Making a Workplace Transitions Plan is the key to successfully managing employees touched by cancer. The process is a joint effort between the diagnosed or caregiving employee, you, and often HR (Human Resources). To make it work you’ll need to talk about the details openly and honestly. And, you may need to make changes if treatment does not go as expected. Below are step-by-step suggestions for creating a Workplace Transition plan with an employee with cancer. Consider which ones may be right for your situation. Talk to HR and/or your company's disability management group about what your company may be able to do.
  1. Prepare by learning about your role, the law and accommodations
  2. Go over coverage, benefits and policies 
  3. Review your employee’s current responsibilities 
  4. Ask your employee for ideas 
  5. Assign a point person 
  6. Put the Plan in writing 
  7. Communicate with the team 
  8. Keep the employee engaged.
Before meeting with an employee to discuss a Workplace Transitions plan, you may want to refer the employee to a company benefits specialist (if available), or brush up on sick leave benefits, insurance coverage, and short-term disability programs offered by your company and/or state. Also, review with your HR department your employee’s job description, and any laws, company policies and/or company precedents relating to accommodations. Learn more about ways to accommodate the employee with cancer, including: Paid Time Off,  Leave Sharing, Flexible Hours, Part-Time Work, Telecommuting,  Job Restructuring, Reassignment, Leaves of Absence, and  Other Accommodations.
Insurance and benefits issues can cause the employee with cancer worry, confusion and stress. You can help lessen the stress with information: Refer the employee to a company benefits specialist (if available), or review with your employee the available benefits and coverage, and your company’s policies. Get specific. For example, let the employee know whether your company’s insurance plan covers all medical expenses or a portion, and other details. If you have an insurance specialist available, give your employee the contact information. Try to talk in simple language when discussing issues like insurance and disability. Remember that the person you are talking to probably does not deal with these terms every day.  For instance, this may be the first time he or she has ever considered short-term disability.
Have your employee review his or her current responsibilities with you, including the details of each project or each client so you know exactly what work needs to be done. Discuss which tasks the employee can complete before treatment begins, which he or she will maintain, and which may need to be shifted during treatment and recovery.
The best way to handle any schedule changes or time off is to work with your employee to come up with ideas. Talk about what accommodations may make sense given the employee’s health needs and duties. Ask your employee how he or she thinks the work might be handled. For example, if you plan to shift a task, talk about whether it should be given to another employee, outsourced in some way, postponed, or put on hold. Share employee-oriented resources with them like Cancer and Careers.
Your employee may find it helpful to have a main point of contact for job-related matters. A point person doesn't have to do the same exact job as your employee, but he or she should be someone you and your employee trust. If and when you and your employee have chosen a point person: Have your employee go over each project or each client with the point person, so everyone knows what to expect. Make sure your employee shares their system for keeping track of information and tasks. Make sure the point person has access to all mail for the absent employee. Establish a way to contact the employee when something needs immediate attention, and there is no one else who can handle the issue.
A written plan ensures that everyone has the same expectations. This can reduce stress for the employee with cancer and free them up to focus on recovering.
Remember the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires that you not disclose your employee’s health status to the team unless he or she has given you clear permission to do so. Once you have a plan and the employee's permission, let the employee’s work group know the hours and days the employee will be working at home or in the office. Also, let co-workers and clients know who the point person is, and how best to contact him or her.
Decide with your employee how and when you and other team members will be in touch. If possible, keep up with regular meetings and training, either live or by conference call. Remember, employees with cancer need to feel included and valued, and coworkers need to know that the job is getting done. Here are some suggestions: Have daily or weekly email wrap-ups or phone calls. Create an online document-sharing program so everyone can keep up-to-date on project progress. Make sure the employee stays visible by attending – when possible – face-to-face meetings, social activities and committees. Please note: These types of communications should not occur if the employee is out on disability leave. Communications should only happen if the employee is working a part-time, telecommuting or flexible schedule. You may also want to watch for “job creep.” There is a danger with flexible, part-time or off-site work situations that the employee may end up overworking. It’s easy to let boundaries blur when working at home. It is also common for an employee to feel that absence or flex-time is letting down coworkers and to overcompensate. Clear communication can help avoid job creep and overwork, which may cause health setbacks.

Returning to full-time work can be an adjustment for the employee and his or her co-workers – even if the employee was out for a short period. Some workers will be eager to get back to their routine after cancer, while others will be nervous about facing co-workers, and unsure if they're up to the job. To make the transition easier, communicate with your employee before the scheduled return date. Discuss any needed accommodations with the employee, HR and – if necessary – other workers who might be affected. Most organizations have experience with people returning to work after having a child or taking disability leave. Check with HR to see what arrangements have been made in the past.
Workplan Template