Advice on returning to work after cancer during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is an anxious time for everyone but especially for those who are going to be returning to work after cancer.

The two areas of concern for an individual returning to work following cancer are:

  • the effect on their immune system which leaves them more vulnerable to infection
  • and the effects of fatigue caused by the disease and treatment.

This could mean that anyone who is considered vulnerable may not be able to return to work, depending on the national Covid-19 guidance given at that time.

During the individual’s absence there should be meetings with their line manager at intervals deemed best for both parties and for the situation. If they can return to work because they are able to work from home (if required), these meetings should continue in order to support the individual through their return.

At key points it can be beneficial to involve other teams such as human resources and occupational health, as well as the occupational safety and health (OSH) practitioner. During the Covid-19 pandemic, these meetings will have to be virtual or by telephone and if the individual isn’t already set up to work from home, then consideration needs to be given as to whether it is possible to achieve this.

If the organisation has an OSH practitioner, they should be involved in completing an individual risk assessment. It should cover the period when the individual is having treatment as well as when they return to work and should cover the work tasks. It will need to be reviewed at intervals relevant to the situation and its requirements. This is to reflect the individual’s changing capabilities, fluctuations in some of the potential longer-term symptoms and the changing nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As well as this, the individual’s workload needs to be managed carefully to reduce any pressure points and physical tasks which may increase any fatigue the individual is already feeling.

IOSH commissioned some research, which aimed to address evidence gaps by understanding the health and safety implications of returning to work after cancer and identifying what employers can do to facilitate it and support good practice in dealing with health and safety issues.

The outputs from this research included a checklist for employers, sample risk assessments and case studies in various work environments which can be used by employers to support them in these circumstances.

The research identified seven top tips to help make the return to work after cancer easier for employees and employers. These are:

  1. Tailor your approach to the individual
  2. Keep in constant communication throughout
  3. Introduce a return-to-work policy, if you don’t already have one
  4. Risk-assess work tasks
  5. Try to reduce further risks, for example, the commute or meetings with clients
  6. Keep key people up-to-date
  7. Identify barriers to returning

This advice and guidance can be adapted easily for employers and employees to ensure a safe return to work after cancer during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Find out more about the research and resources here.