Worst things bosses have said to employees dealing with cancer

It’s not unreasonable for an employee diagnosed with cancer to look to their employer for assistance, but according to one support organisation, many employers handle the situation incredibly tactlessly. To coincide with World Cancer Awareness Day today, RedArc, which provides nurses for employees with serious or long-term health conditions, has issued a list of the worst things people with cancer reported hearing from their managers. Over the past year, its nurses logged statements such as, “Perhaps you should retire”, “You’ve had your treatment now, so you should be fine” and “How long will you be off?”

Other comments included: “We may need to replace you as we can’t wait any longer for you to return”, “We may have to let you go as you are no longer able to carry out your duties” and “Can you not come into work around your treatment appointments?”

Although cancer is automatically classed as a disability, some comments also suggested that employers were not seriously considering reasonable adjustments such as allowing the employee to return part-time or considering alternative roles.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A badly worded comment or poorly phrased question to one individual can quickly circulate around the office and cause damage to employee relations as a whole.[/perfectpullquote]

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc said: “In our experience, many people with cancer want to continue working, or get back to work as soon as they can. There can be many obstacles both physically and mentally for the employee and also limitations within the workplace. Managed well, the workplace can be a safe haven for those with, and recovering from, cancer: somewhere where they have a purpose and where they can get away from their health matters. Employers who understand this, take the time to appreciate and accommodate the issues and treat their staff with respect, understanding and support will be repaid in commitment and loyalty.

“Employers should also be aware that the opposite is true: inappropriate treatment or failure to accommodate an employee’s needs are also noted by the wider workforce, so a badly worded comment or poorly phrased question to one individual can quickly circulate around the office and cause damage to employee relations as a whole.”


Lack of support

In a separate announcement, GRiD, the industry body for the group risk industry, said one in three employers don’t offer any support for employees’ physical wellbeing. Given that changes to lifestyle can reduce the risk of cancer, it said such support can be an important way to prevent cancer developing in the first place. Yet only one in five of the 500 employers surveyed offer initiatives to encourage staff to be more active and only 14 percent offer training on specific areas such as smoking cessation, nutrition, fitness and lifestyle. It suggested support could be as simple as encouraging lunchtime walks and standing meetings to providing access to specialists to advise on nutrition and health.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, urged employers not to overlook prevention and early intervention, as “they play an incredibly important part in employers looking after the health and wellbeing of their staff”.

According to Working With Cancer, there are over 900,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK and this is expected to rise to 1,150,000 in the next decade.

Image by Colin Behrens