How to Respond to an Employee’s Serious Illness

There are few moments in a person’s life that is more stressful than finding out that they have a serious illness. Not only are they worried about their own quality or length of life, but they are worried about financial issues like losing their job when the diagnosis comes in. How are they going to pay for treatments? How will they continue to support their family? These are all concerns that they have. As a business, knowing how to respond to their illness and their concerns is important for everyone involved.

The first thing that you should know is that employees who have a serious illness are protected by the law. Such acts include the federal and state FMLA laws, Americans with Disabilities Act, and any other state employment laws that you should be familiar with. Employees can also choose not to disclose their illness to you, which is well within their right under the law. If they have disclosed their illness to you, you will need to figure out the nature of their illness (is it mental or physical?) before you can determine how to move forward. In this case the focus will be on serious physical illnesses.

The primary questions that you should be asking at first are how this affects their ability to do their current job and if there are any physical limitations to address. Getting a doctor’s note from your employee can be a great help to you as you decide the answer to these questions. After this, you should find out if this is a long-term illness or a short-term one. If the employee does not help you to figure these things out, you are able to continue treating them as if there are no limitations to their job.

Once you get the answers to these questions, you need to figure out if you can accommodate any limitations, such as if there is another job that they can perform at your company or adjusting their duties or schedule. If accommodations cause an undue hardship on your company that you can legally prove, you can address this. Is there a leave of absence option available to them to handle a short-term illness? Does FMLA on the state or federal level apply here? Track FMLA leave where you can and you are able to ask for updates on their health if necessary.When they return to their normal job functions, you can require the employee to have a doctor’s note that clears them for regular activity. There may be limitations when they return at first that you need to accommodate and you will have to plan accordingly in case there is a relapse.

Unfortunately, every situation is different and requires their own method of how to handle an employee’s serious illness. Be sure to empathize with your employee, showing them compassion during this stressful time for them. It is also important to familiarize yourself with all applicable laws as well as documenting everything that you can. Documentation can help protect you if issues come up in the future.

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