With approximately 1.7 million new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society, cancer is a disease that has a substantial impact on today’s workforce. Unlike other medical conditions, there can be so many unknowns that accompany an employee’s diagnosis. Some employees may be able to work through their treatment while others may need a few weeks or months off to recuperate. These factors can vary based on the type of cancer an employee has, how an employee takes to his or her treatment, and other symptoms that may arise during or post treatment.

Many employers think they aren’t allowed to communicate with an employee during a disability leave. While it’s important to give an employee the space he or she needs to recuperate and not overstep any legal boundaries, communication between the two parties is important.

Simple questions about how the employee is doing and the type of support he or she anticipates needing when they return to work are useful to gauge the employee’s progress and help prepare for his or her return. It also can help make the employee feel valued to know that his or her employer is thinking of them during recovery. Your clients should be mindful not to ask questions about an employee’s medical condition — just keep the conversation focused on the support he or she may need when they return.

Being flexible and creative with workplace accommodations can be crucial for an employee’s recovery. Encourage your clients to ensure the employee has the necessary resources available during his or her recovery period at home and also at work, once the employee is able to return. Accommodations such as temporary job duties, a modified workstation or even frequent rest breaks are helpful to an employee who wants to return to work soon after his or her recovery.

Remind clients that even if an employee has returned to work, it does not necessarily mean he or she will be able to jump into a full workday. Clients may have to work with the employee’s supervisor or team to shift responsibilities, offer longer project deadlines and allow for flexible work hours to help accommodate the employee’s recovery.

Developing customized accommodations to meet the employee’s needs can help him or her feel confident returning to work, knowing their recovery process won’t be affected.

Be mindful of adverse symptoms
Once an employee returns to work, his or her recovery period may still be ongoing. Whether it’s going to physical therapy or doctors’ appointments, an employee may be balancing both physical and emotional effects from treatment.

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An employee may even experience adverse effects from other factors in his or her life that could lengthen their medical condition, preventing them from healing fully or returning to work. For example, after treatment, an employee may experience depression, feel overwhelmed by financial concerns or worried about family dynamics since their treatment.

These additional symptoms or stresses can impede an employee’s ability to return to work quickly. Keeping these factors in mind and thinking about accommodating the employee’s whole condition can help expedite their return-to-work timeline and enhance their productivity in the workplace. Your client’s disability carrier or employee assistance program can be great resources to help ensure that these concerns don’t become overwhelming or hinder an employee’s recovery.

Recovering from a cancer diagnosis can be difficult, but the better equipped your clients are to support an employee through this process, the better the outcome can be. Use these upcoming awareness months as an opportunity to reach out to clients and provide them with the resources they need to support their employees along their journey.

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Sandy Witt

Sandy Witt

Witt is a disability and productivity consultant with the Workplace Possibilities program at Standard Insurance Company.