Occupational cancer - rehabilitation

This section outlines the elements of best practice in rehabilitation, with guidance and sources of other information on managing sickness absence (not solely restricted to occupational cancer).


The type and severity of an employee’s disease will determine whether they can remain in work. An employee might not wish to disclose any medical information to their employer. However, relevant information such as the treatment schedule and any restrictions on the work that can be done could help the employer make any reasonable adjustments needed. If the employee is fit to work, its important that they shouldn’t be exposed to tasks or substances known or thought to be carcinogenic, or that could adversely affect their treatment or recovery, until a proper assessment has been made. The IOSH publication A healthy return provides further information and guidance.

It’s important to consult the employee (and their health practitioner if possible) on what work they might be capable of and to review this continually as treatment progresses. There may be occasions where an employee’s symptoms are so bad that they have to take time off work to recover. If a period of absence has been necessary, it’s important for the employer to work with the employee to manage their return to work. An overview of key considerations in this process can be found in the Mindful Employer’s leaflet Making it work explains how supporting people with cancer is good for business, the economy and individuals. 

A rehabilitation programme for absence due to cancer-related illness should include:

  • adequate policies or guidelines
  • effective procedures for overseeing the rehabilitation process
  • trained line managers
  • early contact with the employee
  • early health assessment
  • a rehabilitation plan agreed by all stakeholders, particularly the employee
  • flexible return-to-work options
  • regular review.

Macmillan Cancer’s reports Finding a clearer path: Evaluation of the Pathways to Work Programme and Returning to work: Cancer and vocational rehabilitation provide an evidence base for the effectiveness of the Pathways to Work Programme for people living with cancer.

The European Men’s Health Forum have produced a specific guide for men to help them keep working during or after a cancer diagnosis called ‘Working with Cancer - a guide for men during & after diagnosis’. This is a short 12-page booklet that answers all the questions that working men whether employed, self-employed or freelance have when cancer strikes. Read the Working with cancer guide.

HSE guidance

The HSE suggests that effective management of sickness absence and return to work should include six key elements:

The HSE has produced tools and documents to help with absence management and rehabilitation, including:

More guidance

Macmillan Cancer’s Returning to work: cancer and vocational rehabilitation explains current vocational rehabilitation services for people with cancer.

The Return to Work Knowledge Base is a resource to help people overcome ongoing illness and get back to work.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), ACAS and the HSE have designed a set of absence management tools:

  1. Do you have an absence problem?
  2. How do you develop an absence strategy?
  3. How do you deal with short-term recurrent absence?
  4. How do you deal with long-term absence?

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has produced the following guidance on the Statement of Fitness for Work:

Statement of Fitness for Work (fit note) gives advice from Directgov.

ACAS provides an advisory booklet on Managing attendance and employee turnover.

The CIPD provides advice on Absence measurement and management

Rehabilitation and you is a guide to rehabilitation services in Scotland.

Avoiding long-term incapacity for work: Developing an early intervention in primary care is a Peninsula Medical School report considering the evidence base for early intervention in sickness absence.

Concepts of rehabilitation for the management of common health problems is a paper commissioned by the DWP which attempts to develop an intellectual framework for policymaking, research and development.

Professional bodies

Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association

Faculty of Occupational Medicine

Institute of Occupational Medicine

Society of Occupational Medicine

The Institute of Cancer Research

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland

Cancer Research UK

Medical Research Council

Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre Network

Association for International Cancer Research

Cancer Care

National Radiological Protection Board

Financial help and advice

Under certain circumstances, employees can qualify for government funding for adjustments to their work environment that would help them return to and remain in work.

In its guidance Access to Work - practical help at work, Directgov explains:

‘If you feel that the type of work you do is affected by a disability or health condition that is likely to last for 12 months or more, ask the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at your local Jobcentre Plus office about Access to Work. They can put you in touch with your closest Access to Work Business Centre to check whether you’re eligible for help’.

Visit Jobcentre Plus for more information.

Macmillan Cancer also provides a range of advice, including its Benefits made clear interactive guide.