How to manage employees with a critical illness

Managing an employee with a critical illness can be a difficult feat. Whilst you need to remain sensitive, it’s also important that you meet business needs too. In order to manage an employee who becomes seriously ill, there are a few steps you can take to make it a little easier on everyone.

Working into retirement

In the UK, there is a growing number of people working to an older age. Currently, the pension age sits at 65 for men and is increasing gradually for women from 60 to 65. Yet, it’s proposed that the state pensions age will rise to 68 in 2044 and 2046, respectively. What’s more, people are retiring with less income than expected. As a result, there is more evidence that people are returning to work after retirement age.

Over the next 20 years, more and more people will be working into older age. At this period in time, many critical illnesses such as heart disease and cancer are more likely to be diagnosed.

A higher risk of illness

With an ageing population, there is an increased risk of getting cancer, suffering from heart disease or having a stroke. In fact, our chances of developing cancer are now at 1 in 2. This is not just because of the ageing population, but also because of changes in diet. Most modern diets are high in red meats and there are higher numbers of obesity. In addition to this, there is increased alcohol consumption and the UK culture of sunbathing puts people at greater risk of skin cancer.

In fact, 90,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Obesity is also giving rise to increasing numbers of heart failure. The NHS states that new cases of heart failure increased by 12% from 2002 to 2014. On top of that, around 1 in 6 men and 1 in 5 women will have a stroke in their life.

Although having an employee with a critical illness may seem unlikely, it could actually be more common than you think.

Putting policies in place can help to manage an employee when they become diagnosed with a critical illness. It can also help them to understand their own rights and feel supported during a difficult time.

Managing critical illness 

Managing cases where an employee is diagnosed with a critical or terminal illness can be difficult. In some cases, an employer can be supportive and flexible yet there is still a high amount of discrimination from employers or colleagues reported.

In fact, this concern amongst those with a serious illness can mean they return to work earlier than they feel ready for. Which could be making the issue even worse.

What’s more, a termination of employment could mean the loss of certain benefits, such as private medical insurance, death-in-service life insurance or critical illness cover. This increases the fear and can prevent some employees from approaching their employer to discuss their options.

Obligations of an employer

Not only are there legal obligations for managing employees when diagnosed with a critical illness but there are also moral obligations too. Managers and directors should be provided with the right tools to put policies in place and handle each situation sensitively. Not only does this help all employees but can actually help to mitigate the costs of long-term absence, recruitment for replacements and loss of company reputation.

What should happen?

Employers have a duty of care to their employees. They are responsible for the health and safety of their employees whilst they are at work. This includes mental health as well as physical health.

Therefore, managing illness, particularly critical illness, should make up part of your company policy. Employees should have an understanding of what the policy is and who they can turn to for support. Whilst managers should have the tools provided to them so that they can manage the situation effectively.

Awareness and support programmes

Companies should be aware of any benefits and support programmes to help their employees. This could be an occupational health or employee assistance programme or benefits such as occupational sick pay, death-in-service, income protection and critical illness cover.

Employers are not obligated to offer benefits to their employees but driving awareness could help to cover costs of absence and provide support for the employee.

They should also be aware of support schemes to guide employees in the right direction if they are diagnosed. For example, the CIPD provides a working with cancer scheme which covers employees and family members of those diagnosed with cancer. It sets out employee, manager and organisation actions including working during treatment, time-off and aftercare as well as giving up work and potential unfair treatment.

doctor support

Regular communication

If an employee discloses a serious illness that is either critical or terminal to their employer, it is worth conducting regular discussions. This can help to assess their current capability of coming into work. It may be that they need a change in working hours or flexible working for medical appointments. These issues can be communicated during these discussions.

Adjustments in the workplace

Employers may need to make reasonable adjustments for the employee in the workplace.

This may require changing their hours, or the type of work that they conduct. For example, allowing extra time for appointments, flexible working or reducing workloads. It could also mean providing more breaks throughout the day if they need more rest or time away from the screen.

They may need mobility equipment or need to work on the ground floor to avoid stairs. Computer equipment may need adjusting too.

Whatever adjustments may be required, it’s important for employers to understand there may be a need for this to help their employee. It can help them to adjust the periods where they are able to work and help them to come back to work when they are able to.

Educate line managers as well as senior managers

Normally, a line manager will be the first point of contact for an employee. They also need to be provided with the right tools in addition to company directors. It is their responsibility to ensure their employee is aware of their rights as well as support schemes such as private medical insurance, occupational health services and therapies.

Are employees required to disclose a serious illness?

Employees are not obligated to disclose a serious illness to their employers. However, if long-term absence or a terminal diagnosis it can be beneficial for the relationship to let your employer know.

Not only may it affect your performance or attendance rates, but it could also help the organisation to provide additional support that may be welcomed. Either way, it could to come to an agreement about working conditions and leave.

Understand your rights and requirements

 When you are diagnosed with a serious illness, there is really no script for how to handle your job. In fact, your work may not always be at the top of your priority list.  It’s really important to prioritise your own health.

Initially, it is important to put your work aside and understand your illness and how it is going to affect you and your family. Being informed can help you to make better choices that suit you. Then you can assess whether going back to work, adjusting your work situation or taking leave is best for you.

When you understand your specific needs, it is easier to communicate with your employer. However, it’s important to understand that communication doesn’t need to lead to a disclosure of your condition. You are entitled to your own privacy when it comes to your health.

Despite this, there may be some cases when line managers or even co-workers can be supportive, which can often provide additional help during a difficult period. It can also help when they understand, to prevent going back to work before you’re ready and to allow for more time to recover.


Benefits and support available for employees

When an employee is diagnosed with a critical illness the company may provide support, but there are also benefits that may be available to employees if the company does not actively provide help and advice.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Every worker is entitled to SSP in the event that they become unwell. This normally kicks in after an employee has been absent for more than 7 consecutive days.

Occupational sick pay

Some companies provide sick pay to their employees. This may be at full pay, or a percentage of their full pay and is often provided for a period of absence. This can always be extended under management discretion. However, they may choose not to offer this, or extend it. In which case, SSP is available to the employee.

Occupational pension

If a serious illness leads to early retirement, you may be able to get access to your pension. If your health is serious enough to stop you working then you’re entitled to your pension. This normally is provided for critical illnesses such as stroke, cancer or heart attack or terminal illness.

Private medical insurance

Some companies offer private medical insurance as part of their benefits package. In some cases, this can help the employee to protect their financial status if they had to take a long period of time off work. It can also help to pay for treatment and specialist consultants, so they can recover quicker. As well as pay for carers or equipment if adjustments are required to be made.

Key man insurance

Is a type of life insurance policy designed to protect the business against the loss of a key person when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness or pass away. The cost of losing that person doesn’t just affect morale but can also affect company profits. Key man insurance can help to protect profits whilst the company deals with the loss of a crucial member of the team,

Relevant life cover 

A life insurance policy can be run through the business for the employees and their family. It works similarly to a death-in-service benefit but can be tax-efficient for both parties. It can help give employees peace of mind that their family will be looked after and help to alleviate money worries.

Critical illness cover

In addition to a life insurance policy, critical illness cover can be added on. This is a type of insurance that pays out of the employee is diagnosed with a specified serious illness. It can help to pay for medical treatment, adjustments, travel to appointments or cover lost income.

Income protection

Provides employees with an income if they are unable to work due to health reasons or injury. It pays a salary to the individual insured until they are able to return to work.


The absence management company provides helpful and impartial advice on good practice in the workplace. It can help to support the relationship between the employer and their employee. Through their advice and guidance, solutions can be found that suit both parties.

Occupational health schemes

Some businesses have occupational health schemes to ease the process of returning to work. Furthermore, companies such as ‘Fit for Work’ can also provide free advice for those that don’t get offered schemes through their work.

Managing an employee with a critical illness doesn’t have to be difficult. If both parties are made aware of and provided with the right tools, it can be managed sensitively. Solutions can be made that suit all, without having to discriminate or fear discrimination.

If you’re an individual looking for critical illness cover, please do not hesitate to get in touch today.

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How to manage employees with a critical illness - BusinessCoverExpert
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How to manage employees with a critical illness - BusinessCoverExpert
Managing employees with a critical illness can be a sensitive subject. But with the right tools and policies it can help make the process a little easier.
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Business Cover Expert
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