Legislation in the UK for cancer care and employment rights

The links below cover the rights of employees in a simplified form.  In order to put time off for cancer care and treatment in context, below are the steps an employee takes to notify their employer of an illness, and leading to a cancer diagnosis.  The accompanying flow chart will help to illustrate the process.


Equalities Act – states that cancer is automatically classed as a disability and comes under the Equality Act


Your coach will support you throughout your diagnosis and with communication with your employer or benefits agency, if that is something you’d like.  Coaches can attend meetings with your employer with you, help with written communication or make telephone calls for you.   They can also help you decide when you are ready to return to work by talking about your thoughts and feelings, and working out how tired you feel.

In the UK, requirements regarding time off for illness varies by employer.  Generally, you can self-certify sickness for seven days (including weekends).  This means you do not have to have confirmation from your doctor that you are sick, and your employer takes it on trust that you are ill.  An employee should find out who they contact if they are ill and cannot work – for example, a line-manager or HR person.

Step 1 - The first day you cannot go to work

It is important to contact your employer (or have someone contact them on your behalf) on the very first day you cannot attend work due to sickness to tell them that you won't be coming to work. You should know who to notify beforehand, where to send in medical certificates, any rules concerning self-certification and also what's likely to happen if you fail to comply with any of these rules.  If your employment contract offers you sick pay, then you will be paid as usual. If you aren't covered, you won't be paid by your company.  If you are off work for more than seven days, you must get a ‘fit note’ from your doctor.  This note will state whether you are fit to work – “is not fit for work” and “might be fit for work”

Step 2 - Visiting your doctor or a hospital

Your employer might give you time off work to visit the doctor or hospital but they’re not legally required to do so. You should check your contract of employment to see if it says you can have time off for these appointments. If your contract doesn’t say you can have time off, your employer can insist you have these appointments outside work hours, take holiday leave or make the time up later on. If you’re disabled (including diagnosed with cancer) and your employer won’t let you take time off for a medical appointment connected with your disability, they could be discriminating against you.

Step 3 - Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you are still sick after 4 days and unable to return to work, you are likely to be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is the minimum amount employers must pay you by law. To be eligible to receive SSP, you must adhere to the following:

  • Earn at least £120 per week for tax year 2019/20
  • Be between 16 and 65 years of age
  • Have performed some work under your employment contract
  • Be sick for 4 or more consecutive days (COVID-19 different rules apply)

Your employer will arrange to pay your SSP.


Step 4 - Time off for cancer treatment

If you need to take time off following a cancer diagnosis, including to have surgery or chemo and radiotherapy, your employer may agree to pay you for your time off – you will need to check your individual employment contract.  This might be for a number of months.  Some employers will pay your regular wage for six months, and then pay half of your regular wage for the following six months.  Some employers do not provide any sickness pay.  If your employer doesn’t pay sickness pay, you can make a claim for state benefits directly through the government department, DWP.  If you feel you can combine part-time work with treatment, you can discuss this with your employer and agree what hours are suitable. 


Step 5 - Staying in touch with your employer

Your employer should stay in touch with you during your absence due to cancer treatment and care.  Again, this varies according to employer with some being proactive and others placing the responsibility on the employee.  It is always a good idea to agree how you will communicate with your employer while you are off, and it is also good to have conversations followed up with written confirmation of what was agreed, either by email or letter. This avoids confusion or disagreement later on. 

When you are ready to return to work, either part-time of full-time, your employer is legally required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your workplace for you to do your job.  There is no set definition of what a reasonable adjustment is, so this will vary from employer to employer.

Guidance on workplace adjustments: employment-workplace-adjustments

Making reasonable adjustments: asking-your-employer-for-changes-to-help-if-youre-disabled