing.
I'll be handing my notice in next week as he assured me that the sick period would not be of concern to him and he thanked me for being open and honest with him. PHEW!
I hope this thread is of use to anyone else looking for reassurances!! Thankyou again.
I am so pleased you have managed to get everything sorted with your new manager and that you are finding them supportive. I have passed you message on to Emma as she will be thrilled to hear the outcome and I am sure other on the Online Community will too.
If you need any further help or support in the future, please come back to us.
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.
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