A cancer diagnosis is one of the most challenging things a person can face. Aside from the physical effects, cancer can affect a person’s mental health, productivity and relationships. Here are a few tips to help your clients support their employees.

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Nearly 2 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2019.1 How can employers offer support?

1. Be human

Supporting employees with a cancer diagnosis can be challenging. But the best way to help is by just being human. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) outlines three ways employers can make this difficult time a bit easier:2

  • Take a moment to understand: Know which treatments employees are considering, what benefits they’re enrolled in through their company, and how medical/other insurance plans pay for these services. Tip: It might be helpful for employers to have these documents ready to share with the employee’s spouse, partner or caregiver.
  • Clearly explain benefits: Make sure employees understand how to file a claim for any insurance coverage they’re currently enrolled in through work. Remind them of their leave options and value-add services if available—like FMLA leave, employee assistance programs, etc.
  • Recognize the emotional impact: Be sensitive to the mental, physical and emotional toll the disease can take on everyone involved. Using empathetic language when communicating can make a big difference.

2. Keep the return-to-work process simple

It can be overwhelming for the employee, but returning to work may be essential both financially and to create a sense of normalcy and daily routine. Employers can take these proactive steps to help their employees have a successful experience:

  • Stay connected: Communicate with employees throughout their leave and make sure they’re aware of all the benefits available to them.
  • Offer modifications to job responsibilities: They may need to avoid physically taxing work, travel and exposures to other potential illnesses.
  • Provide a graduated return: In some cases a gradual return is necessary. They may need to start with part-time, then work their way back to full-time to help with energy levels and confidence boosting.
  • Allow flexible schedules: Work-from-home options can help accommodate frequent doctor’s appointments.
  • Communicate frequently: Once they’re back at work, check in on a regular basis to make sure they feel accommodated and not overwhelmed.

3. Communication is key

Communication is essential for both the employee and their coworkers. Though their coworkers may be aware of their colleague’s condition, it’s important for employers to protect that employee’s privacy by not sharing more than they need to. If coworkers ask why a special accommodation (like a work-from-home option) needs to be made, the employer can let them know that no one is getting special treatment, without giving specific details.

How employers can reduce the impact of cancer on the workplace

  • Offer cancer awareness materials and on-site screenings as part of an annual health fair or during the enrollment process to encourage preventive care.
  • Provide an employee assistance program that includes access to professionals who can help employees understand and use their benefits, and can offer financial guidance, counseling and other supportive resources.
  • Proactively research barriers and solutions for employees returning to work after treatment.
  • Be sympathetic to coworkers who may be taking on additional work while their colleague is absent or gradually returning to full-time work.

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Share our Supporting Employees with Cancer Inside Track education paper with your clients.


1American Cancer Society. 2019. Cancer Facts & Figures. Annual publication, Atlanta, Georgia: American Cancer Society. Accessed July 19, 2019.

2Bates, Steve. 2016. How to Support Employees with Cancer. June 1. Accessed July 19, 2019. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0616/pages/how-to-support-employees-with-cancer.aspx.