New Guidance on Workplace Support for Terminally ill Employees

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing and Marie Curie have released new guidance on workplace policies and practices to support employees with a terminal illness. The guidance is based on research that explored the experiences and needs of employees with terminal illnesses, the role of managers in supporting these employees, and how to foster a positive and compassionate work environment.

A helping hand

A helping hand

The guidance outlines six key areas that terminal illness policies should address:

  1. Attendance flexibility: Employees should have the flexibility to adjust their work schedules as needed to accommodate their changing health conditions.
  2. Adjustments to work arrangements: Employers should be willing to make adjustments to work arrangements, such as reducing workloads or offering alternative work arrangements, to help employees maintain their employment.
  3. Managing absence: Employers should have clear and consistent policies for managing absences related to terminal illness. These policies should be compassionate and supportive, and they should take into account the individual needs of each employee.
  4. Sources of support: Employees should have access to a variety of sources of support, including emotional support, practical assistance, and financial assistance.
  5. Financial wellbeing: Employers should offer financial support to employees with terminal illnesses, such as access to disability benefits or bereavement counselling.
  6. Stopping and leaving work: Employees should have a clear process for stopping and leaving work when they are no longer able to continue working due to their illness. This process should be handled with compassion and dignity.

The guidance also emphasises the importance of communication, consistency, and compassion in supporting employees with terminal illnesses. Employers should have open and honest conversations with employees about their needs, and they should be consistent in their application of policies and procedures.

The development of the guidance involved collaboration with HR leads and occupational health professionals from various sectors, including local authorities, universities, hospitals, charities, retail chains, and broadcasting companies. It also drew upon the experiences of individuals with terminal illnesses, who shared their perspectives on work both before and after diagnosis.

Stephen Bevan, a principal associate at the Institute for Employment Studies and a person living with a terminal cancer diagnosis, highlighted the importance of tailoring work arrangements to employees’ capabilities. He shared his own experience of being able to continue working by transferring his knowledge and expertise to younger colleagues.

Bevan emphasised that communication is the key to supporting employees with terminal illnesses. Employers should engage in open and authentic dialogue with employees to understand their needs and preferences, and they should work collaboratively to find solutions that allow employees to continue working for as long as they are able and willing.

This guide is designed to provide insights and information that you can use to develop policy and recommendations that are aligned to your particular organisation and employees.


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