When an employee is diagnosed with cancer, employers are often concerned with how to best support the individual throughout treatment. Rights and responsibilities are important concerns for employers and employees as they navigate medical leave, job duties and other employment issues.
The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL) recently released new resources and reminded employers of existing guidelines regarding workers living with cancer, their caregivers, and cancer survivors. The newly compiled items are intended to highlight how involved parties can make use of their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These resources include:
- A fact sheet on taking FMLA leave from work when the employee or family member has a serious health condition: The fact sheet explains when a diagnosed mental or physical condition, such as cancer, meets FMLA criteria.
- An overview of workplace protections for individuals living with or impacted by cancer: A new webpage helps workers with cancer, their family members and cancer survivors understand federal and state worker protections and employer-provided benefits.
- A new guide for employees talking to their employers about taking time off for cancer-related leave: The guide offers practical advice for workers to have conversations with their employers about taking time off work to care for themselves or their loved ones. It is intended as a resource for workers to provide discussion points, words and phrases for potentially difficult conversations.
- Help for health care providers flyer: The flyer guides health care providers through FMLA rules concerning medical certifications. Medical professionals can reference its tenets to ensure patients’ and family caregivers’ employment is protected as they deal with serious health conditions, including cancer.
The DOL’s resources aim to ease the strain for workers when navigating FMLA benefits. For example, the DOL suggests that the employee ask the employer about available paid leave, as FMLA leave is unpaid. The DOL advises that if the employee does have available sick time, vacation time or other paid time off, the employer may or may not require that the employee use that leave time.
Although these resources were not specifically targeted to employers, they provide a wealth of information for employers to consider during the many stages of the FMLA process. Employers should review the information and consider updating related policies with the help of the human resources department and legal counsel. Additionally, providing hands-on training to front-line supervisors and managers will give them the opportunity to discuss ways in which to effectively and properly communicate with employees.
Training, in addition to flexible policies, will facilitate a solid understanding of both the employee and the employer rights and obligations. These efforts can help to foster mutual understanding and an empathetic work environment when those impacted by cancer need it most.
* This article first appeared in The Journal Record on March 17, 2023, and is reproduced with permission from the publisher.