3 Ways to Support Employees Dealing With Cancer

Imagine…Your employee comes to you with a devastating cancer diagnosis. Are you prepared for the questions and concerns that follow? Do you have resources readily available? In honor of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, encourage your organization to take inventory of your support systems and resources in place for employees dealing with cancer.

Be Prepared

It’s important to be in the know about your current policies, programs and coverages. An employee with a recent cancer diagnosis may come to you for details on your health insurance and prescription drug plans. Here are a couple other examples of questions employees might be asking:

  • What cancer treatments are covered? Any complementary treatments like acupuncture or chiropractic therapy?
  • Do any procedures require prior authorization?
  • Are my doctors in-network providers?
  • Are there any cost-sharing and out-of-pocket limits?
  • Does our organization currently offer cancer-specific or cancer advocacy programs?

A resource most employers have available to their employees is an employee assistance program (EAP) that can help point employees toward supportive programs and services; in 2020, 88% of employers were offering EAPs. Throughout their cancer battle, an employee may also need extended leave options or workplace accommodations to provide flexible scheduling. Some employees may even ask for assistance when delivering news of a severe illness to their supervisor or coworkers.

Listening Is Key

It’s important to keep in mind how your employees might be feeling during a traumatic, life-changing event. When an employee comes to you with a cancer diagnosis, refrain from sharing stories about personal experiences or giving advice; instead, support, encourage and listen. Use supportive statements like “I’m sorry you’re going through this” or “let me know how I can help.” While an employee is sharing their cancer diagnosis, showing your concern and interest is a vital part of the supportive process.

Provide the Right Resources

Like with any medical diagnosis, a treatment plan doesn’t always go according to schedule. Cancer treatments tend to vary depending on circumstances. The American Cancer Society notes that during treatment, schedule flexibility, workload modifications and leave options are common changes that may occur. Regular check-ins with employees are a simple way to show you care and stay connected throughout the duration of change. Establish weekly check-in times via virtual meetings to alleviate any schedule strains for the employee; this is helpful for Human Resources (HR) as well, as HR can help guide and adjust plans as needed. Cancer care doesn’t end after treatment, so it’s necessary to accommodate continued flexibility across workload and leave periods.

For more information, check out this handy tip sheet from the National Business Group on Health and the American Cancer Society.


Bella Fonseca
Marketing Communications Specialist at the International Foundation 

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