Guidance for employers

When an employee is diagnosed with a blood cancer or related condition, the individual is likely to undergo an enormous amount of stress.

Not only does the diagnosis have an impact on the individual and their family, it also has an impact on employers, the workplace and their working relationships.

You might think that work is insignificant in situations such as this; however, in most cases, work is important to a patient’s identity. Work allows the person to reconnect with society and regain a sense of normality which can be crucial in their recovery. It’s important that the situation is managed with care and that communication channels are kept open between employee and employer.

An employee in this situation may be looking for practical support from their employer. It is important to respond to the diagnosis carefully and realise that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. With recent major medical advances, many patients can be cured and go on to live a long, healthy life after their diagnosis.

The journey to recovery is long and taxing for impacted individuals, as well as their support systems and carers. The care employers provide during this challenging time can make all the difference.

Tips for the first conversation

  • Discussing illness of any kind can be challenging. Enter the conversation mentally prepared to set a supportive tone in a comfortable and relaxed environment. Listen carefully and focus on the employee’s individual circumstances. Seek clarity on how they’d like to approach work whilst recovering. Listen carefully and take notes. Provide reassurance where you can. Feel free to come back to the employee if you don’t know the answer right away.
  • Review your employee’s rights and entitlements outlined in their individual employment agreement. Print out a copy for them to also have and bring it to the meeting. Seek support from your HR person if the employee wishes to formalise the conversation. Familiarise yourself with the employee’s employment contract and the broader sick leave policies of your organisation, and come prepared to discuss the practicalities of the employee’s recovery journey.
  • Clarify whether the employee wants their colleagues to know about the diagnosis to ensure their privacy is respected. Create a plan of communication to colleagues about absence that both parties agree on.
  • Request that the employee provide medical documentation confirming the diagnosis and the treatment. These documents will need to be forwarded onto HR so they can process the relevant leave types.
  • Ensure they know who they can talk to with any concerns, e.g. you, their HR rep, Employee Assistance etc.

Work adjustments during and after treatment

If your employee continues to work, one option to consider is flexible working arrangements to allow for treatment and recovery.

Flexibility provides the opportunity for patients or carers to manage work and health appointments/treatment schedules in a way that works for them. This can help them stay connected to work as they recover or care for their loved ones.

Flexible working arrangements are instrumental when employees are dealing with challenging personal circumstances – and are a known retention strategy for employers who offer them.

Download our Guidance for Employers factsheet