Being an human resources professional, you can often find yourselves bogged down in day-to-day tasks with the same paperwork to fill out, the same meetings to attend, and the same people to talk with. While one can find themselves longing for a break in the routine, some breaks bring tasks that can be hard to bear. One of these more challenging situations is when an employee becomes terminally ill. This can feel like being dropped into uncharted territory if you don't have the proper preparation, but with an adequate plan you can help the employee feel your support and the support of the company as well as navigate new terrain of their own in balancing health and work amid what else is going on in their life.
Some of the main things you need to consider as the HR representative at your work are helping the employee to figure out work schedules and job responsibilities, maintaining the employee's privacy, providing adequate job protection, and addressing workplace liability (if the work environment/responsibilities contributed to the employee's condition), while maintaining a balance of being professional and supportive to the employee.
Hours and Duties
It's crucial to communicate with the employee or their family to know what plans the employee might have. Not all serious illnesses are fatal, and the employee might have the physical and intellectual capacity to continue with basic tasks during the illness. This may seem disrespectful but some people like to work on basic tasks from home during an illness to keep their mind positive and proactive, and to make some money to prevent the debt from piling up. This will help you understand the company's need as well.
Privacy and Workplace Support
Although we're all just employees, we're also people. When someone becomes terminally ill its important to remember this is most likely the hardest time of their life. It's in the best interest of the company to be as supportive as possible. Send flowers, positive messages, make them feel missed and appreciated. This can help develop a positive energy within the culture of the company knowing that if anything bad happens to an employee the company has their back. '
Protection from Unlawful Termination
When an employee becomes ill to the point where they can no longer perform their job duties they're protected by disability laws (ADA). As an HR professional it's in your best interest to know the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by memory. If your company breaks one of the rules in the act it can result in serious penalties that will cost more.
If the employee became ill because of the work environment it's critically important that the HR staff and management are all aware, and that they take immediate action. One common example is if an employee is diagnosed with mesothelioma you'll want to have the building inspected for asbestos immediately. You'll also want to have the other employees checked out. It can cost well into the millions if your work environment is making your employees very sick.
Professional Balance and Focus
The difficulty HR professionals will also have to deal with are internal. Other employees may struggle to keep focus during a time where a fellow co-worker is suffering. As HR professional you'll need to be sympathetic, at the same time the company must keep a focus or it can make the business not operate effectively, resulting in financial losses. Communication with management, and offering counseling can help.
It's never easy as an HR professional to hear an employee is terminally ill. It does happen in the work environment and you'll need to be prepared. Your employees become people when tragedy strikes. Be sure to always be respectful, and communicate effectively. It can save your company time and money if you do your job right.