6 mins. read

How to support an employee whose parent has cancer

How to support an employee whose parent has cancer

Key takeaways

  • Communication is important: Make sure your employees know that their colleagues and managers are understanding and supportive, how to approach you to talk about sensitive subjects, and that you can provide them with any key information, legislation and company policies.
  • Know the law: The Equality Act 2010, Employments Rights Act 1996 and Work and Families Act 2006 are applicable when managing an employee whose parent has cancer. You must abide by these and maintain your employees’ rights.
  • Consider practical and emotional ways you can help: Having a parent with cancer can impact an employee psychologically and practically, including financially. Take these factors into account when considering the support you can offer.

Knowing how to cope when a parent has cancer isn’t easy. And it can be particularly hard for those who take on caring responsibilities for their parent while in employment. They are likely to be processing their feelings about the diagnosis while also wanting to support their parent. However, the prospect of staying productive at work while providing the care their parent needs, can be daunting.

As an employer, you can make things a little less difficult by adopting a compassionate and accommodating approach. This guide offers advice on supporting employees whose parents have cancer, taking business logistics, employee wellbeing and applicable legislation into account.

Facilitate sensitive, open communication

It is not uncommon for people to forego telling their employer that someone they love has cancer, opting to call in sick or use holiday leave to support their family instead. They might feel anxious about sharing personal matters or believe their employer will not see helping a parent with cancer as a legitimate reason for absence. As an employer, you can reduce the likelihood of this  by fostering a work culture that is human-centred and places importance on understanding and transparency.

Let your employees know, with sincerity, that they can approach you about sensitive subjects and ensure they know how to do this. This could be through an open-door policy or a dedicated wellbeing email address, for example.

Reassure them

When an employee is caring for someone with cancer while working, they are trying to juggle their job, caring responsibilities and everyday tasks. If they struggle to manage everything, they may worry about their output at work and the perceptions of their managers, colleagues and customers.

Caring responsibilities may also impact an employee’s views on their career development prospects. For example, they may feel their employer will overlook them for a promotion or their manager won’t involve them in new projects.

Being a carer to a parent with cancer shouldn’t adversely affect an employee’s long-term career. Reassure them that their job is secure and that, even if they need to step away to focus on their family, you value them and their input. You can also explain to them that the Equality Act 2010 protects people who are associated with someone with a disability, which cancer is classed as, from discrimination.

Explain their options for leave

An employee who has a parent with cancer may need time off. This could be to take their parent to medical appointments, care for them after chemotherapy or provide practical help with housework and food shopping. They may also need time away from work to process their emotions and look after their own mental health. To support them to do this, you should clarify their options for time off, signpost them to your organisation’s policies and advise them of their rights under current legislation.

For example, under the amended Employments Rights Act 1996, employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with particular situations affecting their dependents, which includes parents. However, to protect employees as much as possible from financial hardship as a result of their caring responsibilities, some organisations choose to provide paid time off for employees in these circumstances.

Many employers also have a scheme for compassionate leave. An employee can take compassionate leave if they need time off to deal with a situation that doesn’t fall under the ‘time off for dependents’ rights. Compassionate leave can be paid or unpaid, and you should make your employee aware of your company’s policy on this.

You should also put forward other types of leave, such as voluntary use of holiday allowance and time off in lieu, if these are feasible.

Give them flexibility

If they are a carer for a parent with cancer, your employee won’t always be able to tell you in advance when they need time off. This is because it will depend on the needs and health of their parent as they navigate treatment.

Time off on short notice can be inconvenient for your business but it is also likely to leave your employee feeling conflicted and guilty, when they are already experiencing a challenging situation. To remedy this, you can explore flexible working options with your employee.

Under the Work and Families Act 2006, carers who meet the eligibility criteria can request to work flexibly. This doesn’t grant them automatic flexible working but rather the right to ask for it. As an employer, you can refuse a request, but only on specified grounds such as if it would mean the business would struggle to meet customer demand or it would be difficult to find cover.

If possible, you can support a cancer caregiver by allowing your employee to propose the flexible working arrangement that they feel will allow them to best manage their time between their job and their caring responsibilities. Flexible working options may include:

  • Working from home
  • Compressed hours
  • Reduced hours
  • Changes to shift patterns
  • Job sharing
  • Flexitime

Provide practical and emotional help

Supporting a parent with cancer can present practical challenges as well as emotional ones. Carers often experience burnout from spreading themselves too thinly, or not giving themselves time to rest because they want to do as much as they can for their parent. They can also struggle with feelings of resentment over finding themselves in a situation that they didn’t anticipate and the changes to their life as a result.

Practical and psychological  support for them and their wider family can, therefore, be incredibly welcome. The exact nature of this support will vary depending on the employee and their circumstances but could include:

  • Money off vouchers for essentials
  • Self-care packages
  • Home help for them and/or their parent
  • Private health benefits that cover their extended family
  • Transport for their parent’s medical appointments
  • A meal delivery service
  • Mental health tools and/services
  • Specialist cancer support

Perci Health can help employers support employees affected by cancer. Our virtual care clinic connects people to a range of specialist support types including cancer dieticians, psychologists, and life coaches. Book a demo to see how you can integrate Perci Health benefits into your employee support scheme. Individual employees can also sign up for an account to connect with cancer experts and access our latest resources.