If an employee has cancer, you may be concerned about how best to support them and what your responsibilities are when it comes to meeting their needs. There are also laws that you must be aware of to ensure your employee is treated fairly.
Around 36% of people living with cancer in the UK are of working age, and 50% of cancer carers are employed, so it’s crucial that HR leaders and line managers know how to support employees with cancer in the workplace.
Here we share our advice for supporting an employee with cancer, to help you navigate each stage, from diagnosis to returning to work after treatment.
Support during diagnosis
The first point of support will come when an employee tells you they have cancer. There will be a number of things to keep in mind, including how to respond and any information you need to share with them, including company policies.
Find out more: Supporting an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer
There will also be adjustments you need to make. These will depend on the individual and their needs. For example, they may benefit from flexible working hours to attend medical appointments, or extra breaks to help them cope with tiredness during treatment. They may also need equipment to support them with physical symptoms, such as pain management.
Find out more: Reasonable adjustments to make for an employee with cancer
Cancer and the law
By law, cancer is considered to be a disability from diagnosis to after recovery. This means you must make reasonable adjustments for employees with cancer and protect them against unfair treatment that would be classed as discrimination. This covers all areas of employment, including recruitment, promotions, benefits and termination.
Find out more: Cancer and working guidelines for employees
If you do need to terminate the employment of someone with cancer, it must be due to lawful situations, such as redundancy or the end of a contract. You can not terminate an employee’s position due to their illness.
Find out more: Guide to terminating an employee with cancer
Ongoing workplace support
Many people with cancer continue to work after a diagnosis. The support you provide must therefore accommodate your employee’s needs throughout treatment. Some will need to take extended leave or reduce their hours, resulting in a reduction or loss of pay.
There are a number of government benefits that can help people with cancer but employers can also implement additional employee benefits that ease the financial burden of a diagnosis. One way you can provide support is through financial assistance. This includes policies such as paid sick leave, private health coverage and a lifestyle spending account.
Taking sick leave
Many people with cancer take sick leave during their treatment. The average amount of time varies depending on the type of cancer, stage of diagnosis and personal situation. But one study with breast cancer patients, suggests it to be around four weeks.
Most employees are entitled to 28 weeks of statutory sick pay when off work for more than four consecutive days. You should discuss your company’s sick pay policy with your employee.
If an employee with cancer takes sick leave, there will be things you need to consider to support them, as well as the wider team. You will need to communicate your employee’s cancer with relevant colleagues and should offer emotional support through cancer charities or benefits, such as our employer cancer support programme at Perci Health.
Find out more: How to manage an employee being off sick with cancer
Knowing how to talk to an employee who has cancer can be challenging, but the most important thing to remember is to be empathetic, professional and law-abiding. Each conversation will need to be approached individually, as will your communication style, depending on how well you know your employee.
Outside of formal discussions, it’s important to remember that your employee is still the same person as before their diagnosis, so engage in everyday chat and avoid clichéd comments or unsolicited advice.
It’s also important to keep an employee with cancer in the loop, whether they take reduced hours or responsibilities, or take time off completely. Employees can feel frustrated when they’re not able to work, and may feel out of touch or concerned about their tasks being given to a colleague. Do what you can to reassure them, and share business and team updates to help them maintain a connection with the workplace.
Find out more: What to say to an employee with cancer
Returning to work
Employees can return to work after cancer treatment as soon as they feel ready. Sometimes this is straight away, however,for others, it may be a longer, phased return to help them cope with the side-effects of cancer and treatment.
Speak to your employee to agree on a return-to-work plan that sets out when they want to return, to what extent and any adjustments required. The plan should be flexible, but it’s a great starting point to understand if they would like to have reduced hours, work from home or implement any new changes to their role.
It can also be difficult for employees to navigate conversations with colleagues once returning. Help smooth this transition by deciding together how to approach these communications, and possibly talking to or emailing teams with guidance beforehand.
Find out more: Returning to work after cancer
Support for employers
If you’re looking for further ways to support an employee with cancer, please get in touch with our team at Perci Health. Our pioneering virtual care clinic is designed to help employers set a new standard of care for their people. Employees can talk to specialist cancer nurses at a time that suits them, while also accessing cancer experts in more than 20 specialist fields. We also provide individual programmes to help with physical, psychological and practical needs, as well as support for carers.
Find out more about our comprehensive cancer employee benefits and how you can support all those impacted by cancer in your workplace.