When an employee is diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to know how to react — and how to provide appropriate, helpful support.
Cancer represents a wide range of diagnoses, treatments, side effects and recovery processes. It is also a very personal experiencethat individuals handle in the way that makes sense for them. Some people are very candid about their health status and what they need. Others are more guarded and private.
As a Human Resources professional or manager, you are not expected to understand all of the variables. However, there are things you can think about, organize, and research ahead of time, so that when needed, you will be a valuable resource for information, clarity and assistance. Preparation can provide you (and your employees) solid footing at a time when things might otherwise feel off‐kilter.
Here are some tips for supporting an employee with cancer:
- Know the relevant information on company policy. There is an array of work policies that will affect your employee day‐to‐day. You should be able to speak articulately about medical leave and short‐ and long‐term disability — or make the introduction to someonewho can. Flexible work policies, paid time off (PTO), and leave banks are also useful resources for employees with cancer, if your company has established them. Health insurance is a category in itself that may require the most time and discussion in order for you staffer to understand. Helping the employee call his/her health insurance company and connect with the right people is the best first step.
- Be familiar with the laws that protect employees in the workplace. Federal laws such the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may be applicable and can create a framework of support. State laws may also come into play, so a general understanding of the law is necessary. Knowing how your company has handled cancer or chronic illness in the past is also critical.
- Be in tune with how the employee is approaching you and try to mirror his/her demeanor. Knowing some key, open‐ended phrases can better enable you to express your concern and desire to help. For example, “I am sorry this is happening to you,” or “I am thinking of you,” can open up lines of communication.
- Think ahead. Agreeing on an office point person to serve as the employee’s eyes and ears when he/she is absent is a smart way to be proactive. It is also (mutually) beneficial to create a written plan on how work will be handled, especially if the plan includes flexiblework options like telecommuting, coworking or flex‐time.
- Understand disclosure preferences. Just because an employee discloses his/her diagnosis to you, does not necessarily mean he/she wants everyone at work to know. Deciding whom to tell is an intensely personal decision that each individual must make for him/herself. Some mightconsider it essential to disclose their diagnosis more widely
because they hold managerial positions; while others consider that a reason not to tell. Privacy and protection may be of the utmost concern to an employee. Either way, it’s vital that you understand the employee’s preference.
- Consider workplace modifications. Helping employees with cancer feel comfortable in their work space can be incredibly useful in the face of treatment side effects and overall fatigue. Sometimes small adjustments, such as making sure files and office equipment are within easy reach, or finding a more ergonomic chair, can eliminate unnecessary stress. Have a conversation about what might work, and remain open to otheroptions as the employee progresses with his/her treatment and recovery.
For more information and resources, visit www.cancerandcareers.org.
Rebecca V. Nellis, MPP, Chief Mission Officer
Rebecca oversees all mission‐driven initiatives, including the long‐term strategy and growth of Cancer and Careers’ many programs and services. As an expert on cancer workplace issues, she travels the country speaking at national cancer conferences, leading hospitals and community events‐‐more than100 presentations to‐date about the intersection of life, work and cancer.
Copyright © Cancer and Careers 2016