With my father-in-law, it started slowly but there were signs. He would get to the top of the stairs and forget why he was there. He would need the day’s plans explained to him three times in quick succession. He started to forget my name and he couldn’t remember how many sherries he’d had at lunch time. Was it one, two or three? Then when the disease had really taken hold he had no concept of night or day – so he would have breakfast at 1am.
The reality for Australian workplaces is that there has been a sharp increase in the number of dementia and Alzheimer’s cases. This disease does not just affect the elderly but with the need for employees to work into their 70s, the risk of employers being exposed to this illness is greater. The statistics make for concerning reading:
- Each week, there are more than 1,800 new cases of dementia in Australia; approximately one person every 6 minutes. This is expected to grow to 7,400 new cases each week by 2050
- There are approximately 25,100 people in Australia with Younger Onset Dementia (a diagnosis of dementia under the age of 65; including people as young as 30)
- Almost one in ten people over 65 have dementia
So what can you do if you suspect that one of your employees is showing early warning signs of dementia? You have a ‘duty of care’ for all employees – including this one. Imagine, if their forgetfulness caused an accident, injury or death of another employee. You could be liable. The challenge is that this can be a very awkward conversation to have.
Things to do to protect you, your business and your employees:
- Communication – establish early an open and transparent communication style with your employees so that they feel comfortable sharing any medical concerns and implications with you in the first place
- Support – ensure that you offer the employee and their families support. This can be as simple as letting them know that you will work with them to find suitable duties, for as long as possible. You cannot terminate them on ground of illness alone
- Medical – work with their medical team to understand what the employee is and isn’t capable of, as the disease progresses
- Team – make sure the team / management have the information they need, but ensure that it is dealt with sensitively and confidentially, ensure the safety of the impacted individual but also the other employees
- Legal – make sure that you are fully aware of your legal obligations around long term illness and potential termination
Some business owners might be reading this and saying to themselves ‘you have got to be joking!’ But if you have employees, illness will happen – it may be cancer or depression or dementia. It will impact you and your business – but it is best to tackle it head on. You might also find there’s a lift in engagement from your other employees when they see how well you look after your people.
As for my father in law, he is now in a care home as he requires full time care. He loves to sit out at the Nurses’ station where all the action is. We believe that he’s remembering his days as a Bank Manager with a team of 57 employees and that he is still calling the shots.
Do you have a plan when long term illness calls at your workplace?