Seven ways of supporting workers affected by terminal diseases

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Even minor ailments can cause a severe hassle and disturb your lifestyle to varying degrees. When it comes to terminal illnesses, the impact is tremendous and long-lasting.

Regardless of how small, a fraction of our population is affected by terminal illnesses every year. Society must facilitate them, especially when a workforce member suffers from a disease.

Every terminally ill employee deserves compassion and compensation from their employers; unfortunately, employers rarely address their concerns adequately.

It is already upsetting enough for one to deal with a terminal condition without worrying about work complications. Research shows that approximately 90,000 people of working age have cancer each year.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to look after the needs of your employees, and in the following ways, you can support workers who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses.

1.  Facilitate them with financial benefits

Someone with a terminal illness is likely to face financial distress and be overwhelmed with hospital bills. There are several different schemes employers can offer terminally ill employees; a critical illness cover, for instance, is an insurance policy that provides employees that have specific medical conditions with a tax-free sum of money.

You can also help them get access to trust funds. Some such trust funds are specific to circumstances like the asbestos trust funds facilitate workers diagnosed with mesothelioma – a terminal type of cancer that results after asbestos exposure.

Secondly, make sure that your occupational pension scheme considers your terminally ill employees’ condition. Most organizations have their own rules about ill-health retirement.

However, in most cases, employers provide their workers with a pension as soon as they are sick enough to be unable to come to work. Some also allow their workers to get retirement funds collectively as a tax-free lump if their life expectancy is less than a year.

The Equal Act of 2010 has mandated that employers adjust to the needs of their employees with disability, and terminal illness is one debilitating condition that falls in this category.

2. Avoid disability discrimination

Terminal illnesses can be significantly distressing for patients, and unfair treatment can add to this. Research shows that psychological distress is 16.5% prevalent in the general community, compared to 59.3% in specialist palliative care and 24.5% in cancer outpatients.

As an employer, you should ensure that your employees are not disturbed further by disability discrimination. Disability discrimination includes acts like harassment based on disability or bias against terminally ill employees when deciding pay, benefits, leaves, etc.

According to the ADA (Americans with Disability Amendments Act of 2010), it is illegal for employers to discriminate against disabled qualified individuals.

Although not all terminal illnesses can be classified as disabilities, this general rule is applicable everywhere, and you should adhere to it.

3. Clarify your sick pay policy

Different organizations have different sick pay policies. In most cases, ill leave begins with a period of fully-paid absence, gradually reducing sick pay until it ends entirely after a certain period, say 12 months.

However, in cases of terminal illnesses, you should consider giving an extension. If you have decided to accommodate your terminally ill employee in this way, communicate it clearly to them as soon as possible.

4. Modify job requirements and customize to assist them in whatever way possible

You can facilitate your terminally ill employee in several ways; if there is a shared printer, everyone uses collectively, arrange for a personal printer at the employee’s desk to limit the necessity to walk.

If their room is not on the ground floor, make adjustments, so they don’t have to exert themselves unnecessarily.

In providing such benefits to the ill employee, others will likely notice the change and feel discriminated against.

To avoid this feeling from developing into hostility, managers must communicate effectively with other employees but with the patient’s consent.

5. Be compassionate

Terminal illness is a rough ride, and a little compassion can be of tremendous help. In medicine, the practice relies significantly on dignity, respect, trust, and compassion.

Research shows that a lack of compassion can often worsen the situation and cause suffering. Your terminally ill employees are already going through a lot, and a few words of sympathy, a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on can alleviate their emotional suffering.

In addition to providing emotional support yourself, you can offer them an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

An EAP is designed to provide staff members with 24/7 access to confidential telephone helpline and face-to-face counseling support.

A research study showed that the most frequent unmet need for terminal cancer patients was the need for emotional support (51.7%). One of the reasons behind low functioning in these patients was an unmet need for emotional closeness.

6. Be flexible

Terminally ill employees are likely to have frequent medical appointments, rough days, lack of stamina, and feelings of loneliness. In case of deteriorating health, they need more time to rest and connect with their family.

Flexible work hours and work-from-home, occasional breaks and leaves, and reduced workload will be a blessing.

If you intend to make such adjustments for them, remember to keep them updated and informed.   

7. Know when it is time for them to stop working

Always be aware that there will come a time when your employee will have to stop working, and you should be prepared to deal with the situation.

Besides preparing to keep your company on its toes after the employee leaves, you should consider signposting them to available financial benefits.

When the time nears, discuss important issues like ill-health retirement and pension policies with them. Employers who genuinely care for their workers will also recommend or arrange for agencies to help with their matters, like writing a will.

Final words

Life-limiting and terminal illnesses can significantly impact one’s life and affect mental health. If any one of your employees is terminally ill, don’t chuck the discussion to another day; communicate openly and discuss ways in which you can accommodate them and alleviate some of their burdens.

If your company has such schemes, support them financially, prevent disability discrimination in the workplace, customize job demands and working conditions, and offer compassion. You might never know how much of an impact your care can have on their lives.

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