My employee has cancer

Cancer impacts young people and their ability to work in different ways. You, as their employer, can (and should) help them manage this challenging and often life-altering experience. Legally, discriminating against employees or job applicants with cancer is a big no-no. It's your duty to make changes to help them do their job or stay at work. But don't view this as an obligation - be the employer that goes the extra mile to make your workplace the best it can be.

Understanding the impact of cancer

My employee has recently been diagnosed. Will they need time off?

Treatment patterns vary from person to person. This means that the disruption that cancer causes to normal life – including work patterns – can differ. Some young people might be treated in a hospital near them. They might be able to go in and out for treatment and lead a more regular day to day life. Some will have to travel long distances to a specialist centre and  may have to stay in for long periods at a time.

Keep in regular contact and offer flexibility for hospital appointments. Once they have a better idea of what’s ahead, you can explore options with them for taking time off – or supporting them to continue working.

How will they be affected physically at work, either on treatment or afterwards?

The main treatments for cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Side effects of treatment can include:

  • feeling and being sick
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • breathlessness
  • pain
  • changes in mood
  • eating difficulties
  • reduced resistance to infection
  • hair loss
  • a limb amputation or scarring
  • other changes in physical appearance, such as changes in weight and swollen hands, face, ankles or feet.

It’s important not to assume an employee has recovered just because their hair has grown back or they’re no longer receiving hospital treatment as an inpatient. Young people may still experience muscle pain, fatigue or anxiety among other ‘late effects’.

Will they need emotional support at work?

Cancer treatment is challenging, isolating and deeply personal. Young people with cancer are likely to experience anxiety and depression, or even panic attacks. They might feel insecure about their work prospects or lack confidence to talk about their cancer.

They will need an employer who understands what they are up against and that their mental health should be given equal consideration alongside their physical needs.

Read more about the 'hidden costs' of cancer on young people's emotional and mental health

How can I help my employee?

In a nutshell?

Being a good employer to someone with cancer means demonstrating empathy and a willingness to support them, with policies to back this up. Make sure the person knows they can talk to you and that you'll listen. Check they know how to access any support available. This will create a positive working environment and helps to get the most out of all your employees.