A woman with cancer working at a computer

Managing someone with cancer

Every person has a different cancer experience. Medical treatments and the subsequent physical and emotional reactions will vary from person to person.

The following tips are designed to guide you and help support your employee through their cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment and living with cancer.

Strong communication with your employee

Cancer can affect a member of staff physically, emotionally and have big financial implications. It’s important to listen and try to understand their particular situation, asking questions regarding what your employee is sharing with you. Equally, if they don’t want to discuss things, keep in mind that it could be for a number of reasons. When first given a diagnosis they may be in shock and their medical team may still be planning how best to treat them, so they simply may not be able to answer the questions you have.

If possible, involve Occupational Health as soon as you can

The Occupational Health Department will be able to review questions you may have such as: Do they need time off? Are there any adjustments required for their working environment? Should you consider reducing their hours? Are they fit for business travel? Cancer is legally defined as a disability from the point of diagnosis, so you might need to make adjustments where appropriate, just as you would with any other disability. Occupational Health can help advise you on what adjustments might be relevant and your HR team can offer advice about if and how these can be implemented.

If your staff member is off work for a period of time

Decide together with your employee how much contact they would like with the team. Some people like to remain in touch, even come in from time to time; others feel all phone calls are hassling them. This is very individual, so it’s best to talk about what they would find most supportive and the best way to do so.

In the unfortunate case of a bereavement

Ideas for best practice would include:

• Considering how to support colleagues who may have been close to the individual. Your HR Team or Employee Support Service can help with this.

• Considering telling any key clients, customers and suppliers. This can prevent embarrassment and upset if they attempt to contact your colleague without knowing what has happened.

• Assisting the family, by offering one point of contact between the employer and the family for funeral arrangements.

• Asking what kind of contact and involvement the family want from people at work. The family’s wishes must be respected in every way.

• Considering the best way to return belongings to the family. This should be done as soon as possible and with sensitivity. Equally arranging the return of any employer property, such as computers or a company car

Support after any long term absence for treatment

Offer a welcome and support meeting with your employee before they start their first day back at work. This gives them a chance to visit the workplace, hear important updates and raise any concerns. It also allows you to find out how they are feeling and sort out any potential problems before they occur.

Be aware of the impact that an employee’s cancer diagnosis can have on the wider team, the rest of your colleagues and, of course, yourself. If you feel you need more support, ask your own line manager, your HR department, call your Employee Support Service or the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.

Be aware that the advice given here applies equally to carers. Carers of those with cancer are also covered by the disability provisions of the equality act. They too may need support, adjustments and time off work.

Decisions taken around employment can significantly affect a person’s entitlements and long-term financial outlook. Before formally agreeing changes in working hours, resignation or early retirement, ensure your employee has obtained expert advice on the consequences for their own financial situation. 

In any redundancy process consider the potential risk of discrimination. Discuss any issues of this nature with HR and make sure any action taken can be justified.