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Being A Cancer-Proactive Employer Improves Productivity

Statistics almost guarantee that some of your employees will face cancer at some point, but you can help lessen its effects.

Being A Cancer-Proactive Employer Improves Productivity

By Mark Swartz


About 185,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year. With innovative medicines and technologies, mortality rates for this malady have slowly declined since the ‘90’s. Employers can play a part in further improving these statistics.

Since two out of five people will be directly affected by cancer, it is bound to be a factor in your workplace. Yet there are steps you can take to reduce its incidence and blunt the impact.


Conduct A Confidential “Health Risk Assessment” Survey

Being proactive about cancer starts with knowing your employees. Conducting a confidential survey can identify health risks within your company. It can inform you of the desire to change unhealthy behaviours as well.

This information is an aid in creating a targeted wellness program that mitigates risks of cancer and other lifestyle related diseases.

Help Employees Get Screened

Early detection of tumours makes a difference in how invasive the treatment might be. Treatment severity affects the productivity of a worker with cancer, and their coworkers who have to deal with resulting absenteeism.


The positive outcomes of early screening and detection can only be realized if individuals are
aware of what’s available. Many provinces offer free screening programs for several types of cancer. Some agencies provide mobile screening services that come to the workplace.


Boost Awareness Re: Prevention and Signs of Cancer

Employees need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of “the big C.” They should also know about modifiable risk factors that can reduce susceptibility.

Provincial cancer agencies, the Canadian Cancer Society and related groups offer public awareness-raising campaigns, often through regional offices. All are receptive to partnering with employers.

Organizing the above activities does take time and effort. But if it helps avoid having to deal with even one long term illness – or worse, cope with an employee death – isn’t it worth it?


Absence And Disability Management

Employers can play a key role in keeping an employee at work during their cancer treatment. They also influence how and when an employee returns to work following an absence. Manulife Financial’s “ROI of One Life: Cancer” discusses this.

These days treatment may not require a complete absence. Many diagnosed employees may remain in the workplace, depending on their capabilities.

While the diagnosis and treatment plans are determined by medical specialists, “employers can provide the comfort and assurance to their employees that alternate work arrangements can be considered.”

Having a back-to-work program in place is vital. It should encompass such elements as job retraining, physical accommodation, flexible schedules and graduated-return workloads.


Be Mindful Of Labour Laws

It’s not only cruel to terminate employees when they are seriously ill, it may be illegal too. Consult an employment lawyer before firing an employee when they have cancer. You could be liable for Human Rights penalties and get sued for wrongful dismissal.

There is also a duty to accommodate up to the point of employer hardship. This needs to be addressed on an individual basis.


Provide A List Of Reliable Resources

Part of the role an employer can play is to provide links to Canada’s cancer fighting community. Here are some dependable ones to get you started.


Canadian Cancer Society: cancer.ca

  • Educational materials and workplace support opportunities available through regional offices


Campaign to Control Cancer: controlcancer.ca

  • A coalition of more than 70 cancer organizations
  • Seeking workplaces to join campaign to increase cancer screenings in all provinces, launched in partnership with GE Canada


Let’s F Cancer: letsfcancer.com

  • Patient advocacy, focusing on prevention and early detection by mobilizing "Gen Y" to educate parents


Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation: cbcf.org

  • Educational materials and workplace support opportunities available through regional offices


Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada: colorectal-cancer.ca

  • The association's “Giant Colon Tour” is available for bookings by community groups, including employers.
  • It is also developing a “train-the-trainer” program that can be used by employers


Canadian Partnership Against Cancer: partnershipagainstcancer.ca

  • Federally funded agency to guide the implementation of Canada's cancer control strategy, working with public sector and private-sector cancer organizations