From diagnosis to recovery: how companies can stand by employees facing cancer

As King Charles steps down from public duties to undergo cancer treatment, we reflect on how workplaces can step up to help those fighting the disease.

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In the UK, one in two people will develop some kind of cancer during their lifetime. Hitting the headlines, King Charles III was diagnosed with cancer and will be temporarily stepping down from public-facing duties as he completes his treatment.

The reality is that, just like the King, those diagnosed with cancer find themselves forced to put their work lives on pause as they assimilate the news and focus on next steps for their health.

The process can be emotionally and physically draining for both the patient and their family or carers. As an employer, you want to be a source of support, rather than an additional cause of stress.

We look at the most important workplace considerations and the regulations that apply around extended sick leave so you can make the necessary adjustments to help an employee undergoing cancer treatment

First steps after a diagnosis

Every year, more than 127,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK, with four in 10 of these cases being preventable if spotted early. Therefore, it is likely you’ll encounter someone with cancer, hear of one, or employ a carer.

As an employer, you need to be aware that if a person has or has had cancer, they are protected by law from unfair treatment at work for the rest of their life. This means that under The Equality Act 2010, you’ll need to adopt measures to help your employee stay in or return to work when they are ready and able to do so.

Having cancer does not necessarily mean your employee will stop working. Initially, and dependent on how their condition evolves, they’ll need to take some sick leave for appointments, treatments, or extra rest.

Employees might choose to keep working for a variety of reasons, whether that’s to retain a sense of normalcy, having a stable income, or keeping their health insurance benefits. Whatever their reason might be, it is crucial that as an employer you respect their privacy and only share information in a way in which your employee approves of and is comfortable with.

At this stage, you’ll want to speak with your employee to understand their needs, ensure all managers are trained to deal with similar situations, and check your health policies are up to date.

Top tips for line managers

As an employer, you’ll want to do everything you can to support your employee’s wellbeing. If working in this position is completely new to you, these are some of the top tips suggested by charities like Macmillan Cancer Support:

  • Remember that communication is important → listen to your employee and try to understand their situation. Do keep in contact with them if they are on sick leave
  • Be prepared to make reasonable adjustments → cancer is legally defined as a disability. Under equality laws, you may need to make changes to the workplace or the employee’s job that allow them to stay in work or come back to work. These changes are known as reasonable adjustments.
  • Respect your employee’s right to privacy → your employee may not want their colleagues to know that they have cancer or are caring for someone with cancer. If they would like their colleagues to know, ask them how they would like people to be told.
  • Find out about financial support → find out whether your organisation offers financial support to people who are off work, such as sick pay. You may also want to check whether there are any other benefits that could help your employee.
  • Respect carers’ rights at work → carers have certain rights at work, including taking unpaid time off to care for the person they look after in an emergency.
  • Discuss a return-to-work plan → if your employee is off work, agree a plan with them for keeping in contact. When they are ready, talk with them about a return-to-work plan, This can help you find out what support they might need at work before, during, and after treatment

Raising awareness

While Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer months offer a focal point to reflect on how we can better look after ourselves and those around us experiencing cancer, workplaces should create a culture of awareness that runs all year long.

The statistical chances that you’ll work with someone who is a carer, a survivor, or has been diagnosed with cancer are high, so following awareness programmes or training from charities like Cancer Research UK or Macmillan Cancer Support is paramount. You can also encourage your employees to check if they are eligible for a screening or to follow other methods to self-test for potential symptoms of cancer.

While employees might not look to their managers as their main source of support as they undergo treatment or assimilate their diagnosis, workplaces can heavily contribute to putting their minds at ease – from knowing they have a job to go back to or can work with all the necessary adjustments to feel comfortable.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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