- Maintain communication: Make sure that your employee knows that they can come to you at any time to discuss their treatment schedule, time off, changes to their role, or if they would like access to additional support.
- Be flexible: Cancer affects everyone differently. What your employee can and can’t do, and the support they require may change following their diagnosis and as they go through treatment. Try to manage your expectations of them as an employee and be understanding about this tough time in their life.
- Respect their privacy: You should keep everything that your employee tells you about their diagnosis strictly confidential unless they tell you otherwise.
If an employee has told you that they have cancer, you might be wondering what you can do to best support them. Note that there are laws that you must abide by in these circumstances, but we know it can be a daunting time if you’ve had little experience of managing someone impacted by cancer.
Here at Perci Health, we have put together a helpful guide of key things to keep in mind that can help you to approach the situation with professionalism and sensitivity.
Be responsive to their communicational needs
Once you are aware that an employee has been diagnosed with cancer, invite them to talk about it in a private setting with you, their line manager or someone in HR. Depending on the employee, they may be happy to have an informal chat, or they may wish to have a more structured meeting. They may also prefer not to discuss it, but having an open-door approach will allow them to come to you in the future if they change their mind.
Let your employee lead the conversation, sharing as much or as little as they want to. If the time comes to ask questions, approach these with sensitivity and empathy. Try to ask questions such as ‘how can we make this easier for you?’ and ‘how are you feeling?’
Once an initial meeting has taken place, let your employee know that they can come to you at any time to talk, seek support or provide updates on their treatment schedule.
Cancer affects everyone differently depending on the person, the type of cancer they have, the stage of their cancer and what treatment they are having. How cancer impacts their working life will also vary greatly.
Some people like to continue working for a sense of normalcy but won’t necessarily be able to manage the same level of work that they did before their diagnosis. Try to be understanding about how much of an impact a cancer diagnosis might be having on your employee.
Be prepared that their demeanour at work might change. This is completely normal when someone is processing a cancer diagnosis and navigating treatment. The quality of their work or the amount of work they get through might also vary. Again, this is normal. Your employee may be experiencing many emotions including worry, fear, and anger. These feelings may consume a lot of their headspace, meaning they are unable to focus on other things as clearly. They may also be dealing with fatigue which can affect their strength, energy, concentration, and mood.
Be patient with your employee and look for ways you can help them. Make them aware of the adjustments and options at work that are available to them.
Explain their rights
If an employee has told you that they have cancer, you should outline to them what the company can do to support them and what options they have with regards to their role. You should provide your employee with copies of any company policies so that they have these to refer to and allow them to ask questions or seek clarity.
You should also let them know about the laws that apply to their situation. The Equality Act 2010 protects those in England, Scotland, and Wales. The Equality Act applies to all people who have cancer from the point of diagnosis, regardless of the type of cancer they have. It also extends to those who have previously had cancer. In Northern Ireland, it is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects those with cancer against discrimination. Find out more in our guide to cancer and employment law.
Make reasonable adjustments
Cancer is considered a disability, so people who have received a cancer diagnosis are protected under law from unfair treatment and discrimination. Therefore, you need to make reasonable adjustments to your employee’s role so that they can continue to work should they wish to.
What constitutes a reasonable adjustment depends on the workplace and the employee’s position. Examples of reasonable adjustments include flexible working hours, allowing them to work from home, changing their role to a less physically demanding one, altering the scope of their duties or giving them extra breaks to deal with fatigue.
If an employee has entrusted you with personal and sensitive details about their diagnosis, you must keep these confidential unless they stipulate otherwise. Your employee may ask for you to inform their co-workers. In this case, ask them how much information they would like you to share about their situation.
Do not tell co-workers or anyone else unless they must know. For example, you may need to inform the payroll administrator so that they can arrange sick pay but even then, you won’t necessarily need to tell them every detail.
If you have made notes during any meetings with your employee, ensure you keep these secure. If handwritten, keep them in a locked filing cabinet or desk drawer, and if they are digital notes, don’t keep them on a shared computer or save them in a location which other employees can access.
Here at Perci Health, we are here to support anyone that has been impacted by cancer. If you think you or your colleague could benefit from virtual access to high-quality cancer specialists, find out more about our support types or how we help those supporting someone with cancer.