Tuesday, 09 April 2024 14:59

Navigating Terminal Illness Conversations

Confronting the reality of terminal illness is never easy, especially within the context of the workplace. Employers often find themselves in delicate positions, needing to address such sensitive matters with empathy, legality and professionalism. Whether an employee themselves is facing a terminal illness or their loved one is, these conversations demand careful handling.

Hearing news of a terminal diagnosis is probably the most difficult news someone can hear. Many people in that situation are in employment. CIPD research shows that just a third of UK organisations have support provisions in the workplace like specific policies, line manager training or awareness-raising information.

We have put together a guide on how you can navigate the most difficult conversation.

Legal obligations
A Terminal Illness (Rights and Support) Bill was introduced into Parliament in 2022. However, it remains a bill and little legislation concerning terminal illness in the workplace exists today.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employees have a legal disability providing the disability has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative impact on their day-to-day life. As a terminal illness progresses, people are more likely to meet this criterion.
Employers should be considerate when employees request time off in this situation. Employers could consider sick leave, special leave, annual leave and flexible working.

Workplace Culture
It’s imperative that you create an inclusive and supportive culture. We rarely speak about death and there is a natural stigma associated with death in our society. Employees who work in a compassionate environment are more likely to feel comfortable opening up about life changing events. This enables employers to offer appropriate support and consider the impact on the business.

Absence Leave
It is inevitable that an employee will take multiple absences from work. You should be sensitive and compassionate in your approach. Whilst they are off, you should arrange ‘keeping in touch’ conversations. Frequency and content of conversations will depend on the employee. Some might want to be kept up to date on work, others might not. All conversations should be empathetic and not focussed on the employee returning to work before they are ready. If the employee feels ready return, an effective return to work interview will ensure a smooth and sustainable return to work.

Effective Line Managers
The employer should promote good people management behaviours. Line managers are the first point of call for supporting employees’ health and wellbeing. Managers should be trained in the organisation’s framework and policies relating to health and wellbeing. They need to feel confident in having an empathetic conversation and understand how to maintain clear boundaries. Managing performance can be difficult for any line manager. Add in an illness that will undoubtedly affect the employee’s performance and it becomes a whole new situation.

Navigating the delicate situation of terminal illness within the workplace requires a holistic approach that integrates empathy, legality and professionalism. While legal frameworks like the Equality Act 2010 provide a foundation, current legislation remains somewhat limited. Nevertheless, employers have a moral obligation to support their employees facing such difficult circumstances. Overall, navigating conversations around terminal illness in the workplace requires a comprehensive and compassionate approach that respects the dignity and rights of the individual while also acknowledging the broader impact of the organisation.

At our next free HR and Employment Law update, we are joined by Clare Davis, CEO of Longfield Hospice who will be providing first hand insight into dealing with the most difficult conversation – terminal illness in the workplace. Click here to book your place/s now.

Read 774 times Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2024 15:22


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