Benefits for terminally ill worker: How can we help?

Q. A 26-year-old employee has terminal cancer and can’t work any longer. Our company is small and doesn’t offer health insurance, and she is not covered on an individual policy. Is it a correct protocol to lay off this employee so she can receive unemployment and other benefits, such as Medicaid? — Sue, Nebraska

A. I don’t think laying her off is necessarily the right step to help her take advantage of other benefits, although you may want to consult with her and with her financial advisors to figure out what those benefits are. For example, unemployment compensation is typically available to people who are unable to work through no fault of their own, but they are able to work. So, the state might decide she isn’t entitled to unemployment benefits.

Similarly, although Medicaid/Medicare eligibility may be tied to income, if she hasn’t got health insurance yet, she may be otherwise eligible. She may be able to be covered under a parent’s policy, or she may be entitled to charity assistance. In short, I wouldn’t assume a layoff is in her best interests. Wait to hear what she may want.

Keep in mind, very ill employees may want to continue working at a reduced schedule to earn money and stay in touch with colleagues. Also, recognize that, under the ADA, she may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation of extra leave or a more flexible schedule. “Leave” as opposed to “layoff” may be a reasonable accommodation, but wait to learn from her if that is what she wants.