Supporting Employees with Cancer: 10 Tips for Employers

Written by Joanna Morrow

Joanna Morrow, Principal and Founder of Employer Benefits & Advice, is an employer consultant and advocate who has worked in the employee benefits industry for over two decades. She works diligently to help employers overcome obstacles in their business by sharing her expertise in Human Resources, Benefits & Compensation, Process Mapping, Risk Management and ERISA/DOL/IRS compliance. She is a licensed life and health insurance professional in the State of Arizona and is an active member of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU).

Supporting Employees with Cancer: 10 Tips for Employers

For people battling cancer, having a strong support system and a sense of normalcy can go a long way in fostering a positive attitude toward treatment.

The workplace can be a great source of such support and routine, provided employers take appropriate actions to assist the employee during an otherwise difficult time.

Simple kindness is first and foremost, but here are some other ideas that can help employees feel supported as they undergo cancer treatment:

#1: Offer a private office for the sick employee so he or she can make and take calls from healthcare providers. This will make getting test results easier, and sensitive conversations with healthcare providers more private.

#2: 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.

#3: Allow the employee to take breaks throughout the day. 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.

#4: Provide an outlet for the employee in case he or she would like to talk.

#5: Offer “leave banks” or “leave 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” their 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.

Transitioning the 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 into their regular routine, others will be apprehensive and nervous about what they missed while they were gone.

#6: Talk with the employee in advance to see how he or she is feeling. Determine what accommodations can be made and discuss them with your employee. For example, what does the company need to do ahead of time to make the transition back to work smoother? How can you accommodate any specific medical needs the employee may have?

#7: Upon return to work, encourage other employees to be welcoming.

#8: Focus on transitioning the employee back into a normal routine. If the employee needs an updated parking pass or identification badge, provide these items before his or her return date.

#9: Avoid treating the employee differently than the other employees, or by acting as though he or she is unable to perform the tasks done in the past.

#10: Check in with the employee after a week or so to make sure that his or her schedule and workload are manageable.