Recently, someone I knew, let’s call him George got very sick with cancer. The company and its employees were suitably shocked, as expected, but no-one really knew what to do or what actions to take as a result. George needed six months off work, immediately, to begin his treatment. The employer happily granted permission and weekly, a fruit bowl or bunch of flowers arrived from the office. Plus, his salary kept coming in full. Sounds ok doesn’t it? So why is this wrong? Well, there are a number of things:
- No one had a conversation with George to discover what the situation was (and more importantly what support he wanted and needed over the next 6 months)?
- There was no discussion about his return to work and how that might look. For people suffering with a potential terminal illness they want goals to look forward to and some sense of normalcy.
- The company never asked whether he had trauma insurance (which he did) which means that they could have saved themselves thousands of dollars in salary payments
- No one called George, or his wife, periodically to see how he was going or to give him an update on happenings in the office
So what are the legal obligations in this situation?
- Where someone is ill and this is supported by medical certificates you need to keep a role available for a return for six months, otherwise you are at risk of unfair dismissal.
- Do not bully an individual or single them out. Another person I know, who sadly is no longer with us, was told by his MD that he could no longer visit clients ‘as he might put them off’ as he had no hair and was obviously recovering from chemotherapy treatment.
- You can seek your own company medical assessment at your cost.
- Work with the employee’s medical team to work out when and how the individual might be able to be returned to work.
- Be supportive and proactive at all times but know that different employees will need different levels of support.
The sad reality is that serious illness is a part of life and if you are in business long enough and you have employees the chances are that you are going to have someone in your team get ill. Ensure that you provide them the support to get well as quickly as possible. Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it? Leave a comment below.