Worst things employers have said to employees dealing with cancer, according to RedArc

It is not an unreasonable expectation for an employee diagnosed with cancer to look to their employer for support, but according to RedArc, many employers handle the situation incredibly untactfully.

Every year, RedArc speaks to over 650 people with cancer – from the newly diagnosed through to those who are dealing with the longer-term consequences of the disease. Despite the high prevalence of cancer in the workplace, (there are over 900,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK*), RedArc’s nursing team continue to be shocked by the comments made by employers.

During the past year, RedArc logged the following statements, as reported by their employee patients:

  • “We may have to let you go as you are no longer able to carry out your duties.”
  • “Perhaps you should retire.”
  • “We may need to replace you as we can’t wait any longer for you to return.”
  • “You have had your treatment now and so should be fine.”
  • “We are unable to look at alternative work roles.”
  • “We need you to be back at work full-time, we are unable to accommodate short-time working.”
  • “Can you not come into work around your treatment appointments?”
  • “Mandatory training was not up to date due to your sickness.”
  • “How long will you be off?”

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc said: “It is employers’ rightful duty and responsibility to provide support for staff who are diagnosed with a critical illness, and that support starts with what an employer says and how they say it.

“Of course, not every employer will feel at ease having these potentially difficult conversations, and where this is the case, they may benefit from having access to specialists who can support both the individual employee as well as signpost to coaching, training and support for the line manager and HR team.”

Such support, can often be included within Private Medical Insurance, Group Risk products or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), and can be a great benefit to employees should they need it, including offering access to second medical opinions on a diagnosis or treatment programme; help in navigating and joining up NHS services and charities; additional therapies including reiki, osteopathy, acupuncture and psychotherapy; as well as a medically trained individual who is able to provide emotional support throughout the cancer journey, including how to manage difficult conversations with their employer.

Christine Husbands concluded: “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 also 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.”


World Cancer Awareness Day: Tuesday 4 February 2020