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Blood cancer: money and work

Your rights at work and financial support during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Updated 16 May 2022

What you need to know

Whether you’re living with or after leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, MDS, MPN or any other blood cancer:

  1. Financial support is available – find out about benefits you may be entitled to as someone with blood cancer, and how to reduce health-related costs.
  2. You’ve got rights at work – The law is on your side. In England, Scotland and Wales you’re protected from discrimination by The Equality Act, and in Northern Ireland, by the Disability Discrimination Act.
  3. Whatever stage you’re at, you’re protected – If you’re in remission, on watch and wait, if you have a chronic blood cancer, or an MPN or MDS, you are still entitled to protection and support.

Contact our Support Service on 0808 2080 888 or [email protected] to discuss your situation at work, or any other concerns about work or your financial situation.

Working safely during the pandemic

Can I continue to work from home?

Covid regulations have relaxed across the UK. Governments are no longer advising the general public to work from home. However, all four governments of the UK suggest that people with weakened immune systems (immunosuppressed people) should work from home if they can, and if they wish to.

You don't have an automatic right to work from home, but your employer has a duty of care to protect you at work, and it could be a reasonable adjustment you can request under equality law. See Protection from discrimination below.

What if I can't work from home?

Your employer should do what they can to protect your health at work, which means discussing how blood cancer affects you, and considering changes to help you do your job safely. This should involve a risk assessment.

By law, your employer has a duty to look after your health and safety. As someone with cancer, you're also protected by disability and discrimination laws. This means your employer must consider reasonable adjustments they could make to help you stay safe at work. This could include making changes to reduce your risk of infection at work.

We have some information you may find it helpful to share with your employer.

I'm worried about going out to work

For anyone who can't work from home but is concerned about going into the workplace, there are some options to consider – click on the numbered sections below.

Aside from the pandemic, you might need your employer to consider these options if the symptoms and side effects of blood cancer affect your ability to do your job effectively.

Remember that you have rights as someone who has or has had cancer. We have some videos from Acas about your rights at work on this page which you may find useful. You can also discuss your individual situation with one of their advisers on 0300 123 1100.

Protection from discrimination

As someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer, you have rights at work. You're protected by The Equality Act (in England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act (in Northern Ireland).

This means your employer legally has to consider reasonable adjustments to help you stay in work. Reasonable adjustments could include allowing you to work from home to protect your health, even if this means changing your role or providing equipment to allow you to do this. There are more examples of possible adjustments below.

The important thing for your employer to understand is that what’s safe for you isn’t the same as what’s safe for someone who doesn’t have blood cancer. They should also be aware that the covid vaccine is not as effective in people with blood cancer as it is in other people.

Talk to your employer about this, telling them you're keen to continue working, but have been advised by your medical team that you're at high risk, even if you’ve had two vaccinations. Here are some things that could help:

  • Talk to your medical team and get their advice about working from home in writing if you can.
  • Talk to your HR department or union if you have one.
  • Show your employer our information about vaccine efficacy and blood cancer, which explains that people with blood cancer might not be protected by the covid vaccine.
  • Think of changes to your duties that you could suggest to your employer, that would allow you to work more safely, or work from home.
  • Contact Acas for expert advice.
  • Share our fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer with your employer.

Here are some things to consider if you don't feel happy about going to your workplace while the pandemic continues:

As someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer, you have rights at work. You're protected by The Equality Act (in England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act (in Northern Ireland). So your employer has to consider reasonable adjustments to help you stay in work. There are more examples of possible adjustments below.

The important thing for your employer to understand is that what’s safe for you isn’t the same as what’s safe for someone who doesn’t have blood cancer.

Talk to your employer about this, telling them you're keen to continue working, but have been advised by your medical team that you're at high risk, even if you’ve been vaccinated. Here are some things that could help:

  • Talk to your medical team and get their advice about working from home in writing if you can.
  • Talk to your HR department or union if you have one.
  • Think of changes to your duties that you could suggest to your employer, that would allow you to work more safely, or work from home.
  • Contact Acas for expert advice.
  • Share our fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer with your employer.

For help talking to your employer about reasonable adjustments, there are more tips and resources below.

Acas has general advice about working from home and hybrid working.

As someone who has or has had cancer, you’re protected by equality law in the UK. This means your employer must consider any reasonable adjustments to support you at work.

If you can't work from home full-time, are there some duties you can perform from home, to reduce how much you need to spend at your workplace? Adjusting your role so that some of it can be done from home, to reduce the number of days you go in, is an example of a reasonable adjustment.

Another reasonable adjustment could be changing your hours, so you can travel to and from work at quieter times.

Are there changes to your duties at work that would reduce your contact with other people? For example, could you work more in a back room/office or do more admin, rather than being public-facing? Could you work quieter shifts where you’ll have less contact with other people?

You may need to explain to your employer that people with blood cancer may not be fully protected by having two vaccinations, so what’s safe for other employees may not be safe for you. Our free fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer will help with this. Or you can share this link to our information on vaccine efficacy.

If your employer won’t consider reasonable adjustments for you, contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI in Northern Ireland), Acas or Citizens’ Advice.

You can longer claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) solely on the basis of being clinically extremely vulnerable.

However, if your GP or medical team believe you're not able to work because of your blood cancer diagnosis or any other illness, they can give you a fit note in the normal way. This gives you access to your company's sick leave policy and pay, or Statutory Sick Pay.

Even if your workplace has measures in place to protect staff from covid, you or your doctor might still feel it's not safe enough considering how vulnerable you are. Or you might not be able to travel safely to work. In either case, talk to your GP if you don't think you should be going to work.

If you don't qualify for your company's sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay, you may be able to get Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Universal Credit or other benefits.

Even now that restrictions are relaxed across the UK, you should only go to work if your workplace is safe for you.

If you need to go out to work, you have rights and your employer has a legal duty to keep you safe. There are guidelines for employers about ensuring workplaces are safe in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These include completing risk assessments – if you haven’t been consulted about a risk assessment, ask for one.

As part of your risk assessment, you can get advice from your medical team or GP in writing and show this to your employer.

You may also need to explain to your employer that people with blood cancer may not be fully protected by covid vaccinations – our free fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer will help with this. Or you can share this link to our information on vaccine efficacy.

Simon Allen from Acas talks about your rights at work

We spoke to Simon when the government's furlough scheme ended in September 2021 and many people were expected to return to the workplace. The guidance applies to anyone with blood cancer who is concerned about returning to work after an absence.

Watch Simon answer our questions on this page or watch the full playlist on YouTube.

For more information and support, visit acas.org.uk or call 0300 123 1100. You can also read the article Acas wrote for us about blood cancer and your rights at work.

What do reasonable adjustments mean for someone with blood cancer?

For specific guidance about your situation, contact ACAS on 0300 123 1100.

Can I request reasonable adjustments on the basis of covid risk?

For specific guidance about your situation, contact ACAS on 0300 123 1100.

How should I approach a conversation with my employer about returning to work?

For specific guidance about your situation, contact ACAS on 0300 123 1100.

Information to share with your employer

If you need to talk to your employer about coronavirus and reducing your risk at work through adjustments or the furlough scheme, it might help to share our free fact sheet If your employee or colleague has blood cancer with them. It explains blood cancer, the risk from coronavirus and your rights at work.

It also explains how covid vaccinations may not be fully effective for people with blood cancer, so what’s safe for other employees may be not safe for you.

You may also find it useful to share this letter from a coalition of charities led by Kidney Care UK:

Coping with risk and uncertainty

If you're worried about your safety at work, we have information to help you cope with risk and uncertainty. You can also contact our Support Service free on 0808 2080 888 or [email protected] to talk things through.

What financial support is available if I don't work?

If you’re not working, you might be eligible for certain financial support from the government. This might be Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, or Personal Independence Payment. See Benefits and other financial support.

There are other types of financial support available too, like one-off cash grants or help paying bills. See Other help.

What happens if I'm self-employed?

If you're self-employed and need financial support because of blood cancer or the pandemic affecting your business, there may be benefits you can get. See Benefits and other financial support and Other help below.

If your employer doesn't understand your concerns

Talk to your employer first to explain what the risks are to you. You may be able to find adjustments you can make to allow you to work safely. You could ask for a risk assessment. If your employer won't listen your concerns, get advice from Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).

If you're still being pressured to go to work, despite your medical team's advice that it is unsafe, you're protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal due to a health condition. If your employer puts unreasonable pressure on you to attend work, or unreasonably disciplines you for not attending work, this may be unlawful discrimination. If you're concerned about this, seek advice from Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).

How can I handle an unsupportive or hostile work environment?

For specific guidance about your situation, contact ACAS on 0300 123 1100.

Delaying your return to the workplace

If you don't feel it's safe to go back to your workplace, for example, if your employer is looking for you to return after sick leave, there are things you can consider to delay your return:

  • using some of your annual leave to take paid time off
  • asking for unpaid leave so you can delay your return for a while
  • finding out if there are other types of leave you could take, like parental leave if you look after children.

If you don’t want to return to work and are worried about your job or finances, contact Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100).

Acas advises on redundancy

Can I approach the subject of redundancy if I don't feel safe?

For specific guidance about your situation, contact ACAS on 0300 123 1100.

What if I'm pushed into redundancy but don't want to take it?

For specific guidance about your situation, contact ACAS on 0300 123 1100.

Benefits and other financial support

Whether you’re currently in or out of work, if you’re on a low income, you may be able to claim other benefits like Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

If your GP or medical team believe you're not able to work, because of your diagnosis or any other illness, they can give you a fit note in the normal way. This gives you access to your company's sick leave policy and pay, or Statutory Sick Pay.

To find out more about benefits you may be entitled to, ask your GP, clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or doctor. You can also contact Citizens Advice on 0344 411 1444 or Macmillan Cancer Support on 0808 808 00 00.

How to get help with benefits

Make sure you get the financial support you’re entitled to - it might be more money than you realise.

People with blood cancer who get benefits say that they can make a big difference and help to reduce money worries. There are people who can help you apply:

  • Ask your GP, clinical nurse specialist or doctor – They can be a great source of local information and might be able to help with applications.
  • Call a helpline – You can contact the Citizens Advice on 0344 411 1444. Macmillan Cancer Support also have specialist benefits advisers on 0808 808 00 00.
  • Family and friends – If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s no shame in asking for help. Could a friend or family member help you find out about benefits?

Other help

There are charities that offer grants to people with blood cancer:

If you're worried about the impact of covid on your finances, speak to your landlord, bank and utility bill companies – many are offering support to their customers during this time.

Financial firms such as banks are required to prioritise vulnerable customers and should have services to support you at this time. There are also schemes set up to allow people to delay payments if coronavirus has impacted your cash flow.

Contact your local Citizens Advice to find out about benefits and other forms of support you may be eligible for.

If you are on a low income, you might be able to get a one-off payment if you're self-isolating because you've had a positive covid test, or are caring for someone who has a positive covid test. Find out more about these payments for people who live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland:

There is no longer a scheme of this type in England.

If you're normally entitled in your contract to company sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay, and you're off sick or self-isolating according to national guidance, you should get sick pay from the first day of absence. If your employer needs proof, you can get a self-isolation note from the NHS.

If you're on a zero hours contract, and are off sick or self-isolating, you may still be entitled to sick pay if you have done some work for the company. Check your eligibility.

If you're a contractor, freelancer or similar (in gig-economy work), and are off sick or self-isolating, then speak to your current company – some are offering sick pay or compensation.

See the government advice for employees.

Reasonable adjustments and your employment rights

If your employer knows about your diagnosis, then legally they have to consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support you at work. This includes adjustments that protect your health, such as allowing you to work from home, or adjusting your duties or hours to help you with side effects such as fatigue.

You can ask for reasonable adjustments at any time, not just when you’re returning to work. It’s helpful to have regular catch-ups with your manager to check how things are going and see if you need any other changes.

Examples of reasonable adjustments include:

  • support to work from home as someone who's at high risk from covid
  • a phased return to work (building up your hours gradually after being off sick)
  • taking time off for medical appointments or telephone counselling
  • taking more breaks – this is especially important if you’re working from home
  • limiting work that you find challenging as a result of your diagnosis
  • changing start or finish times
  • reducing your working hours.

Finding helpful adjustments

Step 1: Write down the specific things that make work more challenging (e.g. the hours or certain tasks).

Step 2: Think of a way to alter each thing (e.g. change hours or propose changes to your role).

Step 3: Talk to your employer as soon as you can about your ideas for reasonable adjustments. Show them your list or email them using the templates below

Talking to your employer

It's helpful to talk to you employer about how they can help you continue in your role. In fact, this is something you may need to keep coming back to, as the effects of blood cancer and its treatment change over time.

As covid is likely to be with us for some time, it's likely that you'll be having conversations with your employer about lowering your risk of catching the virus. Here are some ways to start the conversation with your employer:

  • “As you know, I’ve been diagnosed with blood cancer. Blood cancer and its treatment affects the immune system. This means I need to be very careful to avoid coronavirus, as it could have serious consequences if I get it.”
  • “My doctor says I need to take extra care to avoid other people and work from home wherever possible.”
  • “Please can we talk about possible ways I could work from home to protect my health?”
  • “Are there any reasonable adjustments we could make to my role or duties during this time, to allow me to work from home?”
  • “Can we change my duties so I have the least amount of contact with other people?”
  • “Could we change my hours so I have less contact with people while travelling?”

It might also help to give your employer this fact sheet about blood cancer, which explains your rights at work.

If you’re not sure what to say to your manager, our email template could help:

For more advice about your rights and work, seek expert advice from Acas (Helpline: 0300 123 1100) or Disability Rights UK.

Bianca's story

Asking for help to work through chemo

Bianca's story

My mum found out about Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for me, and I received them even though I was working. That was a big help.

- Bianca, 35

Ways you could save money

  • Claim tax relief for expenses if you're working from home – You may be able to claim tax relief for additional household costs if you have to work at home on a regular basis. Find out more about tax relief for expenses if you're working from home.
  • Free parking at hospitals – Parking at NHS hospitals in Scotland and Wales is free. In England and Northern Ireland, many hospitals offer free parking to people with cancer, but it might not be well advertised. Ask your medical team if your hospital can help with this.
  • Free prescriptions – Prescriptions are free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England, prescriptions are free if your health problem is related to cancer. Ask your GP for an exemption certificate form.
  • Help with health costs – You may be able to get help with health costs. It takes just three minutes to check online.
  • Refunds for health-related travel – If you have a low income, or receive certain benefits, you may be able to get refunds for your travel costs to hospital. Speak to your medical team to find out more.
  • Help with bills – Talk to your suppliers about energy bills, council tax and mortgage payments. There is usually support available for people with cancer. Get advice from Citizens Advice (0344 411 1444).
  • Check your other entitlements – Could you draw on your income protection insurance, critical illness cover, or life insurance?
  • Help from charities – Many charities offer grants that you don’t have to pay back – check on Turn2Us.

Louise S's story

How I found the financial support I needed

Louise S's story

Boosting your confidence at work

It may feel like a struggle to keep working while you’re living with cancer – particularly during the current pandemic. Or you might have had time off and be finding the thought of going back daunting, especially if you’re returning to a different working environment like working from home. But there are things you can do to boost your self-esteem:

  • Know your rights – You’re protected by the law against discrimination and your employer should make reasonable adjustments (see above) to support you.
  • Access the help that’s available – Ask your work about training, special equipment or back-to-work support. Look into the access to work scheme, employability support, the National Careers Service or ask about support from your trade union if you have one.
  • Look after yourself – Take care of your mind and emotions and read our tips on managing fatigue.

Rethinking whether to work

Some people decide to stop working after a cancer diagnosis. This is a big decision, and it’s important to get the right advice. Get the right information from MoneyHelper, find a retirement advisor in your area, or call Macmillan Cancer Support (0808 808 00 00) to speak to a financial guide.

Whatever your situation, other people living with blood cancer say that changing their approach to work has made a positive difference. For example, some people try to get more balance. This could mean spending more time on your interests and with your family, or trying a new hobby, volunteering or studying.

After I stopped working, I wanted more to focus on, and found an introduction to counselling course. My family said I’d be great at it because they always talk to me about their problems!

- Joanna, 50

More tools and support

More employment help:

More financial help:

Work and money stress:

  • Work and money worries can add to the stress of living with blood cancer. Many workplaces have an employee assistance programme (EAP) which may offer counselling. This should still be available to you if you’re working from home or are on sick leave.
  • There are also things you can do yourself to cope with the emotional impact – read more about looking after your mind and emotions.

Janssen-Cilag Ltd has supported Blood Cancer UK with funding for the production of this web page and others within the ‘Living well’ section. It had no influence over the content.

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