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Managing Cancer and Long-Term Sickness

Posted On: 21/11/2018

Undeniably one of the most difficult conversations you can have with a member of your team is one where they tell you they have cancer.

No one can ever prepare for this first conversation. All you should do at this stage is to listen, to understand their concerns and assure your colleague that you and the company will support them. This conversation, including all others to follow, must never be rushed.

Consulting a member of HR and Occupational Health will be a good idea as they will be able to advise on policy and procedures set up to help and support employees, but they should only be approached with the agreement of the employee. It’s up to your colleague who they want to know; it’s their journey and you should remain respectful of their wishes.

What to do now?

Communication is key. It doesn’t matter if the communication channel is face to face, over the telephone or a mixture of both, the most important thing to establish early on is how, when and where the talks are to be held. These decisions must come from the employee depending on what makes them more comfortable.

If you are to meet face to face it’s important to let the employee know that they can bring someone else into the meeting if that makes them feel more at ease; this can be a work colleague, a friend or a family member and the meeting does not have to happen in your place of work.

It’s also important to remember that dealing with cancer can be completely overwhelming and when facts are being discussed they may be hard to remember – so again, having someone else in the room to take notes may be extremely beneficial.

Prepare for conversations

Employees with cancer are protected under the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales, and for those living in Northern Ireland, The Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It’s understandable that the employee with cancer will feel vulnerable but all employers have a duty of care and must not discriminate them in any way.

Arrange to have a second meeting as soon as possible after the initial talk. Before this meeting, it’s crucial to do as much preparation as possible, there are questions you must ask, and your employee will also have a lot of questions they want answering.

Questions to ask:

Be prepared to answer questions on:

Prepare for the unexpected

No illness goes to plan and there will be times when the employee is unable to work – no one can anticipate how the treatment will affect the employee. It may seem harsh planning for times when they are not in work but, in reality, the colleague will feel less stress knowing that they don’t have to worry about their role - we all know that this worry should be at the very bottom of the list.

During periods of absence, a manager must keep in touch, the conversation does not necessarily have to be work related, it can be a simple ‘how are you – is there anything we can do to help?’ Not having any contact will make the employee feel out of touch and possibly feel forgotten about.

Prepare for the return to work

These are ways you can prepare for the employee’s return to work to make it as smooth as possible:

We’re here to help

The HR professionals here at P3 People Management are available to you via telephone and email. We can guide you through this upsetting time and our objective will be to ensure you have the knowledge and confidence to deal with this sensitive matter to the best of your ability.

If you want more information, please get in touch by calling us on 0161 941 2426.


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