5th February 2025
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An employer’s duty when staff returns after a cancer diagnosis

Bertrand Stern-Gillet, CEO at Health Assured, the UK and Ireland’s largest EAP provider, explains that returning to work for the first time following treatment for cancer can be daunting, so it’s vital to have support in place to help...

King Charles returned to public duties recently for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer in February, visiting patients and staff at a cancer unit at University College Hospital in London. His visit came the same day as it was announced he will be the new patron for Cancer Research UK, as he looks to raise awareness of early cancer diagnosis and get back to more of his regular duties.

Being diagnosed with cancer is a shock; life as the person knows it changes in a flash. Suddenly your days are full of medical appointments, gruelling treatment, and difficult conversations with everyone around. Some people work throughout this time while others will take an extended amount of time off to recuperate, depending on the type of treatment they receive.

It’s vital that employers offer the right support to employees at this difficult time, as the last thing anyone wants to have to worry about, on top of everything they’re already dealing with, is job security. Cancer is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which means there are certain protections in place from the moment of diagnosis until the end of a person’s life, even when they have completed treated and are clear of the disease.  So failing to put the right measures in place to support an employee returning to work following cancer treatment could land you in employment tribunal.

The first day back will always be the most nerve-wracking. Ensuring that the employee is eased back into their role is key.

Hold a return-to-work meeting to find out what they are and aren’t able to do, identify any adjustments to their role or working environment, and update them on any changes that have happened in the business whilst they have been absent. Remember some forms of cancer treatment can leave people more vulnerable to infection, so make sure everything is put in place before they return to work.

Review your existing policies and procedures to ensure that they are fit for purpose and put any health & safety adjustments in place. If there are any changes that need to be made, make sure you consult with the employee. 

Don’t assume what someone needs. Everyone will have a different diagnosis, prognosis, and way of coping. So talk to your employee and find out what will be most helpful for them. Some people may be very open about their diagnosis, others will prefer to keep things private and not want colleagues to know.

As well as the gruelling physical effects, the mental toll that cancer takes on people should not be underestimated. Often, this can be longer-lasting and more difficult than the physical effects.

Having an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place to offer professional mental well-being support during this time is beneficial for all parties, including family members, due to the specialised and complicated nature of a cancer diagnosis.

Schedule 121 introductory meetings with any new starters as well as catch up meetings with existing employees. This is a good way to gently ease them into the swing of things again. Make sure their workload is manageable, they are comfortable and able to adjust back into the workplace easily.

While most people will be keen to get back to their daily lives as quickly as possible, this is likely to be a stressful time. Schedule regular catchup meetings to make sure everything is ok and help you minimise any risks to their continued recovery.


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