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Blue @ Work

How to support an employee's cancer diagnosis

A guide to making a difficult journey more manageable

This article was last updated Feb. 7, 2023.

With cancer affecting one in every two men and one in every three women, it is possible that one of your employees may receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. The question is how do you, as an employer, assist your employees throughout the experience? Every worker is unique and there are many ways you can provide support. These resources can help you identify how to help an employee undergoing or returning from cancer treatment.

How to respond if your employee shares their cancer diagnosis

We sometimes struggle to find the right words when we hear unfortunate news. Help your employee feel supported by showing compassion and providing them with the necessary tools to navigate their diagnosis in the workplace.

Avoid using theoretical phrases such as, “You’ll be all right.” Instead, provide sympathetic support by saying something like, “I’m sorry you are going through this.”

Help your employee understand their medical and drug coverage. Offer to help find a patient navigator or advocacy program.

Discuss their legal rights and protections.

Takeaway: Be sure to review your company policies and procedures so you can come prepared to assist your employee through the process.

Support employees with cancer

If an employee chooses to share their diagnosis with you, you can play a huge factor in whether it is an easy transition or a hard one. By offering assistance, you may be able to alleviate some of the burden that comes along with their diagnosis.

  1. Provide a flexible work schedule.
  2. It’s important to explain the various types of leave available to your employees such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) External Site. Other employees may request to work part-time or work from home as needed.

  3. Accommodate special requests.
  4. Some employees may ask to be moved closer to the bathroom, printer, or request a closer parking spot to avoid longer walks.

  5. Appoint a resource.
  6. Designating a point of contact for the employee while they are taking time away is helpful. This can offer relief from information overload and keep the employee up to date on work they may have missed.

Takeaway: Employees may look to you as their source of knowledge for navigating their cancer diagnosis in the office. These tools will help set expectations in the office for you and your employee.

If you want to learn more about how to handle cancer in the workplace, you can visit the American Cancer Society’s website at External Site or download their employer tip sheet External Site.