Telling your employer about your brain tumour
Legally, you don’t have to tell your employer or prospective employer about your, or your loved one’s, brain tumour. However, you might want to do so if you need adjustments to your role because of this.
We’ll discuss the pros and cons of talking to your employer about your brain tumour and how to have this discussion.
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Should I tell my employer about my brain tumour?
Deciding whether to tell your employer about your or your loved one’s brain tumour can be difficult. Take some time to think about the things that you are worried would happen if you tell your employer (the cons). Also, consider the reasons why it can be a good thing to tell them (the pros).
Pros of telling your employer:
- Reduces stress – Some people find it is a great weight taken off their shoulders. Less stress is caused by trying to hide symptoms / pretend everything is alright / explain time off for appointments etc.
- Understanding the impact on your work – If your ability to do your work is affected, now or in the future, telling your employer will allow them to understand why. They may turn out to be very supportive.
- Reasonable adjustments – Your employer can work with you to make reasonable adjustments to help you carry on working. For example, this could be time off for hospital appointments or flexible working.
- Informing others – You can correct any misunderstandings or misinformed ideas about what having a brain tumour is like.
- Protection from discrimination, harassment or victimisation – If your employer is aware of your diagnosis, there are certain laws which can protect you.
Possible cons of telling your employer
Some people are worried about telling their employer about their brain tumour, as they believe that their employer may find a way to make them redundant or sack them. They may also worry that it’ll be difficult to stay in work or that they may lose out on getting a promotion.
However, there are laws which protect disabled employees. This means that harassment, victimisation, being sacked or being made redundant because of your brain tumour or reasons related to it should not happen. You have the ability to make a formal complaint if your employer does not make reasonable adjustments.
Read more about your employment rights.
You should consider whether, if your employer does any of the above, you would have the inclination and energy to challenge them and take legal action/take them to a tribunal.
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How do I tell my employer about my brain tumour?
1. Why do I want to tell my employer?
It may be because you have to. For example, you may have a job that involves driving and you have had to surrender your driving licence. Or, you could be in military service within the armed forces.
Or it could be because it becomes obvious. For example, there may be changes in your appearance caused by treatment, such as hair loss, or you may need a lot of time off for treatment or appointments.
Or, it could be because you think it will be easier for you, or for any of the pros listed above.
Telling your employer can enable you to continue working, or return to work after treatment, if that is what you want to do. This can be important as it can give you a sense of normality.
2. When do I want to tell my employer?
This decision may be taken out of your hands, as you may have to have time off for treatment fairly soon after diagnosis. However, you still don’t have to say what the treatment is for.
Think about whether you want to tell your employer straight away, or only if the effects become noticeable.
3. Who do I want to tell?
The best people to tell are your manager or, if your workplace has one, your HR (Human Resources) department. If they also have an occupational health adviser, it can be helpful to ask your manager or HR department to refer you to them.
4. What do I want to tell?
It is up to you how much you tell people about your brain tumour.
You may find it helpful to first talk to your healthcare team about how your work may be affected e.g. the time off you may need for treatment or the side-effects you may experience.
If you don’t want to go into details about how your tumour affects you, you may find it useful to share information with your employer on the possible side-effects of brain tumours. This will help them understand what you are dealing with.
Work out beforehand what adjustments you would like your employer to consider. Your doctor or medical team could also help with this.
5. How do I want to tell them?
This could be as an informal chat, or you may prefer a more formal meeting.
Think about whether you want to have someone with you when you speak to your employer, such as a friend at work, a trusted colleague or a union representative.
Write down what you want to say, so you don’t forget anything. You may want to practise what you are going to say, so you feel comfortable with it.
Take notes, so that you have a record of what was said, and send them a copy.
Should I tell my colleagues about my brain tumour?
Telling your colleagues is a personal decision. So, you may want to be very open and let people know, or you may prefer to keep everything private – or something in between, e.g. only telling a few people.
If the side-effects of your tumour are not obvious, some people like to keep everything as normal as possible.
Other signs, such as hair loss, are more obvious, which will make it more difficult not to tell them. Some signs can also be misinterpreted, e.g. if you have balance issues, people may think you are drunk. In addition, any adjustments you agree with your employer, such as starting work later or having extra breaks, may be misinterpreted by colleagues as preferential treatment. However, you still don’t have to explain if you don’t want to.
Your employer is not allowed to tell your colleagues about your brain tumour unless you agree to it.
Have you had to reduce your working hours or give up work completely?
If you’re feeling fed-up, frustrated or depressed that you can no longer work as you used to, use BRIAN’s quality-of-life tracker to record how you’re feeling each day. You can use this to open up conversations with your loved ones and your healthcare team.
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You can also join our active online community.
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If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.
I struggle to work
Tasmin is a single mother of three children, and lives in Cheshire. She was diagnosed with a meningioma in 2013 and underwent a craniotomy. She is a midwife but has struggled with work and finances since the onset of her tumour.
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