Learning that an employee has terminal cancer can be a heartbreaking situation. As her manager, you play an important role during her treatment and beyond. Your employee may view her job as the one stable and steady aspect of her life. Show compassion, encourage kindness and strive to help your employee make the most of her professional life.
Keep it confidential. Your employee might share her diagnosis with co-workers or decide to keep the matter private. Respect her choice and don't share her news with others unless she gives you the go-ahead.
Ask her what she needs. Some employees may want to go about daily tasks and work responsibilities as usual. Others may need additional help, such as frequent breaks, reduced workload or time off for medical appointments. Accommodate your employee wherever possible and be aware that the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, legally prohibits you from changing job assignments if the worker is still able to perform the essential functions of her job.
Reduce the employee’s regular workload as necessary. Redistribute some of the employee’s tasks to other staffers where appropriate, but don't overload others with work that exceeds their job descriptions. This can lead to resentment of the sick colleague, which can exacerbate already complex emotions about her diagnosis. Bring in temporary staff if necessary to complete work. This will help you meet the ADA's requirement of making "reasonable accommodations" to benefit your sick employee.
Be prepared for a roller coaster of complex emotions as your employee’s disease progresses. She may prefer to keep her work life as normal as possible by talking about work topics and skirting the issue of her illness. On the other hand, she may need a sympathetic ear from time to time.
Plan for the future. As hard as it may be to accept your employee's terminal diagnosis, you will eventually have to put someone else in her position. Quietly recruit or accept applications for the position and have qualified candidates in mind in the event you have to replace your staffer.
Be prepared for a wide range of emotions in your workplace, both from the sick employee and her colleagues. It can be difficult for everyone involved to watch a friend go through a serious illness. Bring in a grief counselor if necessary to help other employees deal with their impending loss.
- The Americans With Disabilities Act is a complex law that has many qualifiers associated with covered disabilities and employer responsibilities. Consult an employment legal professional with experience in ADA compliance to ensure that you are acting in accordance with the law.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.