Each year, nearly 400,000 people learn that they have cancer. Among them, 40% have a professional activity at the time of the diagnosis. Labor law in no way obliges an employee to inform his hierarchy of his medical situation. For some, however, the question does not even arise: they will spontaneously inform their superiors. “I didn’t think for a moment of not saying what was happening to me, knowing that I was going to have to be away for a while,” says Sylvie. Talk about his fight with the crab? Obviously for this journalist. Not for all sufferers. Audrey, for example, preferred to keep it a secret. While she has been suffering from breast cancer since August 2020, “no one in (her) box is aware”. She even wears “long sleeves” to hide her arm, swollen with lymphedema.
Talk ? To shut up ? Difficult to always decide well. First, “there is the fear of evoking a taboo disease”, analyzes Thierry Breton, director general of Inca, the National Cancer Institute (1). Then, the dilemma between, on the one hand, the concern for transparency and loyalty towards one’s employer and, on the other, respect for privacy and not endangering one’s professional future. During his treatment, “the employee may indeed not be able to do his job as he was doing until then”, underlines Thierry Breton. Fatigue, concentration problems, the time to free up for medical appointments “shake up the daily routine. However, if the situation is not known to the employer, this can create a gap and misunderstandings”. However, the fear of being considered vulnerable or of being discriminated against persists, while the world of work expects you to perform well.
A deterioration of the professional situation
How to discern? “It’s normal to want to share the news. It’s such a shock in a lifetime. The main question to ask is to know – for cancer but for any type of serious or chronic disease, such as multiple sclerosis – if telling the truth will serve the person or not”, deciphers Léa Sgambati, occupational psychologist at the of the Cancer League. To clarify his reflection, “we can analyze his links with his employer, his team, his hierarchy. Is there trust or not? “, she explains.
Are we sure, in the event of a problem, that we are well protected? Cancer generates, in an employee, “a deterioration not only of health but also of his professional situation”, points out Thierry Breton. In 2018, 21% of people questioned for the 7th report of the Societal Cancer Observatory stated that they had experienced difficulties in pursuing their career after the announcement of their illness. Five years later, only a little more than half of people affected by cancer have kept the same job.
“If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t say anything about my illness, observes Florence, a teacher. I discovered that I was sick a few weeks before the start of the 2017 school year; I was well noted, appreciated by my superiors. Naively, I believed that the big family of national education was going to support me…” Error. “At the time of the announcement, I saw in the eyes of the colleagues that they saw me already dead. The college takes the lead in a radical way. “The website I hosted was shut down. Some of my classes have been taken away from me, supposedly to make me lighter. »
“Be something other than sick”
Because her colleagues, already overwhelmed, recover the hours that she cannot ensure, the teacher who was until then “unbreakable”, according to her colleagues, has the feeling of becoming “a burden”. “By guilt, I came to plan my operations during the holidays. ” A classic. Arrange meetings between noon and two. Put a day off here, one there. Take a micro-nap in the infirmary when there is one… Not revealing your pathology can turn into a balancing act. Six years later, Florence found a job, but lost status.
“To avoid any risk of being shelved, of having files taken away, etc., I advise you to find out if there have been any precedents in the company and how it happened for the employee. “Suggests Audrey, the one who said nothing. “The challenge for the years to come is for companies to be more aware of this type of problem, for them to commit to concrete steps to train managers in the outbreak of the disease in their teams”, hopes Thierry Breton, who recalls that there are specific devices, “unfortunately too little known”, for sick employees. “However, for those who can, maintaining or returning to work can be beneficial,” he says. For questions of income, but also because it allows employees to retain a sense of usefulness, not to be alone, to be something other than sick. We were able to see a benefit on the chances of recovery. »