You, Me and the Big C

Who was it that said, ‘cancer is a personal issue, not a professional one’? Well, I am going to beg to differ.

The harsh reality is that 1 in 2 of us will develop cancer at some point in our lives. That’s you, or me. Scary isn’t it? And significantly, around 750,000 of the 2 million people currently living with cancer are of working age, according to research by Macmillan; so I say that makes it a business issue!

The great news is that more people are surviving cancer than ever before, and they want to go back to their normal lives and work after their cancer diagnosis. Sadly however, as Liz Egan of cancer charity Macmillan argues “the private sector hasn’t quite caught up” with this new reality of survivorship rates.
The workplace landscape is fundamentally changing, as cancer becomes more like a chronic illness, it requires longer-term attention and treatment and appropriate support from employers as part of their duty of care to their employees.

So, the chances are, your workplace is going to have to deal with cancer sooner or later. Do you have up-to-date sickness and absence policies and practices in place to ensure that all employees diagnosed with cancer are treated fairly and appropriately? Do you have a cancer specific absence policy? Do you know what occupational health support you will need to provide employees with cancer?
Aside from the obvious and significant financial implications of supporting employees with cancer, there is a moral and ethical implication as well as a legal implication. Cancer is covered under the Equalities Act 2010, and therefore anyone diagnosed with Cancer should not be discriminated against in the workplace. Is your business ready and prepared to support your staff with the compassion and humanity they need at a time of the most incredible anxiety and fear? I suspect not. In my experience, most businesses are firefighting serious ill health as and when it comes along. And sadly, my experience of this, sits very close to home indeed.

You really need to be asking yourself and addressing these key questions:

• Do you know your obligations under the Equalities Act 2010 for cancer?
• Do you fully understand the risks and costs of a cancer diagnosis within your workforce?
• Have you got a clear plan for employee benefit provision in the event of a cancer diagnosis?
• Have you considered health screening as an employee benefit and as a means of managing your risk?
• Do you or your managers know how to handle and support a colleague or employee with a cancer diagnosis?
• Does your business have clear HR Policies and Procedures in place for the specific management of employees with cancer?
• Have you planned for the impact on staffing of cancer related absenteeism and have a contingency plan?
• Have you considered key person, income protection or medical health insurance?
• How would you like to be treated by your employer in the event of a cancer diagnosis?
• How could you make a positive difference to someone who has just received the worst news imaginable?

I get it. It’s not a comfortable subject to think about, yet alone talk out loud about. It makes it real. But rest assured, it is even worse to be the person getting the diagnosis or the loved one of someone who has received a cancer diagnosis. And that could be you or me
We, as employers, have our legal obligations. But more importantly, we have a moral and ethical obligation to get it right for our staff. And if we do get it right we can be sure not to worsen an already hellish experience and perhaps even provide a little welcome light at the end of the tunnel for our colleagues.

Do please contact me if you would like to discuss putting in place a compassionate and robust Cancer Policy for your business. It is the right thing to do.

I will be donating 5% of each piece of work I carry out related to this topic, in your name, to Cancer Research UK.