Practical issues

Share experiences and advice on practical issues when living with cancer, such as money, work, benefits, transport, food and drink, organising support at home, or getting specialist equipment.

Awful experience with my employer

Posted by


I just wanted to share my story in terms of how my employer has dealt with me through my cancer journey. I'm curious to understand if my experience is unusually bad or quite typical.

I was diagnosed last February and was absent from work while I was being scanned and having biopsies etc. I returned part time after 6 weeks and worked for 4 weeks until I had my surgery to remove the tumour. When I returned to work I found out the my manager and told all of the employees in the building what was wrong with me and gone into great detail about the condition and prognosis. This was done without my consent and was a breach of data protection.

I left work in April and returned in Early November. During this time I only me my line manager once. Extended company sick pay was initially offered but then refused when the time came. No explanation was given despite repeated requests. I wasn't informed when my sick pay ran out (my line manager would have received numerous notices and should have sent a standard letter to let me know) or when SSP ran out - I only found out they had both finished when I got unpaid hours on my payslip. I ended up claiming ESA.

I returned to work in early November and worked for ten weeks until I had further surgery in January. I returned to a location nearer to home and started on two hours a day. The manager in my new work location knew nothing more about me than my name and there wasn't any plan or strategy as to what I was to do there. I had no face to face meetings with my line manager during this time and felt very abandoned and frankly a spare part having no job to do in my new workplace. 

Just after Christmas I was told on the phone by my line manager that I could no longer work reduced hours and I had done so for eight weeks and the usual length of rehabilitation hours is four weeks. Having explained that it physically impossible for me to return from surgery and work full time after surgery in January I was told to consider my options. In desperation I requested a career break and so remained off work unpaid until mid April. This request was only accepted on the day I was due to leave and wasn't processed until ten days after I left meaning I was paid in full for January and ended up owing wages back to my employer. Again nobody told me this until I got a pay slip with a nasty surprise in it.

After contacting Macmillan I formally requested by letter that I should return to work at a location near home to save my two hour drive each day and be allowed to work reduced hours for as long as is needed. I met my line manager in late February for the first time since august where these reasonable adjustments were agreed. I had needed to point out my rights under the DDA before this happened.

I've recently discovered that I've been marked down on my performance in the last financial year which has resulted in a smaller pay rise and bonus for the last full year I worked. This happened while I was being diagnosed and nobody took the opportunity when I returned to work to inform me. When I recently challenged it I was told nobody could remember why that happened and the electronic performance record has not been filled in by my line manager. I was also in a development group for promotion when I was diagnosed. I've been told that that work no longer applies and I have to start from scratch if I want to seek promotion. Its also been suggested that I need to work full time before that happens and have been reminded of the location mobility requirements which they know I can't currently meet.

So my cancer at work journey has been a costly one both financially and emotionally. My income last year was half of the one before. I felt under enormous pressure to return to work earlier than I should and ended up working too many hours too quickly. I had hardly any support from my line manager and have not had any contact with a HR manager through the whole process. By contrast my partner has had amazing support at work with weekly line manager meetings and monthly HR manager meeting. Even I have met my partners HR manager but not my own.

I'm pleased to say my new line manager has been wonderfully supportive and I'm moving in the right direction. I work for a huge retailer which is meant to be a good employer but I've been treated as a problem that needs dealing with rather than an individual that needs support. I've given them thirteen years but can't wait to leave. I've now put in a grievance as I want them to explain why they made the decisions they did and for them to understand how they piled pressure, stress and financial worries onto an already awful situation through their lack of communication and general lack of support. Mostly I want them to learn from this so that nobody else in that business is made to feel the way I did.

Sorry it's a long post
Kind regards
Posted by

Hey Alex, I feel for you and understand the anxiety of having to push for the law to be adhered to in the work place. We shouldn't have to use what little energy we have to fight with Line managers and HR. My employer ( a large retailer also) were okay on the whole but not what you would describe as supportive. I barely had contact with my Line Manager.

Also, they overpaid me as nobody bothered to fill in the Time and Attendance sheet. I asked 'why did nobody look at my Sick Note dates as surely that was for 'Payroll purposes'. They wanted me to pay back Gross and I explained there was no way I was going to pay tax twice and they needed to work out the Net overpayment. ridiculous when I supposed to be in a calm space through Chemo and Radiation.

There are other examples such as trying to do a performance review as it needs filing by 24th August. What performance? I haven't been in since April. Also, really? you want to review my performance when I'm too tired to work from home? use your common sense!!!!

Anyway, other than that I think my Line Manager and HR Partner were not experienced in dealing with an employee with Cancer and it is a shame we have to stay on top of our game and arm ourselves with the facts of the law.

Sending you love and positivity xxxx

Posted by

That sounds pretty awful Loofaman. I have a feeling that your experience is not that unusual, although the large national employers tend to be better at managing long-term illness. The lack of communication with yourself, and the breaches of privacy have me gobsmacked!!

I hope that the grievance procedure gives you some answers, and that your employer changes their practices as a result!!

I guess I was quite fortunate in that my employer gave me a LOT of support. As a small family business they couldn't afford to pay long-term sick leave. But they found ways of me doing light duties and admin work at home so I continued on full pay. The policy is 5 days sick a year - I've had rather more than that, but they haven't docked me anything. It's been exhausting, and I could probably have used more time off, but I was happy to meet them half way, as they have been very good to me over the years. 

Sending you massive hugs xx

Posted by

Hi Alex  /  

Unfortunately this happens quite a lot :(

Mainly through ignorance that they don't realise a person with cancer is classed as disabled and covered by the inequality act which makes it illegal to discriminated against.

Are you in a union and could get a representative to go into a meeting with you ?

You could have a read through the extensive Work and Cancer Information section here.

Hope you can get something sorted out from this nightmare scenario...

G n' J

Posted by

Hi Alex,

Thanks for sharing your story. I think you've been treated very badly and your description of having been treated as a problem that needs dealing with rather than an individual that needs support is very sad and rang a few bells with me. As you've found out when comparing your experience to that of your partner, not all employers are enlightened when it comes to employees affected by cancer and their legal responsibilities to the employees, but some do exist

I don't know which experience is more typical, but I can say my experience (also with a very large employer) was very similar to yours, not to your partner’s, and I often wonder if the individuals meting out such treatment think they're impervious to cancer and its life changing effects.

I see that you've already contacted Macmillan about what you've gone through and are still going through, so you probably already have a number for them, but there are other sources of information, too, if ever you need more.

If you're in a Union, they should be able to help. Mine did, it was brilliant, although I found that initially I had to educate my immediate local Reps on such things as my rights under the UK Equality Act 2010. Once I got beyond the Reps “on the coalface” I no longer needed to explain and, even now, my Union continues to be one of my main sources of support.

Another source is ACAS. There's loads of info about your rights on their site - this link should be a good place to start. 

It's good that you've claimed ESA! When my sick pay ran out and when, eventually, I took early retirement, I was put off claiming ESA for two main reasons: firstly the form you have to fill out was so daunting and I just couldn't cope with that on top of everything else that was going on at the time (I found out much later I only needed to answer a bit of it because I had cancer) and secondly I thought I wouldn't qualify for any benefits.

What I didn't realise until after a year had passed was that even if I didn't qualify for actual money benefits I might still qualify for having my National Insurance Contributions credited, which can make a lot of difference if I live long enough to collect my State Pension (fingers crossed). By the time I put in a claim I'd lost a year of NI Contributions but I'm getting them credited now, although I'm currently waiting to hear if that will continue. They don't make it easy.

I'm pleased to hear your new line manager is being supportive. I hope that continues. I can understand why you would want to leave your job because of the way you've been treated (I got like that, as well, in the end) but please take some advice on that from someone who knows about employment law and disability law before doing so or you might end up being classified as “having deliberately made yourself unemployed” and have another fight on your hands when you already have enough to contend with.

Also, in case you're not aware of it, Macmillan has a whole section on your rights at work that might be useful to you as a reference - here's the link to that.

All the best