Bereavement

Many people live for months or years after a diagnosis of incurable cancer. By law, an individual should be allowed to work for as long as they want, subject to medical advice and any health and safety concerns.

Many people with cancer choose to remain at work for as long as possible. In this case, the employer should make adjustments and do their best, within reason, to allow the person to keep working.

If the employee is gradually getting weaker, this can be difficult to manage. An occupational health adviser should be able to help.

Colleagues may also find this time upsetting. Let employees know about any counselling or employee assistance programme (EAP) that’s available. You can also suggest they call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 for support.

The person who is ill may also need advice about things like their pension or writing a will. Macmillan’s financial guidance service on the support line can also help with this.

If your employee is terminally ill

Many people live for months or years after a diagnosis of incurable cancer. By law, an individual should be allowed to work for as long as they want, subject to medical advice and any health and safety concerns.

Many people with cancer choose to remain at work for as long as possible. In this case, the employer should make adjustments and do their best, within reason, to allow the person to keep working.

If the employee is gradually getting weaker, this can be difficult to manage. An occupational health adviser should be able to help.

Colleagues may also find this time upsetting. Let employees know about any counselling or employee assistance programme (EAP) that’s available. You can also suggest they call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 for support.

The person who is ill may also need advice about things like their pension or writing a will. Macmillan’s financial guidance service on the support line can also help with this.


If your employee dies

If the person with cancer dies, as an employer you will be responsible for carrying out these practical steps:

  • Informing colleagues within the organisation.
  • Telling clients, customers and suppliers. This can prevent embarrassment and upset if they attempt to contact your colleague without knowing what has happened.
  • Assisting the family. There should be just one point of contact between the employer and the family. Normally this would be the line manager or someone in the HR department. Prompt action should be taken to settle financial matters such as remaining pay, pensions and insurance, and ensuring as far as possible that correspondence is not addressed to the person who has died.
  • Letting colleagues know about funeral arrangements. The family’s wishes must be respected in every way. Ask what kind of contact and involvement they want from people at work.
  • Returning belongings to the family. This should be done as soon as possible and with sensitivity.
  • Arranging the return of any employer property, such as computers or a company car. Be sensitive about when you do this.

Even if the team has known that a colleague is terminally ill, it can be extremely difficult to come to terms with their death. People will react differently and some team members will need your support, personally as well as professionally. This could be an exhausting time for you. Remember to look after your own needs and be aware of where you can get support from too.

You may want to think about ways to remember the person, perhaps by setting up a memorial, such as a garden or plaque.

If anyone at work needs someone to talk to, whether or not there is an in-house counselling service, they can contact us for emotional support. They can also contact Cruse Bereavement Care.

Managing bereavement

Showing how one manager handled the death of a colleague, the impact it had on the team, and advice from a bereavement counsellor.

About our cancer information videos

Managing bereavement

Showing how one manager handled the death of a colleague, the impact it had on the team, and advice from a bereavement counsellor.

About our cancer information videos

Back to If you're an employer

Policies and resources

If one of your employees has cancer or is caring for someone affected by cancer, we have information to help you support them.

Managing cancer in the workplace

In the UK, over 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer. Managers play a fundamental role in supporting employees affected by cancer.

How cancer affects people

Your employee’s ability to work may change after a cancer diagnosis. To support them, it’s helpful to understand how treatment may affect them.

How to talk about cancer at work

Although it may be difficult for your employee to discuss their cancer diagnosis, open communication may enable you to support them.

Time off for your employee

Some people with cancer will be able to continue to work, others will need time off. There are different options to manage absences.

Occupational health advice

Occupational health advisers can help employers assess whether a role needs to be adjusted in light of an employee’s health.

Supporting carers

Carers who need to look after a dependant are allowed to take emergency time off. They may also wish to request flexible working.

Legislation about work and cancer

In the UK, there are laws that protect employees with cancer from being treated unfairly in the workplace. This includes discrimination, harassment and victimisation.