A duty of care

Luke Smith explores the importance of supporting employees through medical issues

As an employer, you have a duty of care to support all your employees. This means you need to give your employees the training they need and should create a supportive work environment to help them succeed. 
You should also be prepared to help employees who fall sick or chronically ill and suggest courses of action to support them through challenging times. 
Supporting employees who become ill is also important in building a welcoming, people-first business culture. Employees who feel supported will be empowered to become the best versions of themselves while at work. 
Supporting employees through medical issues requires planning and strategic use of your resources

Employees with medical issues will likely need accommodations if they want to continue working. Determining which adjustments are right for your employee can be tricky, but always err on the side of empathy and flexibility when in doubt. 

You may need to allow ill employees to work from home while they deal with their medical issues. Working remotely can be a real boon for employees who are having difficulty moving or become tired quickly due to a condition they are living with.
If you do allow employees with medical issues to work remotely, set them up for success by discussing the best work-from-home practices. Ensure that remote employees are able to focus on one task at a time and encourage them to take their lunch breaks. When the workday is over, ensure that they aren’t logging unregistered overtime and overworking themselves to make up for their medical issue. 
If an employee with medical issues can come into work, ask them about any reasonable changes they may need. Your workplace should already be accessible for folks with mobility issues but reach out to your employee and find out what they need to feel supported while in the workplace.  
Support for diagnoses
Employees with medical issues may struggle to receive the proper diagnosis. One in 6 people in the UK live with a mental illness, but few actually receive the diagnosis and treatment they need. Physical illnesses like cancer are also underdiagnosed, as nearly 11,000 people may be living with undiagnosed breast cancer
Support your employees by allowing them to make doctors’ appointments during pre-arranged work hours. This is particularly important for folks who suspect they are suffering from a chronic illness. People with chronic illnesses face barriers to a proper diagnosis, as those who are chronically ill can have pre-existing conditions that make it difficult for them to speak up for themselves. 
It can be difficult to get your provider to understand the complex history of what someone has already been through. Employees with a chronic illness will appreciate your understanding and benefit greatly when they get the diagnosis they need to move forward. 
Private insurance is an increasingly important benefit. The NHS has been under strain for some time due to chronic understaffing and falling bed numbers. This means that, as an employer, offering private insurance will make a meaningful difference in the lives of employees who are going through medical issues. 
Finding the right insurance provider can be a little tricky – especially if you haven’t previously offered private cover. In general, you’ll want to choose an insurance provider that gives employees 24/7 access to a GP, access to high-quality physicians and reduces wait times compared to NHS services. 
You may also want to choose a provider that extends care to family members. Employees who have family members with medical issues will still benefit from private care, as they’ll be able to rest easy in the knowledge that your business has them covered should anything happen to their loved ones.
Employees with medical issues can feel isolated from their peers. This is particularly apparent in remote workers, who may struggle to forge and maintain social bonds while working. As an employer, be on the lookout for any signs that employees with medical issues are feeling isolated or lonely. 
You can proactively prevent loneliness by offering accessible events to all employees. Ensure that any employees who have medical issues will be able to attend before setting any firm dates, and offer a range of in-person and virtual events. Common examples include: 
Virtual networking events
Training days
Corporate event days
Community building initiatives
These events should be made available to all employees, and reasonable accommodations should be extended to those who face barriers due to medical issues. 
Supporting employees through medical issues requires planning and strategic use of your resources. You may even wish to extend private care to those who are living with a chronic illness, as this will help them receive the support they need. Work with employees before rolling out initiatives on their behalf, as you may find that they have valuable insights to share. 
Luke Smith is a freelance writer

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