Breast Cancer Awareness : How to Support Employees with Cancer

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Employee Benefits Communication

How to Support Employees with Cancer

Cathy Siska COO

Cathy Siska
Chief Operating Officer

Many people with cancer desire a strong support system and a sense of normalcy while battling their disease. The workplace can be a significant source of support for an employee with cancer, if employers act to assist the employee during this tough time.

How to Show Support

Simple kindness is first and foremost, along with these other actions:

  • Make sure you and the employee’s supervisor(s) are up-to-date and knowledgeable on policies and benefits that will affect the employee. This may include FMLA, short and/or long-term disability, flexible work arrangements, critical illness/cancer insurance, Employee Assistance Program(s), PTO, leave banks, etc. Most importantly, be available to help the employee navigate their health insurance claims as this may require a large amount of time and effort to manage.

  • Be sure to follow EEOC guidelines for ADA and HIPAA.

  • Offer a private office for the sick employee so he or she can make and take calls from doctors. This will make getting test results easier since conversations will not be overheard.

  • Place a cot or couch in a private room so the employee can rest, if necessary. Make this room inviting and calm. Select a room that is out of the major flow of foot traffic, so there is less commotion.

  • Respect your employee’s wishes concerning discussions about the illness. While some employees will be eager to share details of their situation, others may view it as a private matter. If you are unclear about how much information the employee wants others to know, ask him or her directly to avoid over-sharing. Discuss your employee’s wishes with other staffers. If the employee does not want to discuss the disease, then communicate that clearly to other employees.

  • Provide an outlet for sick employees if they would like to talk. If you have an EAP, make sure the information is readily available to your employee.

  • An up-and-coming trend is to offer leave banks or pools for employees who have exhausted their paid leave but need additional time off to deal with their illness. In both leave banks and pools, other employees can donate their accumulated paid leave. In leave banks, all employees can “deposit” unused paid days into the bank for other employees to use. In leave pools, all employees can place unused paid days into the pool for a specific employee in need of additional time off. These systems allow other employees to help ill employees maintain their jobs and incomes during sickness and recovery.

cancer diagnosis statistic

How to Help in Their Return to Work

After a medical leave of absence, no matter the duration, returning to work can be an adjustment. While some workers will be excited about diving back in to their regular routine, others will be apprehensive and nervous about what they missed while they were gone. To make this transition smoother, talk with the employee in advance to see how he or she is feeling. Determine what accommodations can be made and discuss these with him or her.

When preparing for an employee’s return, ask the following questions:

  • What does the company need to do ahead of time to make your transition back to work smoother?

  • How can we best accommodate your current and possible ongoing medical needs?

cancer survivors in the workplace

If the employee needs an updated parking sticker or identification badge, provide these items before his or her return date. Employers should also be mindful of the following:

  • When he or she returns from medical leave, make sure other employees are welcoming.

  • Focus on transitioning the employee back into a normal routine.

  • Avoid alienating the employee from others with different treatment, or by acting as though they are unable to perform the tasks done in the past.

  • Allow the employee to take breaks throughout the day, take intermittent leave, or work a reduced schedule.

  • Check in with the employee regularly to make sure that his or her schedule and workload are manageable. It may be a good idea to schedule a meeting with the person or team who helped covered their workload during their absence to help facilitate the transfer of work.

When one of your employees is diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to know the best way to respond and show support. Make sure you discuss these tips and create a plan with your company’s leadership. While each cancer diagnosis, treatment, and individual is different, your company can still have a baseline process to ensure you react with supportive measures swiftly. Preparedness and clarity will make you an even better source of support for your employee struggling with severe illness.