Ep 158 – Supporting Your Employees When There’s a Cancer Diagnosis

supporting your employees when there's a cancer diagnosis

According to research by the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. And this number is growing which makes the subject of cancer in the workplace a more common one. I’m not just talking about benefit plan negotiations but the support, resources, and information can provide your employees in the event that a coworking, themselves or a family member is impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Episode 158: Supporting Your Employees When There’s a Cancer Diagnosis with Ann Fry (@AnnFry)

Today, I’m joined by Ann Fry. Ann is an executive leadership coach and workplace crisis consultant. I’m also delighted to call her my friend. Ann is a clinically trained social worker who uses her experience to provide leadership coaching as well as in her workplace crisis consulting.

Ann first discovered the need for helping support leaders, their employees, and families in this way after receiving her own cancer diagnosis. She quickly realized that business leaders and workplaces aren’t equipped with the training and support beyond wellness programs and employee assistance programs to support the individual employee.

Providing Employee Support for Cancer and Severe Medical Diagnosis

This podcast topic is a somber one, however, having experienced this in my HR career first hand, I recognize a need for more of these conversations exist especially when you consider the growing number of people who are impacted by not just a cancer diagnosis but any severe illness.

Ann says that the reality is when most people when receiving a diagnosis for themselves or a loved one they come in and talk to their boss. Often bosses and leaders are uncomfortable with the conversation and don’t know what to say. She says that the leaders push those conversations off to HR. Part of what Ann likes to do is get involved in helping leadership be more comfortable being more sensitive so that when someone who works for them comes to them they can have conversations. The focus is on providing support for the employee and making them feel comfortable in a way that is unique to their specific needs.

When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, employees need someone who's empathetic & can genuinely have an understanding & compassionate conversation. - @annfry #podcast #leadership Click To Tweet

I think that may HR leaders may be concerned about things like HIPAA when it comes to the sharing of medical information. However, when an employee chooses to disclose a diagnosis Ann says that HR and leadership should talk to the employee and discuss on how and if they want it to be shared as well as the way in which they want to be supported by peers, leadership and their direct manager. This information is longer a HIPAA issue, however, managers should work with the employee to discuss how, when, and with you to share the diagnosis.

Sometimes this comes in the form of a flexible schedule, staying positive, checking in, or hosting a meal train for the family. Each situation is different just like the person’s fight against cancer and journey.


This topic is extremely important as Ann mentioned. It’s not just about wellness but about supporting our employees throughout their career with us. The truth is that our personal lives bleed over into our workplace ones and that is especially true when it comes to a serious illness or diagnosis like cancer not just for ourselves but our family and friends.

I’ll never forget the feeling I had as an HR professional talking through my employee and his wife about the options for his life insurance and how he could file a claim once it was determined his cancer was terminal. I carry that memory and the call when he passed. We need to be thinking about the different ways we can provide our employees support in all areas of their lives.

Connect with Ann Fry.


Cancer Statistics from the National Cancer Institute

The Role of HIPAA Laws for Employers and HR

Information on Serious, Chronic or Terminal Illnesses from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America

How to Handle a Chronic Illness at Work

What to Say and Do When a Coworker Has Cancer

Serious Illness: The Things People Say

How to Subscribe to the Workology Podcast

You can also click here to find out how to be a guest on the Workology Podcast.

*A special thank you to my production team at Total Picture Radio.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Sara Vallazza says

    Thank you for the information. Once the Podcast is over, what is the next step? How do we get credit?


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