Managing Cancer in the workplace: What to do when Cancer shows up


  • An estimated 4,500 new cases of cancer are reported every year in the UAE.
  • The burden of cancer in the UAE ranks as the second leading cause of non- communicable disease mortality in the country.
  • According to EU-OSHA, out of the 3.2 million cancer patients diagnosed each year in Europe, close to half are of working age.
  • In 2018, over 4.2 million people in Europe were diagnosed with cancer and projections show that this will increase to 5.2 million by 2040.

What do you do when the big “C” word shows up at work? Cancer showing up at work is “inevitable”, fortunately enough progressions in health such as early detection efforts through screenings, early- diagnosis and improved health coverage quality significantly contribute to reducing the number of cancer deaths. Studies show that 62% of patients of working age return to work within 12 months, while after 24 months this amounts to 89% of patients.

Employers need to be knowledgeable, compassionate, and readily equipped for “when” cancer does show up at work. Of the numerous chronic conditions, cancer has the highest prevalence of work loss. European Patients’ Forum, 2018 shows that the risk of losing a person’s job increases 1.4 times after a cancer diagnosis.

Most patients are highly motivated and eager to stay at or return to work. Despite employees’ desire to return to work, job loss is not always the patients’ decision.

Cancer patients and survivors are usually subject to workplace discrimination. This is the case when they are dismissed because of their cancer- related absenteeism or when they do not receive the necessary ‘reasonable accommodations’ upon their return to work, some of which include being able to gradually return to work by starting part-time, remote working, flexible working schedules, and time provisions medical appointments.

How to manage cancer in the workplace?

It goes without mention that the most successful accommodation programmes are multidisciplinary, i.e., incorporating both psycho-social and physical accommodations for affected parties.

Employers need to support their employees (patients, caregivers, and the patients’ colleagues) on this pathway.

Selecting and training the appropriate person who is empathic and takes responsibility for preparing all necessary documentation and support systems for a comprehensive and dedicated cancer policy is paramount.

Key takeaways from the implementation of a cancer policy:

Companies are made by their people and investing time in employees’ comfort is imperative. A comprehensive cancer policy must include a prevention plan, including healthy lifestyle, exercise and good work-life balance.  Employing simple human solutions that support cancer patients and caregivers on this pathway is ideal.

Main benefits of a cancer policy:

The right policy creates stronger bonds between employees, a positive workplace and boosts motivation and performance of employees. Additionally, job security benefits employees’ mental health. Ultimately, having a set of procedures enables the employer to be prepared for any situation.

I. Measures to adopt for employees diagnosed with cancer:

Offering sick employees support: physical, emotional, companionship and professional support to facilitate recovery

Guaranteeing the employees’ position during and after treatment

Adapting the job description and, if necessary, enabling the employees to change positions once they are ready to return to work

Ensuring longevity and sustenance of effort throughout their entire cancer journey

II. Supporting colleagues of a sick employee

With permission from the affected person, all their colleagues will be informed on a regular basis

Providing professional guidance and care support to colleagues to enable them support the patient

Promoting a healthy work-life balance and encouraging employees to adopt healthier lifestyles

III. Supporting employees who are caregivers of cancer patients

Offering flexible working hours and workload, to accommodate employees who accompany the affected family member to medical appointments and have to take up more home responsibilities

Offering psycho-social support

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