Telling people at work

Do you have to tell people at work that you have cancer?

The short answer is no. If you need to take time off, reduce your hours or change how you work during treatment or afterwards, you can ask your doctor for a note that says there are medical reasons for your request. That is all that your boss or supervisor needs to know. You don’t have to tell co-workers anything at all if you don’t want to.

Not telling anyone at work protects your privacy, but there are some downsides. People you work with will likely wonder what is going on if you’re away a lot or if cancer changes how you look. This often leads to gossip, which can add to your worries. Also, if you don’t tell people, they can’t help and support you.

The decision is yours, based on what you know about your workplace and the people you work with. Many people do share the diagnosis at work. If you do, think about who you will tell and how much detail you would like to share.

You may want to ask your boss or supervisor or a trusted co-worker to be the one who shares information with other staff. It can be helpful to let the person you report to help explain how your work will be handled during your illness.

If your co-workers do know that you have cancer, they may want to talk to you about it. If you don’t want to talk about it, let them know you want to focus on job tasks rather than on cancer.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Working During Cancer Treatment. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2012.
  • Your relationships after cancer treatment. Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan Cancer Support. London, UK: Macmillan Cancer Support; 2012.
  • Nitkin P, Parkinson M, & Schultz IZ. Cancer and Work: A Canadian Perspective. British Columbia Cancer Agency; 2011.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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