How to support an employee diagnosed with cancer

4 February marked the 20th World Cancer Day. Established to raise awareness, clean up misconceptions and reduce stigma, there’s still a lot more work ahead of us. Together with legal firm DWF and specialised medical broker Medstar Insurance, OLAM participated in a panel discussion on how to support an employee with cancer. Here are 4 areas you can support a member of your team who’s been diagnosed with cancer.

The legal framework

At the time the UAE Labour Law Federal Law No 8 of 1980 (as amended) was written, cancer was not a common illness. Work has changed dramatically since then and it’s not surprising that no special provisions for long-term sick leave had been included in the law.

As such, the general sick leave outlined in Art. 83 of the UAE labour law applies also for patients diagnosed with cancer. Unless otherwise agreed, employees are only eligible for sick leave once they’ve completed their probation period and worked for an additional 3 months. In practice, most UAE based companies offer sick leave after 6 months of service.

Employees then become eligible for sick leave as follows:

  1. First 15 calendar days paid at 100%
  2. Next 30 calendar days paid at 50%
  3. Next 45 calendar days unpaid

Especially for critical illnesses, these sick leave entitlements may not be sufficient and companies can enhance their sick leave provisions. HR policies can grant extended sick leave periods with pay or without pay.

Should an employee have exhausted their sick leave entitlement, the company can legally terminate the employee based on Art. 85 of the UAE labour law. Although the law provides this option, organisations are advised to handle any terminations because of illness with extreme care, dignity and empathy.

Respect the employee’s privacy

Receiving the cancer diagnosis can be a highly emotional moment. The individual may feel overwhelmed, frightened and anxious. The reaction is different for every individual and everyone’s approach to sharing the news with their loved ones will be different.

Every year, there are 10 million new cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide. Yet, when your team members informs you about their diagnosis, it may also be overwhelming for you. Ask your employee how they like to be supported. They may not know the answer then, keep that in mind.

If your team member doesn’t want to talk about their illness, respect that. Don’t share their diagnosis with others inside and outside your organisation without the individual’s consent.

While meant in a positive way, organising fundraisers can have a detrimental effect on the individual. Their story may be abused for a PR campaign while the individual didn’t want to disclose their diagnosis to their own team or even outside the organisation.

Should the individual be okay of a fundraiser in their name, be aware that in the UAE funds can only be raised once the local authorities have approved it. Any fundraising or charitable collections can only be carried out in cooperation with a locally registered charity.

Arrange a meeting with the insurer

Cancer treatments are expensive and a patient needs to understand their coverage. You can help your employee by arranging a meeting with your medical insurer. During this meeting, the insurer should outline the coverage and the claims procedure. It’s vital for the employee to gain clarity of what’s covered and what is not. Financial worries shouldn’t be added to an already complex situation.

Due to the high cost of treatments, the company should arrange for direct billing. This way, the treatment facility sends the bills directly to the insurer and these two parties handle the payment themselves.

Under the pay and claim approach, an employee would need to pay substantial amounts which may be more than their earnings. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the employee to pay for their treatment.

Clarify with the insurer who their direct point of contact will be. Most insurers have a dedicated member of their team looking after assigned clients. Who will support the employee and help them complete the paper work? Will that person also be able to answer medical and treatment questions? Will the insurer or your organisation have a special support hotline or group where the employee could get counselling and support? Does your EAP (employee assistance programme) offer such services?

As the employer, take this opportunity to also review your medical cover. If the annual limits is low, discuss your options to increase it with your broker and/or your insurer. Potentially, you may have to wait until your renewal date.

In addition, review your life insurance coverage provided to your employees. You may also consider the option of providing critical illness cover if that’s not already included in your life insurance. Critical illness coverage is designed to ease the financial burden and given the different types, the short-listed policies need to be carefully reviewed for their fine print.

Offer flexible working options

While many elements may be outside the control of an employee, work can be their only normal place. For many employees with a cancer diagnosis, staying in their job gives them a sense of normality.

When the employee is choosing for treatment locally, the company can show its support by providing flexible working options.

If not already in place, allow for a flexible start and finish of the working day. The employee may use a later starting time or an earlier finish to schedule doctor’s appointments. Also, it gives them an option to still contribute to their team’s projects despite not feeling well.

Fatigue, nausea and vomiting are the most common side effects experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. These side effects may come within 1-5 days after the treatment. While employees may still want to work on those days, traditional 9-5 work in the office may be challenging. If you’re not offering working from home yet, consider it now – for those employees undergoing treatment or all employees alike.

Some individuals may prefer to receive treatment in their home country. When you’re meeting with the insurer, explore the coverage of your medical insurance in that country.

If possible, explore options for your employee to work from their home country. With technology like Microsoft Teams, Skype and Botim, there are numerous options to have face-to-face calls and stay in touch. Cloud technology also provides the ability to access files from anywhere in the world. Alternatively, review your leave policies and implement extended (unpaid) leave periods for the treatment of critical illnesses.

For employees working in shifts, you can look into creating shorter shifts to reduce the feeling of being exhausted. This lets the employee pursue an almost normal work day while having the opportunity to rest when they need to. Once your employee knows when they are feeling tired the most from their treatment, you can schedule that day as a regular off day.

In addition, you may consider a lighter work schedule for your employee. This may come in the form of working reduced working hours. It may also be around the physical work they are to complete. Your team member may not have the body strength to lift or handle heavy items. You can reassign them to a (temporarily) different team.

Organisations can differentiate themselves and become a true supporter for an employee in need.

Find out how you can implement a holistic support programme for your employees diagnosed with cancer. Contact us today.

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