Helping Your Employees Through A Cancer Crisis
By Kevin Munroe
Cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women at some point in their lifetime. The Department of Health reports over 1,000 new cases annually in Rockland County alone.
More than sixty percent of the nearly two million cancer patients diagnosed each year nationally are employees. Considering the gravity of the disease, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that patients run into a great deal of trouble regarding their careers. Plans change, priorities shift, and in the midst of this emotional turmoil, work tasks seem more challenging, and sometimes less important when you are fighting for your life.
There are laws in place that protect a person with cancer in the workplace, and every employer dealing with an ill employee should know them well – and be able to articulate what they are to that employee.
The number one concern for any cancer patient is to get healthy.
“The financial toll cancer takes on a patient can be devastating – and it can divert their focus away from getting healthy,” says Molly MacDonald, founder and CEO of breast cancer charity and nonprofit financial assistance fund that provides cost-of-living expenses to breast cancer patients, The Pink Fund
According to a survey of breast cancer patients conducted by the Pink Fund, 46 percent of respondents drained their savings accounts and 50 percent actually went into debt trying to pay for their treatment.
“Anyone going through treatment knows that by midday it’s sometimes impossible to function, said Elayne Cashtan, a 10 year survivor. “Add the responsibilities of a job to be able to pay your bills and the stress is enormous.”
There are laws in place that protect a person with cancer in the workplace, and every employer dealing with an ill employee should know them well – and be able to articulate what they are to that employee:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees against discrimination and requires employers to make accommodations.
- The Family Medical Leave Act which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, benefit-protected time off.
- Social Security Disability Insurance provides monthly payments to those who have worked for a sufficient amount of time who now have an illness that interfered with major life activities.
But what about the soft management skills that come into play? What can an employer do to make the employee feel they are valued and essential? And where can adjustments be made to support a person’s return to work?
“Employers need to understand that recovery takes time, said breast surgeon, Karen S. Karsif, a surgeon with Good Samaritan Hospital. “There has to be some sort of flexibility on the part of the employer to value the employee’s work enough to support them emotionally and provide avenues for them to have a successful return to work.”
Consider a phased-in return to work plan that can include everything from lighter duties, a flexible work schedule, extra breaks, time off for medical appointments and a part-time work at home schedule if possible.
Checking in with the employee on a regular basis to see if the plan is working and even offering outside advice and support for the employee through an employee assistance program (EAP) or cancer mentoring program, like Imerman Angels, will help keep your response and support in check.