Fighting Cancer in the Workplace

Last Night, I had the honor of presenting the Wallace N. Johnson Citizenship Award to Governor Ruth Ann Minner at the New Castle Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner. The Governor, through the Delaware Cancer Consortium, has made fighting cancer a priority. As a result, Delaware’s cancer incidence rates are declining at four times the national average. Our death rate is declining at twice the national average.

While we are starting to turn the tide on cancer in Delaware, much remains to be done. Here are a couple of thoughts:

First, screening saves lives…and money. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better chance of survival. In fact, some screens can actually prevent a cancer from occurring. If that’s not enough to encourage screening, how about this? Early detected cancers are cheaper to treat. That’s what you call a win-win-win situation. As a result, employers should take an active role in encouraging their employees to get all appropriate cancer screenings. Have you thought about a floating screening day, so that employees can take off work to get a screen without losing pay?

Second, cancer happens. If your workplace hasn’t been touched by cancer yet, it will be. And, 80 percent of cancer survivors return to the workplace during or after treatment. Why not think about and plan for it now? Of course, you will have to meet your obligations under the FMLA and ADA, but there is so much more you can do. It all starts with talking with the employee with cancer. You should first discuss how much information they want to share with co-workers. Some employee will want to keep the diagnosis quiet while others will want to know everything they are going through with their co-workers. Next you can talk about what help do they need? Every employee will have different needs, but most will need some kind of help. For example, one may need meals cooked for her family. Another might need someone to watch his kids so that he can get treatment or just go to a movie. A human resources professional can help by organizing the workforce to meet an employee’s needs.

Third, knowledge is power. Most cancers are preventable. An employer can educate its workforce on simple ways to lower cancer risks like quitting smoking, exercising, using sun screen and eating healthy. Numerous non-profits, like the American Cancer Society, offer lunch time programs to provide such information.

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