Managing Wellness

Supporting Employees With Oral Cancer Symptoms

  • This year, more than 1.73 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States alone
  • It's very possible that one of your colleagues may get diagnosed
  • If any of your team members want to continue working during cancer treatment, they may request accommodations to make their jobs easier to manage
Posted by August 11, 2018

This year, more than 1.73 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s very possible that one of your colleagues may get diagnosed—potentially with oral cancer.

If anyone within your organization experiences uncomfortable oral cancer symptoms at work, you’ll want to do what you can to support them during this stressful time. Here are four ways your company can play a supportive role while team members are going through treatment.

1. Help Employees Understand Their Rights

After a cancer diagnosis, your coworker’s head will likely be spinning with all of the things they need to do to begin treatment. You can help make dealing with their oral cancer symptoms (and concerns) easy to manage while at work.

First, it’s a good idea to inform them of any rights and protections they may have, such as those guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act, if they qualify. Next, make sure their private health information is protected, as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This means keeping their condition private.

If the employee chooses to tell their peers or supervisors that they are undergoing cancer treatment, that’s their right to share. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, “workers don’t even have to tell their employers if they are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease; they can simply report being ill and request time off to deal with it.”

2. Encourage Employees to Use Their Benefits

Assuming that your colleague alerted you to their oral cancer symptoms, it may be helpful to set up an appointment to review the benefits available to them. Both their health and dental insurance may cover potential procedures they’ll need.

If the employee is enrolled in long- or short-term disability, they may qualify to take some time off for cancer treatments. Other benefits—such as paid leave—should also be reviewed, so the team member can know exactly how much time they’re able to take off from work while still receiving income.

3. Update Old Policies

Does your company have a smoking policy? Is it enforced? It might be time to update your smoking policy and make your workplace a completely tobacco-free zone. Many older smoking policies do not address chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes or vaporizers, and need to be updated accordingly.

Similarly, if there is a specific smoking location on your organization’s grounds, make sure it is not located near any doors or windows. If it is, relocate it farther away. Secondhand smoke can be an annoyance to those dealing with cancer symptoms.

4. Accommodate Scheduling or Duty Requests

Even if your employee wants to continue working during treatment, they may request accommodations to make their jobs easier to manage. This may mean you’ll need to change some of their responsibilities or occasionally provide coverage to manage some of their tasks.

Don’t wait for your employee to ask you about making changes to their duties. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, as their needs may change over time.

The work-life balance of your coworkers is extremely important, so when one of your team members is suffering, you want to do all you can to provide a stable, healthy work environment for them. Taking the initiative to educate fellow employees—while updating policies and providing accommodations—is the best way you can support them through this difficult time.

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