McGill
You are here:   Cancer and Work Healthcare providers Returning to work/staying at work Key questions to guide a return to work plan

Key questions to guide a return to work plan


Now that the physician (after an assessment and discussion with the patient) feels that the patient is ready to return to work, they are ready to collaborate with the employer on writing a return to work plan. The following questions can help guide this process:

Time frame:

  • What is the anticipated start date for returning to work?
  • Is the employee returning gradually?
  • What is the projected end date of the return to work plan?
  • What weeks does this plan cover?
  • What days of the week will the employee work?
  • How many hours a day will the employee work?
  • What essential tasks and duties will the employee resume during this period?
  • What is the proposed schedule for resuming job tasks?

Restrictions and accommodations:

  • Are there any medical restrictions and limitations that the worker and employer need to adhere to?
  • Are the restrictions temporary or permanent?
  • If temporary, how long are the restrictions expected to last?
  • Are any work accommodations needed?
  • If so, what are the accommodations?
  • Why is each accommodation necessary?

Monitoring progress:

  • How and who will monitor the employee’s progress during the return to work process?
  • How will changes to the return to work plan be made if needed or required (for example, by regulations governing the workplace or profession)?

Encouraging patients to maintain contact with their workplace

Cancer survivors report and research shows that good relationships in the workplace are very important in helping with the return to work process. Good relationships can promote emotional and task-related support from co-workers, managers or supervisors. This support can help survivors negotiate the flexibility that they may need to stay at work successfully. You can encourage your patient to cultivate and maintain this support by encouraging them to stay in contact with their manager or supervisor and co-workers. Here are some ideas for patients on staying connected:

  • Attend holiday parties or summer barbeques
  • Go for lunch or coffee with co-workers
  • Keep the supervisor or manager up to date
  • Say that they are looking forward to and planning on coming back to work

You may want to talk about whether and how your patient wants to stay connected with co-workers, their supervisor or manager and other staff at work.
If your patient anticipates difficulties getting the supports they may need at work or faces interpersonal difficulties in the workplace, consider encouraging them to access:

Helping your patient decide who gets to know about their cancer

Deciding whether to tell people at work about their cancer is each survivor’s individual decision. From the start, know that disclosure about cancer is not required. For example, after returning to work following treatment, survivors may choose to say only that they had health issues to attend to. However, disclosing or not can have pros and cons. To learn more, read who gets to know: how to exercise your power of “disclosure.”