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December 17, 2013
Employees with cancer: Tips and safety concerns

An Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention is a new online tool to help employers understand and address the impact of cancer in the workplace. Read on to learn why this is a timely development and how this document could help you and your employees.

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The guide was produced by the National Business Group on Health and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. According to Robert Jacob of Unum Insurance, there are more cancer survivors in the workplace than ever before. He notes a growing need for employers to have “a comprehensive approach in supporting employees as they deal with cancer treatment and recovery.”

The tool is available at It focuses on three key initiatives:

  • Return-to-work practices, including employer support for recovering employees to resume work in a safe and productive manner;
  • Expertise of specialists to help employees deal with the side effects of treatment and provide needed accommodations; and
  • Coordination of resources, including employee assistance programs to ensure effective management of employees on disability leave.

The content also addresses issues that include prevention, screening, and the direct and indirect costs related to cancer.

How can you support an employee recovering from cancer?

According to consultant and cancer survivor Margot Larson, many employees work through treatment with few or no accommodations, while others are debilitated for a period of time. She points to a number of physical and mental issues that can impact an employee. Among these are pain, fatigue, reduced energy and stamina, medication side effects, and the mental cloudiness known as chemo-brain.

Employers should make sure they have a full understanding of a returning worker’s abilities and limitations to ensure that safety is not compromised. For example, if physical stamina or strength is reduced, an employee may be at a greater risk of injury when performing physically demanding tasks. Depending on the situation, frequent rest breaks, modifying job responsibilities, or temporarily transferring the employee to a less strenuous assignment may be appropriate. If mental fogginess is an issue, the employee probably should not be responsible for operating heavy machinery or performing complex, safety-crucial tasks such as lockout/tagout operations until he or she is fully recovered.

Beyond understanding the effects of illness and treatment, employers can help employees by providing opportunities that help them and their coworkers get and stay well. One strategy is Active for Life, an online program created by the American Cancer Society (ACS), that encourages physical activity and healthy lifestyles.

The ACS cites research showing that people who increase their physical activity, improve their diet, and maintain a healthy weight reduce their risk of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  The society also offers programs to help employees quit smoking and lose weight. Learn more at

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