Managing an employee with cancer can be hard. An employee who has cancer is considered, in law, to be disabled. An employee who has had cancer and no longer has cancer is considered to be disabled. All cancers are included.
Employees don’t have to tell you that they have cancer. If they don’t tell you your chances of managing an employee with cancer appropriately will obviously be affected.
This isn’t just a problem of an aging workforce. 22% of people claiming income protection for cancer treatment or care are under the age of 40. There’s a strong legal, moral and business case for managing employees with terminal illness sensitively. This includes supporting people to stay in work with a terminal diagnosis, and/or helping them to leave work at an appropriate point.
There are a number of benefits for the organisation of managing an employee with cancer sensitively:
- managing an employee with cancer effectively can help limit the cost of long-term absence and the costs of recruiting a replacement.
- you have a legal obligation to consider reasonable adjustments for employees with cancer. While reasonable adjustments are a legal obligation, they’re not always easy. What might be a reasonable adjustment one day, may not be reasonable the next because of the illness and how the employee is feeling.
- with an aging workforce, managing those with life-limiting conditions is becoming more common for managers. Training managers and supervisors so that they have the tools and policies to handle the situation sensitively will reflect well on the organisation
Policies and Procedures
Absence management policies and procedures need to include signposts to guidance for managers and employees on the specific instance of terminal illness. The guidance may suggest that managers explore benefit options for the person concerned such as considering early ill-health retirement and access to any support services.
Line manager role
Line managers have an important role to play in managing an employee with cancer.
- Managers are often the first point of contact in the workplace for an employee who has received a terminal diagnosis.
- They are central to discussions on work adjustment, work retention and workload.
- By handling communications well, managers can do a great deal to ensure the situation is as stress free as possible.
Line managers need encouraging to sensitively obtain an understanding of the progressive illness and its likely effects on the employee. They need to consider what adjustments might be appropriate. This includes understanding the possible fluctuating nature of a condition and the fact that an employee may need additional time off for medical appointments/treatments.
Macmillan Cancer Support has produced guidelines covering talking about cancer at work, with tips for managers on holding sensitive conversations. However, it’s important to recognise that everyone is different. What is an appropriate approach with one person will not necessarily be helpful for someone else.
Because of this, when it comes to sharing information, managers should discuss with the employee what they feel they need to share. Managers should try to concentrate on the impact an employee’s illness may have on people and projects at work. Using positive language and without dramatising the matter is an appropriate way to proceed.
Managing the situation when an employee dies
This is often a very difficult task. Communicating the news of a death to other employees needs to be personal and sensitive. Supporting those affected is recommended. Deciding how the organisation and individual employees contact the family to offer condolences is important. Considering who attends the funeral and exploring appropriate ways of commemorating the person who has died are all positive ways to help people cope with the loss of a colleague.
If you need help managing an employee with cancer, call us now on 01706 565332 or email us to discuss how we may help you.
Metis HR specialises in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses.