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Helping Your Employees Return to Work After Cancer

You know the value of keeping a good employee. And, how that can improve morale and productivity for your whole organization.

Returning to work after cancer can be difficult. But with some planning and open discussion, you can make your employee’s return a success.

Cancer survivors want to get back to work

The ability to work is the 3rd most important life issue for cancer patients. That’s a far higher ranking than healthy people give to work.

That means cancer patients want to be productive. Here’s how you can help make that happen.

Make a plan together

Before your worker returns, have an open and honest talk. This will help you to understand any special needs or limitations.

Ask questions like:

  • What can we do to help you return?
  • How much do you want to share with coworkers?
  • Will you need extra time off, different tasks, a flexible schedule?
  • What do you expect for follow-up care?


Simple things you can do

You can help make the return to work a positive experience.

  • Allow time off for follow-up care
  • Encourage coworkers to be positive
  • Create a flexible schedule
  • Rethink work duties


Many companies find no-cost strategies that work

According to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease most companies help breast cancer survivors by:

  • Reducing work hours 85%
  • Allowing schedule flexibility 79%
  • Telecommuting 47%
  • Arranging rest breaks 62%
  • Assigning different work tasks 58%
  • Changing/modifying deadlines 60%
  • Permitting job sharing 28%


For most companies, it costs nothing to make these adjustments. A few had a one-time cost of less than $500.


Dealing with lingering side effects

It’s important to remember that the side effects of treatment may last longer than the treatment itself.
Marisa Weiss, M.D., founder of, says recovery time can equal the time between the initial “scare” and the last treatment. So if a woman found a lump in January and the last treatment was December, it may be another 11 months before she recovers fully.

Employees may struggle with many ongoing issues like fatigue, pain, depression, and functional or cognitive limits.
Suggest small changes, like making lists or using alarms to remember meetings or tasks.


Help employees make the most of their benefits

Your company may offer medical leave, short- or long-term disability insurance, or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Make sure they understand how to get the most from these benefits.
Employees may not realize you offer an EAP. So let them know. Many survivors find counseling helpful.


Know your legal responsibilities

There are state and federal laws that protect people with cancer. Your company may also have other policies in place.

It’s best to contact your company’s legal counsel for advice.

You also should understand two important federal laws:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to companies with 50 or more employees. It provides unpaid leave for serious health conditions for a limited time. It also protects the worker’s position while gone.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to companies with more than 15 employees. Cancer is qualified as a protected disability on a case-by-case basis. The ADA protects people from losing their jobs due to disability. It also sets guidelines about “reasonable accommodations” that allow workers to fulfill their job duties. This means workers can’t ask for things that cause “undue hardship” on the company.


Why it matters: 2 in 5 people will get cancer

The annual toll of cancer includes:


A win-win for you and your employees

Doing all you can to help an employee return to work after cancer treatment is the right thing to do.
It’s good for your company’s productivity, all your employees’ morale, and your returning worker’s overall well-being.