How HR can support employees diagnosed with cancer

HR must make sure it has clear sickness absence policies in place to help employees diagnosed with cancer.

That’s why Macmillan has launched a new set of webinars for employers and HR to learn about the misconceptions around cancer diagnosis.

Liz Egan, programme manager at Macmillan, told HR magazine that cancer diagnoses do not mean that employees do not want to work.

She said: “Cancer is a complex condition with over 200 cancers out there - it is not one disease. How everyone responds to treatment, even with the same type, will be varied.

“The way they also respond emotionally to the diagnosis is also different, so HR should look at the person as an individual and then their health condition to try to understand what’s happening to them.”

Because of the changing nature of cancer, Egan said many employees may want to work alongside their treatment, with lots of people living with incurable cancers for many years who may wish to continue working.

Cancer is classed as a disability in the Equality Act, yet Egan argued that those diagnosed with cancer have low awareness about their own rights at work including what reasonable adjustments they should be offered.

She added: “HR should go back to the individual and find out what they actually need. Most adjustments don’t tend to cost anything, they’re usually for more flexibility in terms of work hours and remote working access.

“Sometimes employees are re-deployed temporarily, or have adjusted performance targets dependent on the individual and where they’re at with their health. This needs to be balanced with the need of business and the individual.”

Egan was keen to stress that although HR may know the correct procedure for cancer patients, it was equally important that this information is passed onto line managers as they will often be dealing with the employee on a day-to-day basis.

She said: “It’s a hard job for line managers and more support is needed not just in terms of information but to build confidence in knowing what to do and guiding them through so they know what steps they need to take.

“If you build your confidence in knowing how to manage someone with cancer, you can use that to support employees with any other set of long term conditions within the workplace - it’s the same key principle.”

The most important point, Egan recommended, was to develop good communication from the start.

“Staff members should feel comfortable enough to disclose how they are feeling. When people are worried about jobs, people are afraid about the reaction of employers.

“They might try to cover up but HR should encourage people to disclose their diagnosis. Employers should say communication is key and try to be open and listen.”

Macmillan is providing cancer in the workplace training for HR professionals and line manager through its Macmillan at Work portal.

Further reading:

Pixie McKenna: Addressing cancer in the workplace

Back to basics... Employee cancer screening

Cancer biggest cause of long-term sickness claims

Cancer patients feel unsupported at work