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How to deal with cancer in the workplace

The prognosis for many cancers is now good but being given the diagnosis is still probably one of the most frightening things that can happen to anyone.

Fortunately, the law recognises how devastating it is and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, protects any employee or worker diagnosed with cancer regardless of whether it’s terminal.

The protection extends from diagnosis to being told they are in remission or clear and also extends to, if appropriate, their carers.

Talking openly about cancer

People are becoming more open about talking about cancer, with recent publicity with stars such as comedy legend Stephen Fry and actor Ben Stiller talking publicly about their battles with prostate cancer.

Most business owners would not wish to discriminate they want to be supportive but just genuinely do not know how to respond. Naturally as well as sympathy for their employee they do wonder how this will impact on the business and the rest of the team.

Most of us don’t know how to respond when someone says the C word and we worry about saying the wrong thing, sometimes we say nothing at all which is worse.

How to respond if your employee tells you they have cancer

There are some simple things you can do to help both the business, the team and the individual and the first of these is to understand the diagnosis and the treatment plan.

  • Ask them if they want to talk about her cancer diagnosis and treatment and explain you want to support them during this difficult time.
  • Be willing to listen and let them lead the conversation
  • Ask how you can help and be specific with ideas. For example look at flexible work patterns that could accommodate hospital visits and chemotherapy, radiotherapy or alternative treatment sessions. Accept that they may need considerable time off and plan ways you can cover this.
  • Ask what reasonable adjustments are needed
  • Keep your conversations confidential but agree what information can be shared with the team
  • Try to maintain a normal office relationship

Where to get further advice and support

Charities such as Australian Cancer Research Foundation offer tremendous support and information for individuals and companies and of course, your local HR Dept is there to help.