What Must You Do When Your Employee has Cancer?

Shawnee Love   •  
June 26, 2013

Finding out you have cancer is shocking, traumatic, scary and devastating.  By necessity, your focus narrows and your priorities reduce to one or two: self (getting well, taking care of yourself mentally and phyically), and family & friends (your support and help).

Finding out your employee has cancer is also shocking and traumatic (although nowhere near what the employe is feeling) but has the added worry of having to get work done and the confusion of what is right vs. what is required.

This blog is going to focus on what is required (i.e., by law) in Canada.  Fortunately, because it is grounded in legal precedent it is much more clear than what may be the “right” things to do which we will address next week.

Canadian Human rights laws say you can’t discriminate on the basis of a physical disability (which includes diseases like cancer) and you have a duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.  In practice, that means you will:

  • Encourage the employee go on leave to be treated,
  • Hold the job for the employee and continue all eligible benefits and perks while she goes through treatments, and
  • When the doctor says she is able to return (even on a modified basis), you will do your best to get her back to work.  (This return to work may be a gradual return to work (e.g., reduced hours until the person builds up stamina) or even some modification to the way the employee works or the tools used in order to accommodate new abilities (e.g., loss of use or reduction of capacity)).

No one plans to get cancer (or any dreaded disease) yet businesses should have a plan for what to do if an employee gets sick, because it happens. And if you have more than 2 employees, statistics say it will happen in your company (see below), so you might as well know what you will do before you are in the midst of it.


If you have any questions about handling a leave for your employee, we are here to help.