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.

Increase employee engagement with personalised total rewards

For decades, rewards programmes in the Middle East were relatively straightforward. Salary packages consisted of basic salary, housing allowance and transportation allowance. Many organisations provided an annual leave ticket and health insurance as benefits. Companies differentiated between employees on a single or family status, where, in the latter case, dependents were also covered. Despite this, compensation and benefits approaches followed a rigid one-size-fits-all approach.

These days, companies are recognising the need to modernise their total rewards programmes. While other HR areas have evolved, most total rewards programmes remained inflexible, focusing on experience and company seniority. They seem to have forgotten the employee. Leading companies are consequently transitioning to a personalised total rewards experience.

The benefits

As more studies are conducted in this area, the evidence is also supporting the move towards personalised total rewards. Paid back in higher employee engagement and increased business results, both the employee and the organisation benefit from personalising total rewards.

Payscale found that employees who do not understand the pay process are 60 percent more likely to leave the organisation. (Dave Smith, “Most people have no idea whether they’re paid fairly,” Harvard Business Review, December 2015.) Can your organisation afford this?

Companies have 27% fewer regrettable new hires in the first year, according to Willis Towers Watson. Deloitte also found organisations with highly engaged employee experiences have a 2.3x greater than average 3-year-revenue growth.

Understand what your employees value

While organisations may have the best intentions when creating or reviewing benefit plans, employees may have a very different perception. Moving towards a more diverse workforce with part-time employees, contract and project staff and a multi-generational workforce, employees have different needs. Companies may wish to segment their employee groups further, e.g. critical roles, highly sought after skills and high potential employees.

To learn more about their employees, companies shouldn’t just rely on the anecdotal stories from line managers. Employee surveys can give deeper insights into what employees need and value.

Wen Wan, director of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson, confirms “any initiative aimed at improving the total rewards experience must take into consideration what employees value most and how those preferences differ by employee segment.”

Total rewards and HR teams can analyse the data, identify recommendations for the most relevant programmes for employees and build tailor made programmes for the different employee groups.

Consider the various TR components

A few years ago, leading companies in this region moved from providing numerous separate allowances to one consolidated allowance. This was to simplify the administration process and to educate employees about the total package approach. Employees are ultimately responsible for how they spend (or save) their salary.

Despite an apparent still fixed approach to total rewards, 12.8% of companies participating in Informa’s 2019 Compensation and Benefits Employer Survey have already implemented flexible benefits. A further 22.9% of participants are considering introducing flexible benefits.


While many organisations have moved from fixed grade and step salaries, broader salary ranges give line managers more flexibility in deciding an employee’s pay. They can define the basic salary based on the criticality of the role, possession of skills critical to future success or, at the time of a salary review, achievement of team goals.


Companies can offer more flexibility to employees when it comes to benefits. In the UAE, Mercer at its post-TRS survey meeting identified medical insurance, dental and optical insurance, life insurance, and annual leave as four components ripe for flexibility. Employees can swap these at one time during the year (i.e. at renewal date), reducing the concern of increased administration.


Rising healthcare costs are a global issue. It’s not just the cost for medical appointments and prescriptions. 1 in 5 absences at work is due to workplace stress. The Global Wellness Institute calculated the cost of ill-being as high as 12% of the United States’ GDP. Companies need to realise the importance of well-being and make it a priority.

Even though wellbeing programmes need a holistic approach, organisations can start with purpose-driven activities for their staff. Linked to their industry, companies can emphasise specific initiatives. For example, pharmaceutical companies can focus physical wellbeing while financial institutions financial wellbeing.

Flexible working

In direct conjunction to wellbeing, employees are craving for more flexibility at work and a better work-life balance or integration. Businesses can review their working arrangements. Core working hours with a flexible start/finish and working from home can be implemented without a lot of bureaucracy. Leading companies offer working from other offices for a longer period (e.g. over the summer), allowing employees to strengthen relationships with colleagues in other locations and possibly combining this time with their annual leave.


Instead of waiting for the year-end performance review, more organisations are offering frequent performance check ins. While bonus payments are still only at the end of the year, line managers can use recognition programmes to acknowledge their staff’s performance. Monetary awards like cash and gift cards may be given. More research has found that non-financial recognition (e.g. dining experiences, social recognition) contributes to an individual’s happiness and has a longer lasting impact.

Utilise data and technology

For most organisations, flexibility stops with their IT systems. The administrative burden is too much to provide their employees with the flexibility they so desire.

Total rewards and HR teams should review their current procedures and streamline operations to optimise their internal and external resources. The region remains split on HR technology. While 31.9% of the participating companies in Informa’s 2019 survey will stick to excel programmes for data analysis, 44.7% of participants invested in technology compared to 2018.

By using technology, organisations can support their employees to make informed decisions and create an employee grade experience, which is characterised by its simple, convenient and personalised nature. Intuitive self-service at the push of a button provides the easy usage employees are looking for. Total rewards and HR teams can tailor their communication and education for employees according to the individual’s interests and needs.

Measure the cost and impact of your programmes

As with any other programme, total rewards and HR teams need to track and measure their personalised total rewards programmes. Business leaders will be interested in the financial costs and the non-financial impact. The financial costs may be kept neutral, although the more targeted spend will create non-financial returns. Leading organisations have seen positive impacts on employee engagement, their ability to attract and to retain employees.

Surprisingly, leading companies that have already implemented personalised total rewards are not talking about their financial ROI. Especially in times when we can expect an increase in skills shortages and a continued war for talent, it’s part of their overall employee value proposition (EVP) and their strategy of being an employer of choice.

Make a start and prioritise

The decision to move to personalised total rewards may be taken quickly. However, the implementation may require some time and businesses need to prioritise:

  • Offering more flexible working arrangements can be the first step.
  • Adding more health and wellbeing benefits may be reviewed prior to the annual renewal date and the insurer and broker may be heavily involved.
  • Creating more personalised communication and aligning the total rewards/HR experience to the organisation’s brand may be a cross-functional project.
  • Improving the organisation’s technology for administration purposes and employee communication may be a larger financial investment.

Find out how personalised total rewards can increase your employee engagement. Contact us today.


The benefits of HR Policies

We are working in one of the world’s most multi-cultural regions. Individuals from all over the world are coming to work in the Middle East. They are bringing their skills, excitement and hope as well as their beliefs and value systems. Leading a team where languages, viewpoints and behaviours may differ so substantially can be a challenge even for experienced line managers and HR teams alike.

Policies can support creating a common ground for all employees regardless of their background.

What are policies?

While top management determine the guidelines for the business, policies break these down further and define how the business runs. They support the strategic growth, the day-to-day operations as well as organisation’s culture.

What are the benefits?

Written HR policies provide numerous benefits to an organisation.

As companies are growing and hiring new staff, common standards need to be communicated. HR policies help all employees get and stay on the same page and support the company’s culture.

Companies can base their policies on best practices, set to foster innovation, increase the employee experience and strengthen the competitive advantage. Local companies can benefit from the flexibility which the UAE labour law gives them to adjust HR policies issued by their global head office to their specific requirements.

Determining the delegation of authority, roles and responsibilities are clarified for everyone. This, in return, reduces misunderstandings and ensures smooth workflows.

As such, well-written policies provide an opportunity to strengthen employee relations. Reflecting the needs of both parties, they describe the performance and behaviours expected from the employees and the support and guidance given by the company. Should any disciplinary actions need to be taken, they provide a clear framework for consistent and fair treatment and are to prevent lawsuits, as much as possible.

Hence, HR policies consequently serve as a reference point for all people matters.

Which policies to include?

The local laws outline a limited number of required procedures only. Chapter VI of the UAE Labour Law Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 and its amendments describes disciplinary actions whereas Law No. 2 of 2015 against Discrimination and Hatred focuses on the prohibition against discrimination in an employment context.

Companies can therefore decide which policies they implement depending on their needs, provided they do not conflict with the local laws. Typically, companies choose to cover the following areas in their policies:


Organisations can define how they link their strategic workforce planning with the operational recruitment activities like selecting candidates and rehiring former employees. Policies may also include an employee referral programme or deal with the recruitment of family members and relatives.

Code of conduct

Companies can set their own standards of behaviour in their code of conduct, which reflects the organisation’s daily operations, core values and overall company culture. The handling of bullying and harassment situations may be described here, too.

Compensation and benefits

Policies can outline the company’s approach to rewarding employees, eligibility of benefits and allowance and evaluating jobs. They may also include how the company will address salary reviews.


Besides mandatory leave, companies can support their employees’ wellbeing by providing additional leaves, for example, time off for parental and caring duties, sabbatical or study and exam leave.

Learning and development

These policies address the company’s view on training and can point out the resources available for employees to acquire and develop their skills. They can lay out the criteria for reimbursement of any employee-initiated training, if it is relevant to the job, or special assignments for the employee to gain new experiences.


Performance policies assist companies applying fair performance assessments. They can also provide guidance on how to deal with unacceptable conduct and help employees improve. A disciplinary policy is normally also in place.

Although there is no limit on the number of policies a company may have, a reasonable and practical approach should be applied. Companies should therefore evaluate the specific needs for their business, however, it is recommended to have the following policies at a minimum written and communicated to all staff:

  • Bullying, harassment and discrimination
  • Code of conduct
  • Disciplinary
  • Grievance

Just as the business evolves and changes, HR policies need to have an option to adjust to the changing business requirements or legal mandates. Do your policies provide you with that flexibility?

HR policies are an effective way to look after your organisation’s and your employees’ needs while providing guidance to handling common workplace issues. Contact us today and learn how we can draft tailored HR policies fit for your business needs.

What to expect for medical benefits in 2019

It’s already the last quarter of the year and many organisations are finalising their HR strategies and initiatives for 2019. Many also include a review of their current practices, in particular their medical benefits in search for increased efficiencies and more employee-centric programmes.

Over the last few years, we have seen fundamental changes looking to enhance the medical insurance coverage in this region. Dubai implemented a mandatory health insurance in a phased approach and a low cost insurance option came into effect on 15 October 2018. There also a number of challenges that need to be addressed, including the direct (and costly) access to specialist physicians, over-prescription and price pressure. At this time, it should not be a surprise to anyone that lifestyle diseases are the leading diseases in the Middle East, adding to the challenges companies, insurers and physicians are facing.

So what can we expect in 2019? We anticipate further developments and enhancements to tackle these challenges.

More negotiation powers

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has currently approved permits for 50 medical insurance. Competition to keep especially large accounts is becoming fiercer. Brokers have been able to negotiate premiums well below the medical inflation reported elsewhere. Insurers are also able to add new features and extended coverage to provide more holistic medical cover.

As such, we expect a further reduction in medical inflation compared to figures previously reported by research consultancies.

Local re-investment

The Dubai’s Health Strategy 2021 aims at providing innovative health services and improving the health of its citizens and residents. Simultaneously, Dubai is establishing itself as a hub for medical treatment in the Middle East.

In alignment with these goals, a number of local universities have expanded their medical and nursing degree programmes in recent years. This September, the first medical school opened its doors in Abu Dhabi. This provides the local training grounds to develop medical talent where it is needed.

For 2019, we anticipate continued emphasis on professional education and personal development. Further invest investment into research programmes will be made. Insured will benefit from a wider range of locally available treatment, reducing the need and possibly cost for treatment abroad.

Alternative delivery options

With the high cost of medical insurance, this is are now the second highest employee-related expense after salaries. Companies are therefore continuing to search for possibilities to lower and/or sustain these costs.

The concept of employee clinics, particularly for large corporations, and telehealth isn’t a new one. Various insurers have been offering 24/7 access to mobile or tele doctors for more than 5 years in the UAE. However, as one option to control spending, we will see an increased provision for and utilisation of alternative delivery methods.

Prevention with big data

Following the mandate to save and/or reduce medical expenses, organisations together with their broker and insurance provider have been raising awareness and educating employees.

The main health concerns in this region, e.g. diabetes and obesity, are lifestyle-related issues. Long-term and sustainable solutions need to be found to manage and, ideally, also prevent these. Daman Health utilises big data to identify ways for employees better monitor and improve their health. Big data illustrates the spend for each insured member.

As part of the overall move to utilise more data for HR’s decision making processes, organisations will also analyse and investigate the huge financial toll lifestyle diseases has on the company itself. Medical insurance companies are already evaluating their data sets to identify new ways for prevention and education purposes.

With HR teams becoming more big data savvy, we envisage an increase in the interpretation of big data to define targeted and employee specific preventative education and actions.

Integrated well-being

Well-being had been the hot topic for the last 15-20 years. While companies were asking what it was some 10 years ago, organisations are now concerned how to integrate well-being as a way to attract, engage and retain talent, as Robin Wells from Medstar shared.

However, offering yoga sessions and a bowl filled with fresh fruits falls short of comprehensive well-being strategy. The utilisation of integrated well-being initiatives is however still lagging compared to other regions across the globe.

With the increased attention on well-being, we’ve witnessed a mindset change amongst individuals. Initiatives like the Dubai Fitness Challenge are supporting the activities implemented by companies.

Companies will therefore start using well-being in an orchestrated approach to prevent, monitor and control lifestyle illnesses. In return, this is expected to show improvements in the claims management.

Want to overhaul your benefits, especially your medical benefits? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can create, enhance and implement a medical benefits strategy fit for your EVP and organisation.