Supporting A Terminally Ill Employee

Q. One of our employees, "Allen," let us know he has bone marrow cancer and less than one year to live.

Allen doesn't want to quit work and even if he wanted to can't afford to do so. Allen also occupies a critical position in our company. We've never faced anything like this before. What can you recommend we need to do to handle this well?

A. Ask Allen what he wants and needs from you as managers and from the organization to work as productively as possible for as long as possible.

Give Allen confidentiality. Even if he discloses his condition to co-workers and selected customers, don't fall into the trap of assuming that gives anyone blanket permission to discuss the situation. Except as absolutely necessary, only he gets to choose how much he shares and those with whom he shares his medical information.

If Allen gives permission, determine respectful ways to let his co-workers learn and understand the situation. Some organizations make the mistake of attempting to ignore reality and thus relegate the dying employee to work-life's fringes. Co-workers generally need the opportunity to support Allen, if only to say, "I'll be here for you." As managers you need to reach out to these secondary sufferers who may ache for Allen or have feelings about the extra work they may have to pick up.

For practical reasons, immediately review Allen's benefits package with him so he'll know the financial and other support he can count on. You might also create a time bank to which any employee can donate unused leave. This time bank helps Allen avoid the loss of medical benefits if he becomes unable to work the minimum number of hours to maintain his benefits.

As Allen's condition progresses, give him all the work-hours flexibility you can. Sometimes, the best option becomes letting him spend his final month at work developing the protocols for his position. While having Allen train his successor might seem ghoulish, many individuals in his position appreciate the chance to both create a job legacy and to work productively as long as possible.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at

You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through

© Lynne Curry, September 2013,