World Cancer Awareness Day: worst questions asked by employers

As today is World Cancer Awareness Day (04/02/20) workers have given their account of the worst things said by their employer following telling them of their diagnosis.

These statements were collated by RedArc, from employees who have just been diagnosed with cancer to those dealing with the long-term consequences of it.

Comments employees received from their boss were:

  • “We may have to let you go as you are no longer able to carry out your duties.”
  • “Perhaps you should retire.”
  • “We may need to replace you as we cannot wait any longer for you to return.”
  • “You have had your treatment and so should be fine.”
  • “We are unable to look at alternative work roles.”
  • “We need you to be back at work full-time, we are unable to accommodate short-time working.”
  • “Can you not come in to work around your treatment appointments.”
  • “Mandatory training was not up to date due to your sickness.”
  • “How long will you be off?”


Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc said:

It is employers’ rightful duty and responsibility to provide support for staff who are diagnosed with a critical illness, and that support starts with what an employer says and how they say it.

Of course, not every employer will feel at ease having these potentially difficult conversations, and where this is the case, they may benefit from having access to specialists who can support both the individual employee as well as signpost to coaching, training and support for the line manager and HR team.

In our experience, many people with cancer want to continue working, or get back to work as soon as they can. There can be many obstacles both physically and mentally for the employee and also limitations within the workplace. Managed well, the workplace can be a safe haven for those with, and recovering from, cancer: somewhere where they have a purpose and where they can get away from their health matters. Employers who understand this, take the time to appreciate and accommodate the issues and treat their staff with respect, understanding and support will be repaid in commitment and loyalty.

Employers should also be aware that the opposite is also true: inappropriate treatment or failure to accommodate an employee’s needs  are also noted by the wider workforce, so a badly worded comment or poorly phrased question to one individual can quickly circulate around the office and cause damage to employee relations as a whole.

This data was obtained by RedArc by speaking to over 650 employees suffering from cancer.

Group Risk Development (GRiD) research also found that 34 per cent of companies do not offer any support for the physical wellbeing of their staff.  As well as only 20 per cent of employers offering initiatives to encourage staff to be more active to improve their health, and 14 per cent offering training on specific areas such as smoking cessation, nutrition, fitness and lifestyle.





Darius is the editor of HRreview. He has previously worked as a finance reporter for the Daily Express. He studied his journalism masters at Press Association Training and graduated from the University of York with a degree in History.