Keep missing work deadlines due to fatigue

Together with the stage 4 metastatic breast cancer I have also picked up the Epstein Barr virus.  I am recovering from the cancer (3rd time) but the virus is chronic and causing extreme fatigue and seriously affecting my ability to concentrate. Work has been patient and have allowed me to do a research project working from home.  I am submitting time lines for the project but throughout my treatment have been missing my deadlines. The problem is that I am finding it extremely hard to plan around the rather unpredictable fatigue attacks that can keep me in bed for 2 weeks at a time. My boss was very angry with me during our last conversation saying that he can not trust me to complete my work and that It appears that I am not taking responsibility. He is fully aware of my diagnosis but each time I have to admit that I have fallen behind because I feel unwell I feel shame and guilt. The results is that I am now avoiding communication with work as much as possible. This of course from my boss’s perspective is not helping. My boss has told me that he can no longer accept a shift in the deadline.  I feel so humiliated and patronised but also so helpless.  Should I accept that I am no longer able to function normally and resign? I am reliant on health insurance from my income.

I think that I would have lost my work by now if it wasn’t for the law.  I feel like my professional reputation is ruined  and that I am unemployable.  

  • Dear ,

    My name is Emma and I am an adviser on the Work Support team here on the Macmillan Support Line. I am so sorry to hear of the extreme fatigue you are unpredictably suffering and can appreciate how debilitating it must be for you both mentally and physically. I understand how the difficult relationship you currently have with your boss must make you feel guilty that you are not completing your work to the deadlines set, however it is important to say that the fatigue you are experiencing is not within your control. You should not feel ashamed that your disability is causing you difficulties in completing your work. I would like to look at options for moving forward and hopefully improving your relationship with your boss rather than having to resign.

    I am assuming from your post that you are aware that you are considered to be disabled due to your cancer diagnosis by the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales (Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland) as you mention you think you would have lost your work without the law. It is important to note that both laws allow you to request reasonable adjustments at work. Reasonable adjustments are changes or adaptations to your role to help you overcome any substantial disadvantages you face due to your cancer. Although I am not medically trained, I recognise that your cancer could have compromised your immune system, which since you have contracted the Epstein Barr virus could be more likely to allow it to flare up. This would mean any requests for reasonable adjustments for the virus are also likely to be disability related.

    From your query I am not clear if you have an Occupational Health department at work, or if you have ever been referred to them. If possible, you may wish to ask to be referred to them. It may be that you need additional reasonable adjustments as well as working from home, such as an adjustment of your workload or a project which does not have deadlines attached to it. You may need adjustments which consider the difficulties you are suffering with your concentration. You may find our booklet “Your Rights At Work” useful to look at, as it gives examples of reasonable adjustments.

    It is very important to keep communicating with your boss and letting him know how you are feeling. Although I recognise this must be difficult for you at present when he has been angry with you, it is important also to keep him informed where you are with your work, particularly if your health means you are struggling. I am wondering if your boss fully understands the impact your cancer and the virus are having on your concentration and your ability to plan to meet your deadlines. Whilst he may understand your diagnosis, he may not understand what this means to you and how this is affecting your ability to perform. We have a booklet called “Managing Cancer In The Workplace” that it may be useful to share with him. It discusses cancer in more detail and explains both the physical and emotional effects of the disease.  If your manager does understand fully how your health is being affected, it may be worth looking again at what reasonable adjustments may help you.

    Whilst I can appreciate it may be a misunderstanding between you and your manager, I am concerned with some of the language you use to describe how you feel. You should not be made to feel humiliated, patronised, helpless, untrustworthy, or irresponsible as your illness is affecting your performance and this should be considered. I would recommend reading the chapters in “Your Rights At Work” around discrimination, particularly around harassment. Harassment could be when you feel uncomfortable, insulted, or intimidated due to your cancer. If your manager is making you feel this way, you may wish to raise this with them around how they are making you feel, or with your HR department.

    I hope this gives you a starting point to work through with your boss the issues you are facing at work. If you do need further support you are more than welcome to either reply to this message, contact us via email or webchat, or you can discuss it with us over the phone. We are available from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday on 0808 808 0000 option 1, then 2, then 3. We’ll be more than happy to speak to you.

    Kind regards,

    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