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.

How to conduct pre-employment checks

For many organisations, finding talented individuals can be challenging. After reviewing hundreds of CVs and conducting interviews, the recruiter is ready to send out the offer. Stop! Take some time out for the pre-employment checks.

What are background checks?

The hiring team may be impressed by the candidate’s performance during the recruitment process. This, however, is no guarantee for future performance. While assessment centres and ability tests are still most reliable indicators, not every organisation has the resources to conduct them.

In days where candidates do what they can to secure that new role, organisations need to feel confident about selecting the most suitable candidate.

Pre-employment checks can then be used to obtain a more rounded picture of the candidate.

Pre-employment checks may include

  • Reference checks
  • Verification of education
  • Social media checks
  • Police clearance and criminal background checks
  • Medical checks.

Organisations contact previous employers, colleagues or business partners to learn more about their preferred candidate. Reference checks are one way to verify the candidate’s professional past.

Colleges, universities or issuers of professional licences can validate the education stated by the candidate. Hopscotch found 93% of recruiters conducting social media checks as part of the pre-employment checks. For certain roles, police clearing may also be required.

Companies should follow a consistent approach to pre-employment checks which are in proportion to the job to be filled.

What can be asked?

The hiring company can choose to verify solely the candidate’s working history, e.g. the title and dates worked with the previous company. Such checks are generally easily completed. Should the previous employer only allow the confirmation of administrative details (e.g. employment dates), the former manager or colleague may be able to provide a personal reference.

These days, however, fewer organisations allow for behavioural and/or skills references. In such cases, the referee generally answers specific questions asked by the recruiter. These questions often resemble questions asked during the interview, for example:

  • Can you describe their job responsibilities?
  • Did you evaluate their performance?
  • What was their biggest accomplishment while working for your company?
  • What was noted as needing improvement during this performance review?
  • How did they get on with other team members or external customers or suppliers?

What is the legal view?

Unlike in other jurisdictions, there is no clear guidance on the nature of reference checks. In Germany, where written references are provided at the end of the employment, nothing negative may be stated. In the UK, references may not conceal facts from the hiring organisation. The only information French companies can provide is around the individual’s professional skills for their potentially new role. It is probably not surprising that different requirements exist for the different states within the US.

UAE-based employees may, however, request an “end of service certificate” from their employees when leaving the organisation. Art. 125 of the UAE labour law of 1980 requires the certificate to include

  • date of appointment and date of termination
  • total period of service
  • nature of work performed
  • the individual’s last pay plus allowances.

Under UAE law, companies may be reluctant to provide additional information, especially if it could be seen as disclosing confidential or proprietary information. Future employers may have to remove questions in their reference checks document to ensure compliance with local legislation.

Unless the company selects a UAE or GCC national, employees will need to be sponsored. Verification of the candidate’s diploma or degree may be required, if these haven’t been attested by the appropriate authorities already.

As pre-employment checks can be time consuming, hiring companies may seek support from verification companies or social media check software.

How to conduct them?

  1. Companies should disclose at the beginning of the recruitment process that pre-employment checks (including social media checks and other checks) will be performed.
  2. Most companies conduct their pre-employment checks prior to issuing an offer. However, some organisations issue a conditional offer requiring the successful passing of any checks and only conduct them afterwards.
  3. The recruiter should obtain the candidate’s permission to conduct reference checks before contacting the provided referees. If in doubt, these referees may need to be verified (e.g. via LinkedIn) prior to emailing or calling them.
  4. Time may be tight for referees. The referee should be able to answer the set of questions within a reasonable timeframe. It may be easier for the referee and faster for the recruiter to conduct the check over the phone than email.
  5. Each referee will need to be asked the same set of questions. Questions need to evolve around the vacancy and the candidate’s professional abilities and competencies for this role.
  6. To avoid any bias, any social media check should only be performed after the interviews with the candidate.
  7. Police clearance or criminal background checks should also be conducted at the end of the recruitment process and only if the role or other requirements demand it.

How to handle the feedback?

Negative feedback may be taken as a red flag. At the same time, it is only one piece of information and should be weighted against the other data points (e.g. interviews, assessment, other references) when making a final decision.

Noticing inconsistencies with previously submitted information (e.g. differences between the candidate’s CV and the referee’s information), the recruiter should clarify this as soon as possible. It could be a typo or a misunderstanding.

During a phone call, this may only require a few additional questions. Once any miscommunication has been ruled out, the recruiter and the candidate may need to discuss them. If the candidate can’t explain the inconsistencies, an organisation may see it as a warning sign.

Overly positive feedback may be too good to be true. In such cases, the recruiter could ask what the candidate could have done better. As most (all) individuals can still develop themselves further, the referee may not disclose everything if nothing comes to their mind.

Pre-employment checks can provide an independent insight into the preferred candidate. They can improve the chances of selecting an individual fit for the role and organisation. At the same time, companies need to remember that they are no guarantee the hire will be successful. They will still need to invest in the individual’s onboarding and induction.

To learn how you can improve your pre-employment checks, 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.