Because of the increasing rate of cancer diagnoses, it is very likely that most employers will face this scenario with a member of staff at some stage.
Employers should be aware that under the Equality Act, cancer is classed as a disability from the point of diagnosis. Therefore, the employee is legally entitled to reasonable adjustments at work to counter any difficulties they may be having as a result of their diagnosis. It also means that employers have to adjust work performance targets to reflect the illness.
For some people, continuing to work after a cancer diagnosis is therapeutic in that it maintains some normality for them at a time of uncertainty in their lives. Many have little option due to financial reasons.
Depending on the treatment they are undergoing, some employees will be able to work throughout, while others may feel too unwell. If an employee wishes to work, reduced hours or lighter duties are a good way forward.
The key for both parties is effective communication throughout. Employers should be sympathetic to not only the physical effects of cancer treatment, but also the significant psychological impact of the diagnosis. It is vital to understand that once treatment ends, even with a good prognosis, the emotional trauma may continue for a considerable time.
It is common for family, friends and colleagues to think that once treatment is complete, the person with cancer should be able to just snap back into normal life. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case because it is often only at this stage that they begin to process all they have been through. Talking therapies can be beneficial at this time and employers should be sympathetic to time off for counselling appointments to aid their employee’s recovery.
Employers should be proactive in encouraging staff to take responsibility for their own wellbeing by participating in schemes that are available for early detection, for example, bowel and breast screening. Employers may wish to consider providing well-woman or well-man checks as part of the remuneration package because these may be useful in early diagnosis, which is of benefit to both workforce and employer.
Lorna Ellis is cancer support centres manager at Helen Rollason Cancer Charity