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Living with a terminal illness and looking for support? Our Support Line team are here to help. 

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Talking to your employer and making decisions about work

If you’re employed or self-employed and have a terminal illness, it can be hard to know what to do next.

Some people choose to carry on working, either full-time or part-time, because of the sense of normality it provides. Others simply do so because of financial reasons.

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For many people, a terminal illness leads them to change their priorities in life, which often results in them leaving their job. You should do what feels right for you, taking into consideration your current health, your condition and your treatment options.

Talking to your employer

Although you may not think of yourself this way, the law states that a terminally ill person is likely to be considered ‘disabled’. This means your employer can’t sack you or find an excuse to make you redundant because of your illness.

By law you don’t have to tell your employer about your condition, but it usually makes sense to. This is so you can get the support you need and become fully protected by discrimination law if you’re then unfairly treated as a result of something related to your disability in England, Scotland or Wales (the Equality Act 2010). In Northern Ireland, you’re protected if you’re directly discriminated against as a result of your illness (the Disability Discrimination Act 1995).

The law also means your employer must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your ongoing needs at work, in consultation with you. These could include working from home or another location, flexible working hours, changing the duties of your role, or time off work for treatment. It’s important that you think about your options at work and don’t just resign.

If you need help with negotiating adjustments, you can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service    on 0808 808 0082 or the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland    on 028 90 500 600. If you feel you’ve been unfairly treated at work as a result of your illness, contact a solicitor. Macmillan Cancer Support has a lot of information about your rights at work   on its website.

Find a solicitor

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Talking to your colleagues

Your employer shouldn’t tell your colleagues about your illness without your permission. But if you decide your colleagues should be informed, or choose to tell them yourself, you may find this helps. They will be in a better position to offer you support and understand any changes to your role.

Some people prefer not to tell colleagues that they have a terminal illness. You may want to keep one area of your life as normal as possible to help you cope with your situation.

However, the effects of treatment, or the need to take time off, may make it impossible for you not to tell your colleagues eventually.

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Stopping work for good

At some point, most people with a terminal illness will have to tell their employer they need to leave their job. If work has been a major focus of your life, you may find it difficult to adjust to the idea of not working.

If you‘re affected in this way, it may help to talk to someone about your feelings, such as a family member or friend. Or you might prefer to chat to someone more detached from your situation, such as a counsellor.

By giving up work, be aware that this might mean giving up certain employment rights such as Statutory Sick Pay, life assurance and critical illness cover.  You should seek advice if you’re unsure as these can be extremely valuable rights for you and your family.  It’s important they are not overlooked at what might be a financially uncertain time.

However, you may be able to draw your pension early – ask your human resources department if your employer has an ill-health retirement policy. Similarly, if you’ve got occupation-linked private medical insurance, it might be possible to make a claim. 

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External websites

Adviceguide  

Macmillan Cancer Support   – information about work and cancer


This content is provided for general information purposes only. It's not medical, financial, legal or personal advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. How our information is created and how it's used.

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