Accommodations can be the key to successfully managing an employee who has reported a cancer diagnosis. Accommodations are changes to an employee’s schedule, work environment, or duties to allow the employee to continue working. Accommodations should be considered and granted in conjunction with your company’s HR and medical departments (if available). Below are some options you might consider offering an employee with cancer.

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A PTO plan usually combines all of an employee's paid time off (sick leave, vacation, and personal leave) into one block of time, or bank, to be used as the employee sees fit. For example, if an employee originally received 5 sick, 10 vacation, and 5 personal days per year, under a PTO plan he or she might receive a bank of 20 days per year to use as he or she sees fit. Typically, before an employee can go on disability, he or she must use all vacation and sick time. One benefit of PTO plans is that the employee doesn't have to give a reason for taking off the days; he or she just manages a time-off account. The employee can use the time for treatment and recovery or to rest. PTO programs allow your workers to decide how much time to take for their various needs. For employers, PTO programs result in fewer unscheduled absences and improve employee morale. They also reduce tension between managers and employees and can lower overall costs.
Leave banks and pools are two types of leave sharing that are available at some companies. Both can help employees with cancer, who need more time off to deal with their illness but have used up their paid leave and cannot afford to take unpaid time-off. In both banks and pools, your workforce as a whole donates some of their paid leave to be used by employees who need it. Some programs allow the donation of vacation days but not sick leave, while others allow just the opposite. Other programs allow the donation of both. The main difference between banks and pools is that a bank is a program where employees “deposit” days off for anyone to use; pools are set up for donations to a particular person. With leave banks and/or pools your workforce can help keep valuable co-workers and participate in their recovery. These programs can also help the employer establish a caring, supportive environment that improves employee morale.
Flexible hours or “flex-time” refers to a work schedule in which the employee can choose when he or she works – provided the employee meets the expected number of hours and get the work done. Sometimes cancer treatment and its side effects can be worked around simply by shifting hours or important meetings to adjust for the employee’s treatment schedule, doctor’s appointments, and/or energy level. For example, since chemo patients often have trouble sleeping, consider a later schedule so they can sleep in. Flex-time benefits everyone by letting the employee work full time while varying the hours and workdays. The amount of flexibility might be modest – an occasional change of schedule on the day of an appointment – or it might be a temporary change to his or her regular schedule for a number of weeks.
During cancer treatment and recovery, an employee may need to work fewer hours. You and your employee will want to talk about his or her health needs, workload and schedule. It will be up to you to figure out the impact on your work group, and address it. Part-time work benefits employers and the employee by helping the employee contribute while providing the employee with time to take care of him/herself.
Depending on your employee’s duties, working from home full or part-time during cancer treatment may also be an option. Like flex-time, telecommuting can benefit everyone. It minimizes commute time and stress, giving the employee time to rest during the workday. It enables the employee to continue working full or part-time. Anything you can do to help your employees with cancer work from home will be valued. This might mean coming up with equipment that you can loan to them while they are working at home. You and the employee can also talk with your company’s Information Technology (IT) department to figure out what equipment is needed and how to give the employee access to the office systems, email and voicemail from home.
If some of an employee’s tasks can’t be done at different hours, part-time and/or from home, you might consider restructuring his or her job for more flexibility. You might also temporarily give such tasks to other employees, or change when and/or how a task is performed. For example, travel is difficult for people undergoing treatment. It can conflict with appointments and expose vulnerable patients to people to colds and other illnesses. In this case, you might consider meeting online or video conferencing. Job restructuring can benefit everyone by enabling the employee to maintain many of his or her core duties through treatment and recovery.
If an employee with cancer can no longer perform the basic functions of his or job, you may consider reassigning him or her to a different position in the company. Some employees find if comforting to know that moving to a less taxing position is an option.
At some point, your employee may need to take extended, unpaid time off. Leaves of absence enable employees to keep their employment status while taking time off for treatment and recovery. Generally such arrangements have a preset end-date to reduce your company’s exposure.