Supporting staff with cancer

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Cancer affects millions of Canadians, from those with the disease to the family and friends. How can employers support their staff through the struggle?

According to the Canadian Cancer more than 100,000 Canadians aged 20 to 69 will be diagnosed with cancer this year. The impact of that number resonates beyond just those diagnosed, so what can HR do to help support not just those who are diagnosed, but also the friends and family affected?

“It’s important to support people with cancer in the workplace on a whole number of levels,” Catlin Group HR Director Barbara Wilson said. “For the individual who has cancer I think it’s important psychologically that they work, but also financially.”

Wilson stresses that it’s not about forcing people to work, but from her experience post-diagnosis some people think their work options are limited or gone. And there are distinct advantages to employers in supporting staff through this difficult situations.

“In a hardnosed way, which I wouldn’t say is the first reason we’d do it, is that you’ve invested a lot of time and money in an individual and to lose that individual is an enormous loss for the organization, but there are lots of other softer benefits. For colleagues and managers, it’s important that they see that the company is there not just for the purpose of people working but to support people and help people at difficult times.”

Like so many other HR issues, communication is key. It’s easy to get wrapped up in tasks and deadlines, and to think that one staff member’s illness will throw the whole system out. But bandaid solutions such as temporary workers, changing patterns of work, and allowing staff to work from home can all keep such issues under control. Talk to the employee, managers and coworkers about what the best outcome is for all involved.

It’s also important to note that aside from the moral and economic benefits, cancer is included under the Human Rights Code as a disability so employers have a duty to accommodate until the point of undue hardship.

Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service manager Jan MacVinnie suggested employers looking for resources in their province or city can call the Society’s information line on 1 888 939 3333.

“There are also provincial  and community supports that can help a cancer patient and their family to cope,” MacVinnie said. “Other supports can be provided through an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), a union and a social worker at a hospital or cancer centre.”


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