Coffee with Komen – Perspecitves on Dealing with Cancer in the Workplace

Post Diagnosis: Now What?

Employee perspective by Brian T. Laskey, MNM SPHR

One of the toughest parts of a new breast cancer diagnosis, is deciding who to tell, and how soon to tell them. This is understandable. It’s a very personal and very tough situation; however, it’s important to share the information with your Human Resources department as quickly as possible. Know that your HR team will keep your diagnosis confidential, as that information is protected under HIPPA. They should not share specifics with anyone, and any communication they need to give your supervisor or manager will be done generally and will typically be referred to as a “FMLA event”.

Your HR team is going to be able to help you understand what steps need to be taken in order for you to both keep your position and get your treatment. You should approach them with a clear picture of what your treatment plan will be and what you need. Do you need 4-6 weeks off for surgery and recovery, or will you only be needing a day off every few weeks for treatments? The way these treatment plans are handled will be completely different. Be specific with your HR with what you will need, and if plans change (that’s ok!) keep them informed.

I Just Need Some Days off for Treatment…

Being in treatment and needing accommodations will typically mean that you would be able to work a modified schedule; this could be shortened hours, or a shortened work week. This is referred to as an Intermittent Leave. In order to qualify you’ll need to have some paperwork filled out by your physician.  The most common is going to be the “Certification for Employee’s Serious Health Condition”. These forms will allow your doctor to tell your employer when you need and how long you may need to be out. This is a vital step in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) process. You may also have additional paperwork needed in order to qualify for Short Term Disability (STD). As a general rule, FMLA will be 12 weeks of job protection, while STD will be income replacement and can vary in length and amount by employer.

I Have a Long-Term Treatment Need…

Should your treatment plan call for something that requires a longer-term leave, your physician can take you out of work on a Continuous Leave. Unlike an intermittent leave, you are taken out of work, and cannot return until your physician clears your return. The length of time of the job protection and paperwork requirements are all the same regardless of which type of leave you need.

But I Need Some More Help…

Your spouse or working children may also request time in order to care for your during treatment. Your physician would fill out forms for them as well. However, they will not typically qualify for income replacement, but simply job protection, and any time they use will count against the 12 weeks they would have should they need it for another issue. Care for a Spouse or Parent is protected under the Family Medical Leave Act, and they will be guaranteed time in order to care for you.

Your employer may also offer an Employee Assistance Program. This could take many forms, and could include counseling, help finding assistance in your community, or even assistance paying for treatment not covered under insurance. Your HR team will be able to give you more information on the programs your employer may offer.

I Can Get Back to Work…

When your doctor clears you to return to work, make sure you talk to your HR about what you might need in order to make that transition easier. Will you need to work a few short days to get your strength back up? Do you need to take extra brakes in order to stay hydrated, or take medication? Strong communication with your HR and documentation from your physician will ensure you get what you need.

As you go through this time, you may want to stay reserved and keep everything bottled up. You need to ensure you share information with your HR in order to get what you need, and what you are entitled to under the law.

*This is general information and is not intended to constitute legal or medical advice. Each employer is different. Please check with your Human Resources Department, and your employee handbook for company specifics.*

Making Your Workplace Cancer Friendly

Employer perspective by Sheri Alexander, president, employee benefits, Gregory & Appel Insurance

Many employers are now well-informed on the benefits of nurturing great company culture.  It contributes to a great employee experience which can lead to overall better performance.   The focus of developing a positive workplace experience is transforming to an all-encompassing view of employee wellbeing: physical, mental, civic, financial and spiritual.

As president of employee benefits at Gregory & Appel Insurance, I’ve seen how we help organizations implement these important wellness initiatives for their employees.  As a 15-year breast cancer survivor, I also understand what it is like to be an employee with a cancer diagnosis impacting my own wellbeing.  Through this experience, I can share what has helped shape our own company culture to support fellow employees with a cancer diagnosis.

  1. Make it genuine

The efforts that Gregory & Appel has taken to create a cancer-friendly workplace have all begun organically.  There was no “how-to-guide” that laid a foundation for our practices.  In fact, many contributions have come from our employees who took their own initiative, simply because they cared.

However, it is up to the employer to support, improve and nurture these initiatives after they are introduced.  The biggest strength Gregory & Appel has demonstrated has been to rally around fellow employees in a way that respects their wishes.

  1. Understand boundaries

Every individual’s diagnosis is unique.  As an employer, you must be aware and understand that each person’s needs and reaction to the disease will be different.  Some individuals with a cancer diagnosis do not want the first thing associated with them to be cancer and others simply may want to keep their diagnosis private.  It’s takes unselfish listening to ensure you are supporting them the way they want to be supported.

  1. When welcome, offer a support network

If an employee expresses a desire to receive support, a source of comfort can sometimes be from a fellow employee who is a cancer survivor.  In our office, employees who are cancer survivors have voluntarily stepped up to be a resource or mentor.  Of course, this is always done with permission only, and should be voluntarily.

Not to be overlooked are small acts of kindness.  For example, employees can coordinate meal trains for family of survivors who are recovering from surgery.  These small actions can help take one more worry away.

  1. Create cancer awareness among all employees

Awareness is a crucial part of making any workplace cancer-friendly.  We’ve made it part of who we are as a company.  That’s why we support cancer research organizations such as Susan G. Komen Central Indiana.  We even offer wellness program incentives to help encourage employees to participate in events such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

If we can encourage and unite employees to come together to support Race for the Cure, we are spreading a vital message about cancer awareness.

  1. Make access to resources easier

We’ve instituted biometric screenings that have helped serve as early detectors of factors that could increase the likelihood of cancer.  If we can bring individual awareness to one’s wellbeing, it could possibly help save a life.

Additionally, we bring a mobile mammogram unit to Gregory & Appel every year.  We can heighten cancer awareness among our employees, but ultimately, we are a better employer by providing the resources our employees need to be as proactive about their health as possible.