return to work 2/3 into treatment

Hi there, 

I'm looking to return to work this week just as my radiotherapy starts. I have worked part way through my chemo and have had 3 months off during which I also had a lumpectomy and removal of lymph nodes. I know what I need to say to my boss (relatively new) but how can I ensure that the agreed phased return is stuck to and what is the ideal duration of phased return?

Many thanks


  • Hi

    Thank you for contacting us here at Macmillan.  My name is Rachel and I am a Work Support Advisor on Macmillan’s National Support Line.  My team provides guidance on your rights at work when you are affected by cancer.

    It’s good to read that you are in a position where you are able to think about returning on a phased basis to work and we hope that all goes well with the radiotherapy treatment you will receive.   Providing your healthcare team agree, a phased return is a great way of allowing you to build your stamina and resilience, rather than trying to return to your former duties and schedule straight away.

    I’d like to provide you with some information and guidance which I hope will help you when you are ready to discuss your return to work with your employer.

    It may be useful to know that due to your cancer diagnosis you are considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (if you live in Northern Ireland). As disability is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the above legislation your employer should not discriminate against you because of your cancer and also has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support 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. 

    Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that 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 relate 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. 

    It sounds like now that you are ready to return to work, you have thought about what reasonable adjustments might help you – a phased return is a common example of one.  It might help you to make a request in writing for any reasonable adjustments to help you cope with your job.  If you have a union rep you could discuss this with them.  You could also make your request using the reasonable adjustment template letter available on the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS). You can include suggestions about the adjustments you need. It may help to support your request with medical evidence from your doctor, such as a Fit Note that lists the adjustments you need. Your company may arrange for you to have an Occupational Health assessment to identify reasonable adjustments which can often help with formalising a back to work plan.

    Your employer may have a policy on return to work procedures set out in their sickness absence policy or employee handbook, so it is worthwhile checking this.  There is no set timeframe for a phased return.  Usually they last between four and six weeks, though this timescale would be agreed when discussing the arrangement.   Remember each person’s needs are individual so what is agreed should depend upon your individual circumstances, but it is an arrangement which is designed to support you back to your normal working hours.    It may be that in your situation, there are additional reasonable adjustments which might support you, depending upon how you find your treatment and return to work.   It can be really useful to keep a record of what is discussed so that both you and your employer are clear on what has been agreed.

    It is worth remembering that an employer is only obliged to pay you for the hours you work on a phased return, unless your contract states otherwise, so it is a good idea to double check this.  If going back to work on a phased return impacts your income, then you could explore any financial support available to you with our team of Welfare Rights Advisors. The team can explore any welfare benefits or help towards costs which might be available to you and are available on 0808 808 0000, options 1, 2 and 2.  They can also be contacted via LiveChat and by Email.  Their opening hours are 8am until 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am until 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.

    I hope this has helped but please do contact us again if there is anything else we can help you with. You can either reply to this message, email us, or contact us on the Macmillan Support Line directly. We are available on webchat or via phone from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday. To call us, our number is 0808 808 0000 option 1, then 2, then 3.

    Kind regards

    Rachel, 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.