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Q. I am an employer and one of my employees has just been diagnosed with cancer. I want to be helpful but am not sure what I should do.


The most important things you can do are to listen to the employee who discloses his or her cancer diagnosis and to offer workplace support. It is critical to let the employee who is living with cancer know about the ability of your workplace to make accommodations for his or her needs. The key message you as an employer can offer an employee is your willingness to work with them, if at all possible, to help them continue working as long as their doctor supports their decision to work and they are able to do the job.

The following are some tips that many employers find useful:

  • Know the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act and make that information available to supervisors and employees.
  • Create a workplace culture that allows flextime or other accommodations for cancer patients who can and wants to continue working.
  • Educate managers to deal sensitively with employees who have cancer so that they do not make assumptions about their ability to perform job duties.
  • Teach managers to maintain a dialogue with employees being treated for cancer so that adjustments in workload or work schedules can be anticipated.
  • Allow employees to decide if or how they would like coworkers to be informed of their illness and honor requests for confidentiality.
  • Work closely with your human resource department regarding employee benefits and resources.

You may also find CancerCare publications, covering a broad range of cancer-related topics, helpful. Our professional oncology social workers can also assist employees with cancer, their coworkers, and managers.

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